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by Phil Yacuboski

Thanks to a $70,000 grant from Governor Tom Wolf’s Manufacturing PA initiative, a group of engineering students from Bucknell University will help develop a new water sports line for Gilson Snow, a Union County company.

“The grant really brings Bucknell and Gilson together in a real productive way,” said Chris Beal, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “Gilson has a lot of experience with manufacturing, building, rapid prototype, but their design efforts are based on intuition.”

Beal, along with Nate Siegal, associate professor of mechanical engineering, will spearhead a group of five students to work with Gilson Snow developing new wakeboards and testing them through next summer.

“The College of Engineering has provided invaluable resources and talent as we’ve tackled some of our biggest manufacturing and design challenges, and the Small Business Development Center has provided sound business counsel along the way, starting with a review of our first business plan back in 2013,” said CEO Nicholas Gilson. “The people that comprise the College of Engineering and the Bucknell SBDC are not only wildly intelligent and hardworking, but they are great people who make the work a whole lot of fun.”

Gilson is one of the fastest growing snowsports companies in the world, with product lines in New Zealand, Austria and Asia.

The Manufacturing PA initiative is a $1.7 million grant to 26 projects across the state to spur growth in the new technology sector. Bucknell is the only school to receive such a grant in northeastern and central Pennsylvania. And at $70,000, Bucknell received the maximum amount of grant money.

“Gilson doesn’t necessarily have all of the technologies necessary to develop their product,” said Beal. “We are here to help them understand as well as us, the fine details of the product including how it runs on the water and the mechanics behind it.”

“Since before this company started up, they’ve counted the SBDC as advisors,” said Steve Stumbris, director of Bucknell’s SBDC. “By helping them develop their product, we believe we can help with job growth in Pennsylvania.”

Gilson hired someone to do some of the preview work on the project, but now that the grant is in place, things will rapidly develop.

“Getting a new product to market takes incredible expertise, prototyping and capital,” said Stumbris. “This program brings some of that to them, which they don’t have in abundance as a relatively young company.”

“There is a direct correlation between manufacturing innovation and economic growth,” Governor Wolf said in a statement. “Working together, we are positioning Pennsylvania as a manufacturing leader in the nation.”

Last year, Gilson was named ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ by the Eastern PA Office of the Small Business Development Center and in May, earned Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Product Innovation Award for the design of its snowboard and ski equipment.

Stumbris said the company will be able to use Bucknell’s students, who are receiving on-the-job experience, to build out a product that will be virtually ‘very new’ to them because it’s the opposite of the snowsports industry.

“We are really serving in an advisory role,” said Beal. “It’s exciting to see these students to be hired as fellows for this project. We talk about a lot of these things in class, but rarely get to see it from end-to-end.”