Innovatrix Labs, located in the CAN BE business incubator in Valmont Industrial Park, has been named a winner in the TecBridge Regional Business Plan Competition with its business plan and concept of rapid prototyping through three-dimensional printing.
During the contest, students from the area’s 15 colleges and universities, along with non-collegiate teams, compete for resources and financial assistance to launch their tech-based company while gaining valuable insight into the world of business and entrepreneurship. Innovatrix Labs won the non-collegiate division this year.
Business partners Jesse Fox of Drums and Niraj Pathak of Mountaintop met while studying information sciences technology at Penn State Hazleton several years ago and founded Innovatrix Labs. The company provides a variety of Internet services, including website development, search engine optimization (SEO) and e-commerce. Most recently, Fox and Pathak have installed 3-D printing apparatus and developed software that transforms the process of building models and prototypes into something much faster and less expensive than conventional sampling methods.
The printer uses something that resembles a hot glue gun strapped to a robot. Using a computer to receive the design, the device melts plastic and deposits layers that quickly cool and harden, creating a three-dimensional prototype in a matter of minutes.
“Everyone has an idea, but not everyone can turn that idea into reality. Through 3-D printing, we help people test an idea early in the design process to help them see how it functions and any possible limitations and drawbacks that weren’t evident on paper,” Pathak said.
The printer currently used by Innovatrix Labs uses a type of polymer called polylactic acid (PLA), which is biodegradable and designed for expendable prototypes, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) polymer, which is more durable.
“Our functional prototype is here now, but we are designing one that will be bigger, stronger and better,” Fox said.
As the winner of the competition, Innovatrix Labs will receive $15,000 in addition to a variety of in-kind services that will help the business grow and succeed. Fox and Pathak plan to upgrade and expand their lab and add the capability to create products using additional materials such as metal, ceramic and even chocolate.
Three-dimensional printing is just one of the technologies the company uses. The partners are also looking into materials including laser cutters and computer numerical control (CNC) machines.
“Using all these technologies together, we can go from design to prototype to the final product, all in one place, to create virtually anything,” Pathak said. The partners also continue to provide services such as website design and brand development that enable them to create package designs and assist with a company’s online presence.
Pathak and Fox credited CAN BE for a great deal of their company’s success so far, saying they wouldn’t be in business without CAN BE and the support they have received from CAN BE Executive Director Jack St. Pierre, who also assisted the company in securing an innovation grant through TecBridge.
CAN BE operates its business incubator program at the Greater Hazleton Business Innovation Center in Valmont Industrial Park, helping provide startup businesses with tools that are essential for their growth.
“The business plan competition is where we see some of the business concepts developed by the best and brightest minds in northeastern Pennsylvania. It is a true honor for a CAN BE client to be selected as the winner,” St. Pierre said. “This is the third time that Innovatrix Labs has entered the competition and the company has continued to evolve its business model as the market changes. This demonstrates one of the key components to business success – perseverance.” (Innovatrix Labs earned a second-place award in the competition in 2010.)
CAN BE is a subsidiary of CAN DO, Greater Hazleton’s economic development organization. CAN DO President Kevin O’Donnell said, “CAN DO and CAN BE are encouraged to see two area natives who have devised highly technical knowledge and want to keep their company in Greater Hazleton. We look forward to seeing their company’s continued development and success as they harness emerging technologies to develop products that are useful to businesses in northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond.”
The Regional Business Plan Competition supports and recognizes entrepreneurship in northeastern Pennsylvania and promotes new and creative knowledge-based business concepts in the region. The competition is held annually by TecBridge, formerly known as the Great Valley Technology Alliance and Northeastern Pennsylvania Technology Institute.