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Ben Franklin’s BIG IDEA Winners Chosen in Virtual Event

Even a pandemic can’t stop entrepreneurship in the Southern Alleghenies.

Ben Franklin Technology Partner’s first virtual BIG IDEA Pitch Presentation and Awards was held June 18, 2020. About 100 participants joined the Zoom event to watch this year’s six finalists compete for a prize pool of $50,000, and to vote for the winner of the People’s Choice Award, sponsored by Somerset Trust Company.

Ben Franklin, in partnership with Startup Alleghenies, hosted the contest to highlight the region’s emerging tech-entrepreneurs, innovators and small manufacturers, as well as to provide them with financial support to take their businesses to the next level.

“It was terrific to see applications from so many of our Startup Alleghenies entrepreneurs,” said Debbi Prosser, director business-development, Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission (SAP&DC).  “I was especially pleased to note that we had winners from four of our counties, including Bedford, Blair, Cambria, and Somerset. This is a tribute not only to Ben Franklin, but also to our Coaches and  our partners, including, ABCD Corporation, JARI and Bedford County Development Association.”  

This year education and healthcare took center stage. Timothy Kretchman, Action Driven Education, LLC, landed the first prize of $25,000. Kretchman, a veteran special education teacher and school administrator developed Accomods, specially designed instruction modules for teachers that empower students beyond their disabilities.

Mary Kate Zima, Nurse Navigator Solutions LLC, took second place with a prize of $12,500. The company partners with physician practices in urology, combining data and personal guidance to improve the quality of patient care.

Sam Thurau, HHG Drums, the third-place winner, also received $12,500. Each HHG drum is precisely hand crafted using a mixture of old-world techniques, cutting edge equipment and the highest quality materials to produce instruments that meet the needs of today’s drummers.

Ankit Patel, Meerya LLC, won the People’s Choice Award and $2,500 for Meerya, LLC’s Smart Horns . Like  an automatic braking system, the Smart Horn automatically triggers to warn a driver about the danger of a collision.

Other finalists this year included Duncan Everhart, Hinterland Tools, inventor of the “no math” woodworking miter, and Travis Lodolinsky and Derek Lengenfelder, creators of  On Air in Cambria County, a social audio platform complete with Emoji special effects.

In addition to the financial rewards, winning entrepreneurs also receive access to free e-marketing webinars and business advice on how to access grant money. They also are eligible to apply for Ben Franklin’s TechCelerator program, another partnership between Ben Franklin and Startup Alleghenies. The deadline for the next TechCelerator is July 3. To learn more visit:  https://benfranklin.psu.edu/bf/TechCel/Select?ti=a005w00000bDzF7AAK


Startup Alleghenies is on a mission to bring greater economic vitality to the region by creating an ecosystem for success that recruits and supports entrepreneurs. Launched in June 2017 by the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission (SAP&DC), Startup Alleghenies entrepreneurs are mentored by coaches who provide 360 support to help them navigate a vast network of partners at economic development groups, private organizations, investors and universities–all working together to bring talent, new businesses, and jobs to the region.


Whether you’re starting a business or just thinking about it, a member of the media, an investor, or someone who cares about our region, learn more about what’s going on to revitalize our region’s reputation as a startupzone. Sign up to receive the latest insider information.

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Startup Alleghenies is celebrated its second year in April 2019. Here are the highlights about our 451 enrolled and active Startup Alleghenies entrepreneurs in Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset Counties.

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