PDC Spas Partners with Penn State

A new company established by PDC Spas’ vice president is colaborating with a state grant program to develop products and technologies.

08.27.2009 – Lynda Livingston, vice president of Williamsport, PA-based PDC Spas, established diverse designs Ltd. in 2008 to develop new portable-spa accessories. “We knew there were new products that the marketplace was asking for, and we wanted to be able to serve other OEM’s,” Livingston said. “With the setup of the new LLC, we became aware of government programs that could help us monetarily and time-wise to bring those products to the market.” She decided to use Pennsylvania’s Keystone Innovative Zone Program to help fund the new products.

KIZ was established by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in 2004 to encourage innovation among small, Pennsylvania-based manufacturers. The program allows qualified firms that are 8 years old and younger to receive funds to defray the costs of obtaining patents, developing prototypes, marketing and information technology. KIZ was mentioned by President Obama as a model that other states could follow. “Would we have…continued with this corporation without it? Yes,” Livingston said. “The whole momentum was in Diverse Designs. But the KIZ program helped to refine it and bring it to the marketplace more quickly.”

Besides providing funding, KIZ pairs the manufacturers with local universities. Diverse Designs essentially hired students and professors from Pennsylvania College of Technology, a part of Penn State University, to help design the products. KIZ then reimbursed Diverse Designs for part of that cost. Under the agreement, the start-up even received free office space on campus.

These arrangements are beneficial for both parties. Companies gain access to sophisticated facilities and highly trained personnel in the form of professors and students, while those at the university have a chance to see results of their hard work go to market. “I worked directly with professors who were plastic engineers and mechanical engineers,” Livingston said. The company also used a senior project from one of the students, who refined a product using CAD software. “When you open it up to a fresh set of eyes and younger blood, you never know what you’ll end up with,” Livingston said.

She began the partnership with two hot tub accessories in mind. First, Livingston wanted a cover that would not only seal in heat, but also resist the water retention that usually weighs down these units. She also sought to create a line of faux rock accessories to be used with portable hot tubs of all brands.

Drawing on their knowledge of plastics and mechanical engineering, the university staff created the Acculok cover, released last year. KIZ funds helped Diverse Designs create Omni Rocks, introduced last month. In the case of the cover, the team came up with a water-resistant barrier made of a cross-laminated, multi-layered material that is heat-sealed. The group also formulated a seamless heat shield around the perimeter of the cover, in addition to the full length heat gasket.

Thermal imaging equipment from the university helped detect heat loss. “We were able to have that testing done with the optimal equipment, and the results and analysis of that test on file here, and it basically was pretty close to no charge,” Livingston said.

Financial help for small businesses can come from various sources, but two are common among many states, said Katie Bell, co-ordinator of the Williamsport-Lycoming Keystone Innovation Zone Program. On the manufacturing side is the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a federal program that supplies some of the funding to KIZ.

“There are MEP centers across the nation that help companies,” Bell said. “They might have service providers on staff, but a lot of them do have university connections.”

But you don’t have to be a manufacturer to seek help from Small Business Development Centers, also located around the country. They can provide assistance with business consulting and planning.

It even helps to start by finding one source. “Once you open conversation about government programs with the right people, usually you become aware of all the programs out there,” Livington said. “Because this program leads to another leads to another leads to another.”

Written by Rebecca Robledo. Courtesy of Pool and Spa News

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