Area businesses fight COVID-19 with innovation
Updated: May 7
As the economic wreckage of the COVID-19 war piles higher, some clients of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania serve on the regional battlefield by distributing products and services that can directly aid in the response and recovery effort.
“Ben Franklin Technology Partners invests in innovative solutions for many industries,” said Ken Okrepkie, regional manager. “It gives me great pride to see our clients quickly react to find ways to support the medical, restaurant and mindfulness industries in a time of great need.”
Battling the virus
Among the warriors in the regional battle against COVID-19 is Production Systems Automation based in Duryea, a designer and contract manufacturer of specialized, automated equipment. The company manufactures a large oven called the Temperature Controlled Disinfection Unit used to kill bed bugs.
This technology, within units mounted on casters for easy maneuverability, is now being tested as a system that can be used to disinfect personal protective equipment. Each 20-amp unit, powered by standard 220 VAC power, features one electric heating element and gentle forced air system controlled by a pre-programmed digital controller to create a temperature of 150F degrees at 80 percent humidity.
Michael McHale, CEO of Production Systems, said the oven technology is being tested at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Arkansas. Some initial skepticism about the oven as a tool to fight COVID-19 has given way to great optimism, plus an understanding that a virtually unlimited manufacturing capacity exists to produce the ovens.
“The Centers for Disease Control has indicated that COVID-19 will be killed by 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to this level of heat and humidity within the oven,” said McHale. “This makes our system a valuable tool for our health care workers, plus a way to give protective masks an increased life.”
COVID-19 and anxiety have become powerful accomplices as both society and business wage war against the disruptions caused by the pandemic. This scenario is making the need for stress reduction a priority and firms such as Studio BE Mindfulness are filling the need.
Studio BE Mindfulness provides customized online, self-led, scientifically backed mindfulness techniques designed to help reduce stress, improve interpersonal communications, and enhance resiliency. The company offers a free and remote mindfulness training program to teach the concept of mindfulness as a means of stress reduction.
Jennifer Ciarimboli, founder and CEO of Studio BE, defined mindfulness as a way to help people see reality with accuracy, while developing a moment-to-moment awareness without manipulations or distortions. Skills to control anxiety and even panic control are taught, while resiliency and steadfastness for difficult times are cultivated.
“We are an online sanctuary where people can learn of the benefits and life changes possible by using these skills,” said Ciarimboli. “Yoga practices are also central to what we teach.”
According to Ciarimboli, the free Internet-based program features teachers and special guests that have proven themselves with longtime practices. Participants can “drop in” via the Internet anytime, including anxious business people suffering from the disruptions in commerce being inflicted by COVID-19.
She added that financial losses to business due to anxiety are not novel and cited information that indicates American businesses experience between $190 and $300 billion in annual losses from stress through decreased employee efficiency even before COVID-19 surfaced. Ciarimboli also is expecting a renewed round of anxiety following the current outbreak.
As the COVID-19 battle evolves, numerous restaurants are using online ordering systems to maintain revenue streams with take-out food orders. Ben Franklin client, Precision POS, has become a successful supplier of the cyber technology needed for this by creating and distributing advanced tablet point-of-sale and on-line ordering systems for the restaurant, food and beverage industry.
To support these types of food service companies rely on take-out business during the pandemic, Precision POS is offering the use of free online ordering technology with no set-up or implementation fees. All POS products are now cloud-based, and the free system can initially handle up to 25 menu items.
Gino Piccolino, CEO and founder of Precision POS, can trace his family’s involvement within the food industry to the region’s legendary Buona Pizza restaurants. With an interest and aptitude in computer science since childhood, Piccolino launched POS in the TekRidge Business Incubator in Jessup where his firm is now an anchor tenant.
“Many restaurants desperately need take-out, delivery and curbside service so we’re giving them free online ordering with our platform as long as needed,” said Piccolino. “They can sign up for the service on our web site where all of the relevant information is located.”
According to Piccolino, the system’s initial capability to handle 25 menu items can be expanded. In addition, e-payments can be made through an associated system.
Anchored directly in the health care trenches during the pandemic is Signallamp Health, a provider of informational services that assist medical practices as they strive to keep in direct touch with their patients. The company offers remote clinical services platforms that providers can also use for triaging and assessing ill patients, including those affected by COVID-19.
The system does not require expensive and time-consuming integrations, so it can be put to work immediately within a medical practice. More than 2000-plus users across 11 states utilize the system, which can become a staple for routine follow-ups with patients as well as a critical tool during the pandemic.
“Since the prevalence of the virus has exploded, our system is serving as a platform for patient face-to-face visits with the providers without the patent leaving their homes,” said Drew Kearney, co-founder and CEO of Signallamp. “The patients seem to like it, and the providers appreciate having a core system that they can efficiently use for patient long-support.’
Kearney emphasized that as patients are regularly contacted by their providers, a rapport can develop between that patient and the medical professional assigned to their case. This connection can be vital to keep an eye on underlying disease, while patient-to-provider fragmentation is reduced.
He added that the platform is not one of the “call-a-doctor” cyber apps that have been popping up on the Internet and advertised heavily which allow a consumer to contact a physicians for a small fee. Instead, Signallamp is designed to allow providers expanded access to their existing patients in an efficient and instant way.
Okrepkie said the efforts and innovations of these companies to counter the COVID-19 pandemic serves as an example of the success Ben Franklin is attaining within Northeast Pennsylvania as it strives to create and retain highly-paid, sustainable jobs. Financial investment, the linkage of companies with experts and universities, follow-on funding, and other resources to help them prosper through innovation, are all part of the Ben Franklin operation.
“Individually we can practice social distancing, but so many of our companies provide an essential service,” said Okrepkie. “In some cases their teams can work remotely, but in others they step over their fears and come to work every day to create the products and services which make our lives better. They are a vital part of the reason our economy will continue to move forward and rebound when we come out of the other side of the pandemic.”