Judges Tom Rutledge, left, Douglas Crane and Katherine Putnam quizzed the presenters on their business plans at Berkshire Community College.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An innovative wire harness clamp won its developers a $25,000 grant on Thursday to take their concept to the prototype and testing stage.
United Aircraft Technologies Inc. of Troy, N.Y., beat out three other finalists in Lever's Berkshire Manufacturing Innovation Challenge based on its product's application in the life sciences, growth potential, ability to attract investment capital and, perhaps most importantly, create jobs in the region.
"We know entrepreneurs have to hustle and have to have that persistence," said Evaguel Rhysing, who made the presentation with her husband, Daryian Rhysing. "With people believing in us and our small companies, those are the forces that help us grow and eventually give back."
Daryian Rhysing said the funds will go toward developing the prototype and begin the human and stress testing of the lightweight composite clamp.
"The purpose of this is to increase the economy so we can create jobs," he said. "Now that we're working with organizations like Sinicon Plastics here in Massachusetts and getting our human factor research done by Massachusetts University, we will be able to accomplish our goal, which is to create future jobs."
And, he stressed, bring an ergonomic solution to a part widely used in the aircraft industry. The Army veteran spent a decade working in helicopter maintenance and developed carpal tunnel from screwing and unscrewing thousands of harness clamps.
The clamps are a ubiquitous piece of equipment in every aircraft; there can be up to 15,000 clamps on the nearly 45 miles of wire in a single passenger jet. The simple metal clamps have to be wired in and screwed together so installing or removing wires means a lot of wrist twisting.
The Rhysings' concept is a two-piece composite clamp that snaps together and has a special tool to unlock it. The model cuts down the time to install by 6 or 7 minutes, is ergonomically designed to prevent repetitive injuries (saving companies money in workmen's compensation) and its light weight will mean cost savings in fuel.
The UAT team came to Lever with some significant track record already in place: they've won business and entrepreneurial competition for veteran-owned businesses and was recognized in an innovation competition by helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft, which is continuing to work with them. They're now working with Sinicon Plastics of Dalton in developing the prototype. The second and third phases will look at adding amperage sensors and location identifiers to the clamps so aircraft mechanics can more easily diagnose and locate wiring problems.
Lever, a startup incubator, provided the finalists with several months of coaching and mentors to develop their presentations that were pitched to judges Douglas Crane, managing principal of the New Dalton Group and former vice president of Crane & Co.; Katherine Putnam, an angel investor and executive officer for a number of private and nonprofit organizations; and Tom Rutledge, an investment manager at Chicago-based Magnetar Capital and an investor and adviser for startups.
Alston Posture, founded by Great Barrington's Joseph Antoine Alston, owner of the Alston Center and inventor of the Alston Method, and Brad Roblin, owner/operator of Pro Workforce Performance, created a wearable training tool to aid in proper posture in doing manual work and physical training. Already in use, the vest has helped one company in dramatically reducing on-the-job injuries.
Also presenting was Jebb Remelius of Pittsfield, founder of Surf6motion and its 6D motion-capture system. Remelius, who holds a doctorate in biomechanics, said the system would use light flashing off a minute chip to take the place of complex 3D setups. The cheaper and more mobile system could be used to determine positioning for therapy and athletics, among other uses.
Rounding out the finalists were TransPharm founders Abhishek Ram, Aashish Kumar, Nila Sadeeshkumar, and Siddhartha Srivastava from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who pitched a vending machine for over-the-counter drugs and women's hygiene items for underserved, rural and disaster-stricken areas, with a particular focus on India for production and distribution.
The challenge grant was part of $150,000 in public and private funds announced last year to support local entrepreneurship. The first order was "to issue a clarion call," said Travis McCready, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, with the assurity that there would be respondents.
"When we developed this concept with Lever and [its Executive Director] Jeffrey Thomas, our theory was very simple: We don't want to engage in yet another initiative where we're trying to parachute some company from outside the Berkshires to bring job creation here to Western Massachusetts," McCready said.
"We knew and we had deep conviction that there are great ideas, there's great innovation and there's great opportunity for new company creation native to the Berkshire and native to Western Massachusetts."
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A relatively new cannabis dispensary's success is leaving it short-handed for parking.
On Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved a special amendment to Bloom Brother's site plan to allow the use of additional on-site parking.
"We want to do everything we can to succeed," owner Nathan Girard said. "I've always said since day one that I want to be at or above compliance in every factor of the fashion of anything we do and this parking is nothing against that."
The dispensary located at the corner of Merrill Road and Larch Street was permitted to add three additional parallel parking spaces for employees and five compact car spaces.
In September, the Community Development Board reviewed an amendment application by Bloom Brothers with the primary concern being public safety related to a head-in parking space directly fronting Larch Street.
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