Entrepreneurs showcase their startups and win money
Two local small business startups walked away with $5,000 each in prize money Thursday after the Ben Franklin TechCelerator graduation.
The program is an eight-week course for entrepreneurs to learn about building their businesses.
They are also able to network with other business owners and learn from experts.
Thursday’s winners were Mark Barbera, of Mark Albert LLC, and Tim and April Kretchman, of Action Driven Education LLC.
Barbera owns a shoe company and has partnered with a Somerset shoe factory to create his own unique designs and sell them at his storefront in Uptown Somerset.
Barbera said he will use the prize money to expand his digital marketing and find new customers through social media.
Although Barbera’s company doesn’t have any employees, Abilene Boot Co., the Somerset factory that makes his shoes, employs about 50 workers.
“We hope that our factory will increase production and hire more people,” he said.
“There are so many amazing businesses in the area that are super well-established.
“I think that we could do a better job of encouraging entrepreneurs to think outside the box and take an existing business and make it a little better.
“I didn’t start this factory. They’re the craftsmen. So I just came in with a cool idea. We need more of that.”
Tim and April Kretchman started Action Driven Education, a website that helps teachers with special education. With their website, schools can subscribe to a community with tested techniques for students with special needs.
Tim Kretchman said his plan for the prize money is to invest in marketing and sales.
As of right now, the website and its other facets are run by volunteers, but Kretchman said he hopes to grow large enough to employ a staff with innovators and salesmen.
“Education needs innovation and we want to try to do it,” he said.
“What’s amazing about Somerset County is the people here want to learn,” he said. “They want information. So having something like this in Somerset County is what we need.”
The other entrepreneurs were Kirk Sherbine, Emily Mahler, and Robert Opett and Dan Morris.
Sherbine’s company, PFC Outdoors, makes scented gun oils for hunters and protective coatings for vehicle parts.
Mahler started a website, Wellness for Generations, which is a subscription-based site for holistic wellness professionals.
Opett and Morris invented an attachment for fire extinguishers that talks to the user and guides them in putting out a fire.
There were more than 60 attendees at the presentations in the Somerset Trust Historic Building along North Center Avenue.
Somerset County Commissioner Gerald Walker said he was impressed with all of the presentations.
“I’d hate to be one of the judges,” he said. “There were five great ideas.”
He said programs like the TechCelerator are needed because there are many local people with great ideas who need a jumpstart.
“All of it was incredible,” he said.