Better beer, better recycled plastics, even better lacrosse stick heads.
Those products should be the result of three "early-stage" manufacturing companies that will join the business incubation program at the 25-year-old Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in early 2014.
Founded in the former Mack Trucks Plant 4A in 1989, Bridgeworks has helped launch 44 companies in Allentown that have created more than 285 jobs.
The start-ups were announced Thursday by the Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC).
“We are very excited to bring these companies into our business incubation program as we kick-off our 25th silver anniversary year,” said Scott Unger, executive director of AEDC. “These three diverse ventures have very promising business plans and represent the next generation of manufacturing for Allentown and the Lehigh Valley.”
The companies represent a wide range of manufacturing specialties.
Gonzo Pockets manufactures specialized mesh for lacrosse stick heads using a proprietary rubberized coating.
Brothers Lou and Desi Gonzalez, both collegiate lacrosse players, founded the company after being frustrated by products on the market. They teamed up with Tom Schmitt, who already had successful startup experience of his own, to get the Gonzo Mesh prototype finalized and distributed into more than 100 specialty lacrosse stores across the U.S. and Canada in just nine months.
Gonzo Pockets will move into the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in January.
“Lacrosse players are passionate about getting any edge they can," explained Schmitt.
"Our mesh is one of those advantages. The lacrosse community has embraced us and we look forward to our local community sharing in our success as we expand.
"Collaborating with other entrepreneurs and having the wealth of manufacturing and business knowledge Bridgeworks provides at our fingertips is such a great opportunity for us. We are proud to be invited to join the Bridgeworks business community.”
HiJinx Brewing Company, currently based in South Whitehall Township,literally was started in a garage. In just over one year, founders Curt Keck and Chris Becker have been able to get beers from their nano-brewery into more than a dozen Lehigh Valley bars and restaurants.
Keck and Becker are unable to keep up with the demand for their beers. A new 10-barrel brewing system will be purchased and installed at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, fulfilling the founders’ lifelong dream of owning their own production brewery.
“We chose the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center because we feel that the resources provided, along with the access to professional guidance, will help us grow our business,” explained Keck. “The wisdom of seasoned business professionals will help us to avoid common pitfalls and unforeseen problems."
Zzyzx Polymers (pronounced ziz-icks), the third company joining the incubator, has secured exclusive rights to nearly 20 patents revolving around new technology to create plastic compounds.
The founders have applied for funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania to further develop their processes.
The company’s goal is to commercialize its novel mixing technology to create plastics with unique properties that no one else can make. The company also hopes to reuse plastics that get sent to landfills by other waste management companies.
“When we started our company, we had a founder in Silicon Valley, one in Chicago and one in Pennsylvania,” explained Mike Janse, CEO of Zzyzx Polymers.
“There were good reasons to establish manufacturing in any of those locations, but the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center and Ben Franklin Technology Partners program made Allentown an easy choice.”
“AEDC will spend the next several years providing mentorship and training to these companies in a concentrated effort to have them grow rapidly into profitable and self-sustaining organizations that are creating jobs for Lehigh Valley residents,” explained Anthony Durante, economic development specialist at AEDC, who is responsible for the business incubation program.
“Our job is to recruit new ventures, help to grow them and then launch them back into the Lehigh Valley over a span of four to seven years so that we can do it again with another batch of startups,” said Durante.
“If we, as a business incubator, do our jobs well, the incubator should be creating a steady stream of successful companies for the community.”