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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Berkshire Immigrant Center Celebrates National Immigrant Heritage Month
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Beginning June 1, the Berkshire Immigrant Center invites the community to honor the more than 10,000 immigrants in the Berkshires and by joining the annual observance of national Immigrant Heritage Month and helping to launch a $10,000 fundraising campaign for the center.
"During Immigrant Heritage Month, we proudly honor the many ways immigrants make the Berkshires a better place," said BIC Executive Director Michelle Lopez. "This year we are especially grateful for the hundreds of foreign-born doctors, medical technicians, nurses and staff who are caring for people at Berkshire Medical Center, Fairview Hospital, and nursing homes, and for local immigrants who are essential workers at our grocery stores, restaurants and farms."
Since March 20, BIC has raised more than $70,000 for a COVID-19 Relief Fund. Through this fund, BIC has helped more than 140 clients and their families pay for basic needs like rent and utilities.
"We know that so many local people are hurting, both our clients and our supporters, yet even during this crisis people are asking us how they can help," Lopez said.
While 100 percent of emergency relief has been passed through to clients, donations to the Immigrant Heritage Month Campaign help ensure that BIC can serve the local immigrant community in crisis and beyond, including helping immigrants become US citizens. In this year of the U.S. Census count, BIC has also worked diligently to make sure that immigrants are counted and that Berkshire communities thus receive every dollar of federal aid that they should get.
Tax-deductible donations of any amount are welcome online. Contributions can also be made by check made out to Berkshire Immigrant Center and mailed to BIC, 67 East Street, Pittsfield MA 01201.
The center remains the only program in Berkshire County that focuses exclusively on meeting the unique challenges of a continuously growing immigrant and refugee population. In 2018 BIC was named "Best Small Nonprofit" in the state by Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.
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