BFTP Invests $1,435,500 in Young Companies with Return to Health Funding (Press Release)

Ben Franklin Portfolio Protection Investments Include 18 Early-Stage Firms

BFTP Invests $1,435,500 in Young Companies with Return to Health Funding

The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) announces that it has made emergency investments in 18 regional start-ups totaling $1,435,500 to protect existing portfolio clients during the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. The funds were provided through a $1 million disbursement from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) that was matched by BFTP/NEP.

BFTP/NEP also invested $404,370 in 17 established manufacturers in this round with support from DCED. Ben Franklin’s total Return to Health investments in the northeastern Pennsylvania economy is $1,840,470, invested in 35 companies.

BFTP/NEP developed a Return to Health funding program including various types of company investments. Portfolio Protection Investments will help secure BFTP/NEP’s existing investments in pre-COVID-19 viable and growing early-stage clients. These clients were performing strongly in job and revenue growth, loan performance, and/or were developing promising product or patent portfolios.

BFTP/NEP announces the following Portfolio Protection Investments in early-stage, technology-based firms in its 21-county service area, which are provided as 0% loans.

Advanced Photonics Sciences, Friendsville, Susquehanna County

Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000

Support and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Advanced Photonics Sciences (APS) is a premier manufacturer and supplier of lasers, optics, and photonics systems including miniaturized diode-direct and solid-state lasers, modules, and high-powered cryogenic lasers for commercial and specialized defense applications. APS is a recognized leader in photonics innovation and engineering, including the development of precision quality crystals. 

American Paper Bag,, Sugar Notch, Luzerne County

Ben Franklin Investment: $50,000

Address raw material costs and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.. American Paper Bag (APB) is a leading U.S.-based producer of customizable and environmentally friendly paper bags. Currently, most retail carrier bags in the U.S. are plastic and produced in China. APB’s paper bags are greener and provide users with many distinctive branding opportunities. Its proprietary manufacturing process and new shape give APB a competitive advantage over other U.S. bag producers.

CDC Software, LLC Regional Technology Center, Bloomsburg, Columbia County

Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000

Support and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. CDC Software’s platform greatly reduces the time and cost of integrating telephony systems with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and business systems. Highly configurable and supporting all major telephony providers, the platform provides complete customer data immediately to a representative answering a customer’s call to enable a productive and satisfying customer experience.

ConnexiCore,, Milford, Pike County

Ben Franklin investment: $50,000

Support marketing and lead generation work to improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. ConnexiCore is growing an elite national network of licensed remote drone pilots, which allow clients to engage in no-touch data collection. Using its exclusive cloud-based Software-as-a-Service flight management and analysis platform, ConnexiCore’s turnkey approach manages the entire process, from aerial telepresence and data collection, to image and video analysis, to extracting insights from that data, to delivering measurable actionable tasks to support decision making for industry. Clients leverage drone-based aerial data to create efficiencies that save time and money.

Galaxy Brushes, Moosic, Lackawanna County

Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000

Optimize workflow to address supply chain risk, manage inventory through disruptions, and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Galaxy Brushes manufactures cleaning and inspection brushes for the oil and gas pipeline industries and a range of custom wire cutting machines to improve production capacity and efficiency. The company developed a proprietary brush that has produced superior results in cleaning pipelines and wells. Effective cleaning grows more critical with the aging pipeline infrastructure and costs associated with contamination.

Gilson, Winfield, Snyder County

Ben Franklin Investment: $90,000

Support a return to full-time production after a major reduction in staffing due to COVID-19. Until the shutdown, revenues were up 70% over the same period last year. Gilson Snow manufactures innovative snowboards and skis. Applying aeronautical engineering concepts, Gilson products have a three-dimensional base that offers the “Gilson Edge” for a buttery and “surfy” feel not offered in traditional products. Gilson builds snowboards and skis from sustainably harvested Pennsylvania poplar and focuses on both technological innovation and aesthetic design. The company ships to customers worldwide.

Howell Benefit Technologies, , TekRidge, Jessup, Lackawanna County

Ben Franklin Investment: $67,500

Support staff and programming and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Howell Benefit Technologies, LLC provides online proprietary small-group insurance platforms used by national group insurance carriers that allow agents to reduce the quoting, enrollment, and submission process from three weeks to one hour. Providing real-time rates in a highly complex industry is a paradigm shift in the way group insurance is currently sold and administered. HBT also builds and maintains group insurance premium billing platforms and offers agent license tracking and commission payments online.

