The New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC) named two tech companies, one clean tech company and two life science tech companies winners of its mid-Atlantic Innovation Competition during a conference held at New York Internet Co.’s Bridgewater offices Wednesday. All are N.J.-based, and all presented “cool” products that can change the way things are currently done.
Metuchen-based Berkeley Varitronics Systems’ Inc.’s president and CEO, Scott Schober, demonstrated his company’s ingenious tool that solves a problem in the machine-to-machine communications space. The device allows companies installing electric vehicle chargers, vending machines or ATMs with modems to find the wireless communications carrier with the strongest signal to transfer information about stock, usage and servicing needs. While it’s at it, the simple-to-use handheld tool tells the technician installing the vending machine the best placement for the antenna.
Schober, whose father started the firm and is an engineer in his own right, said the product was the result of a challenge the company brought its engineers to “see if we could design the tool from concept to first prototype in 30 days.” Berkeley was able to meet that challenge.
In the electronics/advanced materials category, solar tech company CEO and green architect William Kaufman of WattLots LLC (Millington) presented the Power Arbor parking lot solar solution, which attacks the solar energy conundrum from an architectural standpoint. The product’s unique architecture answers one issue solar firms run into again and again when trying to install large solar farms: solar panels are ugly.
“People haven’t found a product that both suits functional needs and is somewhat socially acceptable,” Kaufman said. The aesthetically pleasing canopy system will make parking lots look futuristic while providing energy and incorporating such add-ons as electronic charging stations.
Kaufman noted additional benefits to the product: it produces 40 to 45 percent more power than equivalent flat systems, and its open-air design does not collect snow, making it perfect for Northeast Corridor lots. Speaking with NJTechWeekly.com after the presentation, Kaufman said working prototypes are available and several companies are in line to be the first installations. He added that if the product takes off, it could bring 1,000 jobs to N.J.
The winner in the information technology category was iSpeech Inc., a company based at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Enterprise Development Center, Newark. iSpeech made a splash with DriveSafe.ly, which can both read text messages to drivers and let them speak to send texts while their eyes are on the road. Heath Ahrens, iSpeech’s CEO, recalled the company started in 2007 with two guys in a basement and has grown to 30 people. Asked whether Siri, the Apple iPhone 4S app, will have a negative impact on his business, Ahrens replied, “No.” In fact, companies are looking for alternatives to Siri, which has proven that the time for natural speech technology has come, he said. The company’s platform is free to developers.
Two companies tied for first place in the life sciences category. The first, Lingraphica Inc., uses tablet computing to generate speech for people who have aphasia or cannot communicate due to stroke or other disabilities affecting their speech center. The lightweight, easy-to-use system presented by Pam Wonoroff, product manager, is based on a Samsung Galaxy tablet and approved as a medical device. It comes equipped with 7,000 phrases accompanied by pictures. Users touch a picture to make the device utter a phrase. The tablet includes software that helps those recovering from strokes position their lips to practice making better sounds.
The other life sciences winner was Glen Mills Inc. (Clifton). The firm markets a line of scientific equipment that mills pharmaceutical ingredients so small, the compounds can penetrate the body’s cells. According to the presenter, company director Stanley Goldberg, these nanometer-sized particles will enhance the pharmacological effectiveness of new cancer drugs and other medicines. Many N.J. pharma manufacturers have embraced this process technology to help expedite drug discovery when limited amounts of materials are available.