Just a few hours from 20 percent of the country’s manufacturing and industrial infrastructure, a few blocks from campus, and a bike ride away from home, there’s no place else KCF Technologies would rather be.
By Jodie Dello Stritto
Born out of Penn State’s Center for Acoustics and Vibration, KCF is a true story of technology transfer or, as CEO Jeremy Frank said, “taking ideas from the lab to the world.” It’s a process that’s not for the weak in spirit.
Listen to Frank tell KCF’s history and you’ll learn it requires determination, flexibility, support and at times, even a little soul-searching. After some highs, lows and a couple of key pivots, KCF is making it work by relying on its core expertise and continuing to keep close ties with the university and the resources it offers, Frank said.
“We went through the start-up incubator in Innovation Park, we’re a two-time recipient of Ben Franklin funding, and the majority of our talent are Penn State alums—many of whom graduated, moved away, then came back to work with us,” he said.
Frank and KCF’s VP of Sales and Marketing Ben Lawrence, along with many of their employees, share a passion for another important factor that keeps KCF here: quality of life.
“The schools are good, the area is beautiful, and you get to enjoy small-town living with the perks of a university town,” Lawrence said.
Both men are avid bikers – along with at least four other staff members judging by the number of bikes hung in the entry way – and love the ease that State College offers for their preferred mode of transportation.
“I bike to work every day, so does Jeremy,” Lawrence said. “I spend my day with brilliant engineers whose ideas are changing the world, and at the end of the day we all get on our bikes and go home… how awesome is that?”
Pretty awesome, according to Frank who said, “2015 is the year.” KCF is hitting its stride.
KCF’s current product, SmartDiagnostics, “gives machines a voice” by combining low-power wireless sensors with software into a monitoring system that helps engineers and technicians predict when a machine requires maintenance.
“Every machine speaks, and up until now, humans couldn’t listen or understand in a simple and affordable way,” said Lawrence. “The implications are extraordinary for manufacturing, oil and gas, power generation, energy efficiency.”
As you might expect, SmartDiagnostics is a hit in the shale gas industry, which drove half of the company’s 2014 sales, and provided support in the form of grant funding from the Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center and through D2PA, the “Discovered in Pennsylvania, Developed in Pennsylvania program,” which seeds innovations that promote technology transfer.
“We’re at the epicenter—geographically and with our product offering—of the biggest thing that’s happening in energy production,” Lawrence said. “The opportunity is big, and a lot of it is right in our backyard.”
Not to mention, he adds, KCF is just a 3-6 hour drive from key mid-Atlantic and East Coast manufacturing hubs. “From here, we have an incredibly wide reach: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, DC, Wilkes-Barre-Scranton, Baltimore, Cleveland, Buffalo… they’re all in a doable driving distance, which is critical for selling and implementing a system that monitors machines.”
“Our product has global implications,” said Lawrence, “and right now, our location is key to reaching that destination.”