LifeAire Systems,, Allentown, Lehigh County

Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000

Commercialize LifeAire’s Aire~PPE Decontamination Unit (pending US FDA approval), which kills COVID-19 and other bacteria, viruses, and fungi on the surface and within the layers of N-95 masks, allowing for safe and quick reuse of masks. Twenty-one masks can be comprehensively and safely decontaminated in 3½ minutes, allowing users to get their own masks back. Up to 8,500 masks can be decontaminated each day, allowing the unit to pay for itself in cost savings in less than a day. LifeAire Systems develops, manufactures, and commercializes revolutionary in-duct air purification systems for the healthcare, long-term care and life sciences industries that effectively kills all infectious airborne pathogens. Because of COVID-19, LifeAire pivoted, applying its technology in developing the mask decontamination unit to help address the pressing N95 shortage.

Mystic Mountaintop Productions,, Kunkletown, Monroe County

Ben Franklin investment: $38,000

Support and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Mystic Mountaintop produces a proprietary “smart” LED lighting system for the middle- to low-end entertainment industry. The system includes a hybrid analog/digital computerized lighting console, local and wireless remote control via a smart phone or tablet, a lighting power and control distribution unit, and installation hardware. Primary clients are small venues, such as auditoriums, churches, and nightclubs, which want a lighting system that is affordable but offers the quality and functionality of systems designed for larger facilities.

OPTiMO Information Technology, LLC, Bloomsburg, Columbia County

Ben Franklin Investment: $62,500

Allow OPTiMO to develop a cloud-based process automation tool that will streamline business workflows and reduce operating costs for greater efficiency for major clients in the U.S Government. The company provides innovative digital-product-development services with a focus on the end-user experience. OPTiMO delivers enterprise-level information technology solutions to clients nationwide.

Orbweaver Sourcing, LLC, Bethlehem, Northampton County

Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000

Support and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Orbweaver is the first and only provider of complete, real-time supply chain integration solutions for the electronics manufacturing industry. Orbweaver’s suite of products and services empowers distributors, manufacturers and contract manufacturers to instantly and securely transfer and use critical supply chain data, resulting in dramatic increases in efficiency, reductions in cost and improvements in customer service.

planguru,, Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County

Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000

Support product development, marketing, and staffing to improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. The company is currently rolling out its new cloud-based Planguru app. Planguru provides businesses and business advisors with Software-as-a-System (SaaS)-based budgeting, forecasting and business analytics tools. This information enables small- and medium-sized businesses to make better, more informed decisions.

Precision POS,, TekRidge, Jessup, Lackawanna County

Ben Franklin Investment: $35,000

Support product enhancements that address COVID-19 restrictions, including contact-less curbside pickup, additional delivery options, and an app for delivery driver management. Precision POS offers advanced tablet and cloud based point-of-sale, on-line ordering, and various other supporting products for the restaurant industry and other related food and beverage industries. 

Rocket Cloud, Inc.www.RocketCl.comBen Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, Northampton County

Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000

Support and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Rocket Cloud helps industrial wholesalers successfully sell online. The firm creates visibility for clients’ inventory on marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, and Walmart by connecting directly with their ERP systems. Rocket Cloud’s enterprise suite handles inventory replenishment, repricing, and accounting/reconciliation, along with providing analytics to monitor performance. Rocket Cloud is also rolling out an industrial marketplace, ProSupplyDirect, which will address limitations on B2C marketplaces.

Saladax Biomedical, Inc. Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, Northampton County

Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000

Support distribution of COVID-19 test and sales of Saladax’s test for measuring adherence to antipsychotic medications. Saladax develops rapid blood tests for point-of-care and for laboratory analyzers for use in psychiatry and oncology. The firm has been supplying laboratories and clinicians worldwide with revolutionary diagnostic solutions for more than 15 years. Its experience and expertise allow it to create leading products that offer reliable and rapid diagnosis. The company is awaiting US FDA emergency use authorization for a blood test for coronavirus antibodies.

Signallamp Health, INC, Scranton, Lackawanna County

Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000

Support and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. The use of telemedicine for healthcare during the pandemic has been pivotal to protect patients and healthcare staff, and to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Signallamp Health’s remote clinical services platform supports healthcare providers by triaging and assessing ill patients, including those affected by COVID-19, as well as patients with other conditions. Signallamp’s services are remote, engaging nurses and other clinical staff by telephone, text monitoring system, video conference, and/or other telehealth and telemedicine methods. The company’s model is plug-and-play, working alongside existing Electronic Medical Records. Trusted by a growing number of provider organizations in 10 states, Signallamp allows doctors to provide a value-added service to a larger number of patients and to achieve better health outcomes for patients. 

