3 Startups Share $100K Prize from YBI Competition

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Dan Fernback, CEO of JuggerBot 3D LLC, recalls when 3-D printers were introduced into the engineering department at Youngstown State University.

YSU engineering students were “essentially the guinea pigs for 3-D printing,” as he put it.

“It wasn’t long before we were able to identify the huge benefits that this technology offered engineers. At the same time, the shortcomings of the current machines became very obvious,” Fernback remarked.

Last year Fernback joined with and two YSU engineering students to establish JuggerBot, housed in the Youngstown Business Incubator.

The company, which is developing engineering-grade 3-D printers, was among three startups awarded a share of the approximately $100,000 prize in YBI’s first AMPED startup competition.

The incubator announced the winners Thursday morning. Smart 3D Solutions of Akron and Freshmade 3D of Youngstown will also share the prize money. The three startups were selected from among 30 applications and eight finalists.

The competition, funded in part with a $50,000 grant from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, came about through a recommendation from the University Business Incubator Index, which last year named YBI the top university-affiliated incubator in the world and just this week the No. 1 incubator in North America.

In assessing the incubator’s strengths and weaknesses, representatives of the index suggested YBI conduct a national competition to boost deal flow, said Barb Ewing, YBI CEO. Entries were judged on a range of criteria including potential for job creation and the ability to take the startup from the idea stage to market. It wasn’t just a “pitch competition,” she said.

All technology-based startups were eligible to apply, but entries received “added points” for aligning with the America Makes additive manufacturing technology roadmap, Ewing said.

America Makes, where Thursday’s announcement was held, is the federal public-private partnership focused on developing additive manufacturing.

“We’re thrilled with the caliber of the ideas and the diversity of the technologies that we got,” Ewing said.

“Just the caliber of the awardees is unbelievable,” affirmed Rich Wetzel, additive manufacturing business coordinator at YBI.

JuggerBot is preparing to go into beta phase testing, Fernback reported. Beginning February, local companies will begin using JuggerBot’s printers, with a product launch anticipated in the next six months, he said.

Smart 3D Solutions is developing a flexible pressure sensor that can be inserted in a running shoe to provide real-time data on running performance and allow runners to adjust their strides based on that information. “It records your strike pattern when you’re running,” said Benjamin Kent, the company’s founder.

Freshmade 3D is targeting the auto parts market. “Our approach is to provide affordable reverse engineering, design and manufacturing services for car and custom automotive parts,” said co-founder Brett Conner. “We’re trying to serve the community that’s represented by restoration shops, car owners, auto clubs and auto parts distributors that service classic collector cars and custom automobiles.”

The three startups will share the $55,000 being awarded initially and will continue to work with YBI, Ewing said.

“As part of this process, the companies will have [YBI’s] entrepreneurs-in-residence working with them, and through those partnerships we’ll establish specific milestones,” Ewing said. “We do not give the checks directly to the companies. Rather, as they make strategic investments we pay their vendors so that we have some oversight.”

An additional $50,000 will be divided among the companies contingent on achieving certain benchmarks and agreeing to additional ones, Ewing explained. “This is a very serious, strategic investment in these companies with absolutely the expectation that they will create investment and create jobs in northeastern Ohio to be part of the manufacturing cluster,” she said.

Pictured: Dan Fernback demonstrates JuggerBot’s 3-D printer.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.