Local entrepreneurs were awarded tens of thousands of dollars to further their emerging businesses.

Startup Alleghenies and Ben Franklin Technology Partners hosted the Big Idea contest to award the region’s emerging tech-entrepreneurs and small manufacturers. 

The presentation was held virtually on June 18. 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 Co. 

• Educator Timothy Kretchman won the first prize of $25,000 for his website that provides options to better individualize special education accommodations so that students can spend more time in regular education classrooms.   

Kretchman is a former school administrator and teacher whose career of about 20 years included time at Shanksville-Stonycreek and Meyersdale school districts in Somerset County. 

He and his wife, April, are working full time at their company, Action Driven Education, which landed the prize for developing the Accomods teaching tool. 

“It gives teachers ideas and solutions for how to meet needs of their special education students,” Kretchman said.

“There’s not a whole lot out there now, except for simple lists on a website. We provide guidance on not only ideas, but which ideas to select and how to implement them.

“We will use the $25,000 to market and advertise nationwide.”

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

“We are a virtual company,” she said. “We work with medical practices across the country to define a care pathway for patients.”

Zima is director of clinical operations for the company and a registered nurse with a master’s degree in business administration. 

“To date, our company has not done any marketing,” Zima said. “We work from referrals from industry partnerships. We plan to use the prize money to ramp up accounts. We are very appreciative to have this opportunity and continue it in the local area.”

• Sam Thurau, of Hollidaysburg, and his company HHG Drums, won third place. He 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,” a press release said.

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

“It was terrific to see applications from so many of our Startup Alleghenies entrepreneurs,” said Debbi Prosser, director of business development with Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.

“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 Corp., JARI and Bedford County Development Association.”

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.


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