Defining Moments – Part I: Ben Franklin Clients Share Their Inspiration to Innovate During COVID-19
Updated: Jul 20
By Ryan E. Glenn, Director of Statewide Initiatives
Ben Franklin Technology Partners
Over the last several months, Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ clients across Pennsylvania have done an outstanding job of quickly adjusting their focuses to innovate against COVID-19. Many pivoted to help address the unique challenges presented by this devastating pandemic.
But what did the response to the crisis look like for small businesses in Pennsylvania? What were the takeaway experiences or standout memories? More importantly, what does the future hold for many of the Commonwealth’s brightest entrepreneurial minds and the innovative technological advances developed and fostered right here?
As Pennsylvania gradually re-opens, you’re invited on a two-part journey where we explore a few of the amazing stories showcasing the critical work undertaken by Ben Franklin clients, and highlight why these innovation-focused companies are the key to our economy’s future. This week, join us as we get to know two Ben Franklin clients in the northeast and northwest regions of Pennsylvania and learn about their unique journeys navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
What originally started as kitchen table conversation between LifeAire Systems, LLC Founder and CEO Dr. Kathryn C. Worrilow and her husband, an ER physician, about using one of the company’s patented in-duct air purification systems to effectively clean his N95 mask, is now a game-changing medical advance in the fight against COVID-19. The Aire~PPE™ Decontamination Unit, currently awaiting US FDA Emergency Use Authorization, is capable of thoroughly disinfecting more than 8,500 masks per day per unit. It has proven virus-killing capabilities through all layers of each N95, which enable healthcare workers to confidently recycle and reuse their masks up to 20 times.
“My husband and his colleagues are on the front line responding to COVID-19, and this battle is deeply personal to me,” Dr. Worrilow explains. “In addition to protecting spaces and people from airborne viruses, bacteria, and fungi, we needed to pivot to help with the PPE shortage. We challenged ourselves to work outside our comfort zone, and within days, we had CAD drawings, prototypes, and shifted our manufacturing to support that pressing need.”
LifeAire’s air purification systems will also be key as public facilities reopen. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, recently announced that shopping malls must have air conditioning systems that comprehensively remediate the coronavirus before being allowed to open. It is likely that other states will follow suit.
Innovation solves problems once again. LifeAire Systems proves that small businesses in Pennsylvania can have a large impact on our world.
Erie-based Apex Drop is a thriving growth marketing firm that produces cutting-edge consumer-generated content campaigns proven to drive long-term results for its partner brands. But when COVID-19 hit their international client base, they needed to adapt quickly to meet the needs of customers who felt an almost-immediate economic hit, while also keeping ApexDrop staff employed. Layoffs were not an option for CEO Zakary Stahlsmith. But, how could he keep his staff focused on helping existing clients keep their brands in the public eye and survive the pandemic while also attracting new clients?
“We’ve always been focused on creating authentic, user-generated content and the pandemic was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how effective this approach really is. To keep our customers’ brands relevant -- not tone-deaf during the crisis -- we guided our existing customers to new marketing messages that shifted the focus from their great products to communicating a shared sense of community that connects each of us through expressions of empathy, compassion, and support,” Stahlsmith recalled. “At the same time, we needed to rethink our target customers and determine who would most need our services while consumer lifestyles and shopping habits were dramatically shifting due to COVID.”
By remaining unafraid of change and cultivating a culture willing to think outside the box to solve emerging challenges, ApexDrop managed to not only help existing customers connect with their audiences, but also grew their business by targeting categories that were seeing increased demand and/or that needed help shifting to more direct-to-consumer e-commerce sales. Their efforts helped stabilize other Erie business services companies during uncertain economic times, and had a direct impact on efforts to maintain the flow of service-sustaining revenue that benefits their local community.
These companies represent just two of the many inspiring clients that we’ve had the privilege of continuing to serve during these challenging times. In each of Ben Franklin’s four regions across Pennsylvania, our clients have not only pushed themselves to solve critical challenges, they’ve pushed the boundaries of what we thought possible, and have provided us with inspiring examples of the power of Pennsylvania’s small businesses.
When our Commonwealth needed assistance, Ben Franklin clients were ready, willing, and able. These stories remind us of the return on investment generated by Ben Franklin clients. And they demonstrate the fundamental importance of continuing to support innovative businesses that improve the human condition, contribute to the quality of life we enjoy, and represent the best aspects of Pennsylvania that we build upon for future generations.
Next time, we’ll take a look at additional stories of innovation and adaptability from the western and southeastern Ben Franklin Technology Partners regions.