US Specialty Formulations, LLC Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, Northampton County

Ben Franklin Investment: $75,000

Support the logistics and purchase of equipment to expand an analytical lab to meet steep demand for pre-clinical materials for use in a novel SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccine. US Specialty Formulations (USSF) manufactures sterile injectable pharmaceuticals used by healthcare providers or in new drug or vaccine clinical trials. Millions of Americans require specialized and custom-manufactured drugs, and the current infrastructure is insufficient to support their therapies. These specially prepared drugs are U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications and are provided globally., Kutztown, Berks County

Ben Franklin Investment: $67,500

Support and improve the company’s competitiveness during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. webCemeteries helps cemeteries manage complex records through powerful online systems to help serve bereaved families, including locating loved ones with GPS and sharing memories online.

About the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania

The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) creates and retains highly paid, sustainable jobs by investing in and linking companies with experts, universities, follow-on funding, and other resources to help them prosper through innovation. It is part of a four-center economic development initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and is funded by the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority.

BFTP/NEP’s strategy encompasses three key areas:

1.     developing and growing early-stage technology-oriented companies;

2.     supporting established manufacturers as they creatively apply new technology to help them succeed globally by producing better, faster, and at a lower cost;

3.     promoting an innovative community-wide infrastructure that supports Pennsylvania’s business technology ecosystem.

Since beginning operations in 1983, BFTP/NEP has helped to create 19,257 new jobs for Pennsylvania workers and to retain 43,880 existing jobs, to start 525 new companies, and to develop 2,113 new products and processes. Since 2007, BFTP/NEP clients have generated more than $1.6 billion in follow-on funding. The Pennsylvania Ben Franklin Technology Partners network has returned $3.90 to the state treasury for every $1.00 invested in the program.

BFTP/NEP owns, manages, and is headquartered in Ben Franklin TechVentures®, an award-winning business incubator/post-incubator facility on Lehigh University’s campus in Bethlehem. BFTP/NEP also owns and manages the Bloomsburg Regional Technology Center. Applying more than 35 years of experience and two international awards for excellence in business incubation, BFTP/NEP leads a 13-member business incubator network that is among the largest in the nation.


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Tom Spann’s Act II, Brightside, raises $35.1 million from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) with participation from existing investors Comcast Ventures and Trinity Ventures

Tom Spann / Brightside website

Tom Paine

Brightside, which provides. tools to help companies’ employees stay on the right financial track with their personal finances, announced a $35.1 million Series A investment today.

The round was led by Andreesson Horowitz, with Comcast Ventures, Trinity Ventures and others also participating..Tom Spann, who founded employee health navigation company Accolade, which now has a valuation of $620 milli9n, is trying to replicate his success with healthcare by taking a similar approach to financial management. Accolade filed for an IPO back in February.

in its announcement, Brightside said it would have three headquarters: Chandler, AZ, San Fransisco, and Philadelphia, though Philadelphia presently has only a handful of the 103 employees listed on LinkedIn. The presence of Andreesson Horowitz, along with continued support from Comcast Ventures, is important.

Andreesson Horowitz also led a large round in Acccolade, so presumably its reasonably pleased with that investment and Spann as a founder. Spann cut his last formal tie with Accolade late last year, leaving its board to focus on being CEO of Brightside.

There is definitely a sense of missionary zeal about Spann, a belief in doing good, but nonetheless the venture must make financial. sense. Brigthside claims to put $1200 per year back in the pockets of the average employee, a number that seems low but honest. Expenses must. be measured against that number. Also, there must be limits on how far you can go in advising employees without running into regulatory issues.

Its still an unproven concept. Comcast as a client has been a test case.

Opinion: Why TechUnited Matters to the NJ Tech Community

Esther Surden

Opinion: Why TechUnited Matters to the NJ Tech Community

Today, Aaron Price and his team turned a page in the history of the NJ Tech Council. They introduced the organization’s new name and brand, “TechUnited:NJ.”

New Jersey is one of the few states that has a strong organization uniting and advocating for its tech community. The NJ Tech Council has been that advocate for 24 years.

However, as a 20-plus-year-old organization, it needed a refresh, and TechUnited:NJ sets the expectations just right.

In a recent interview, Price described the organization’s vision as follows: “For those who are defining the path ahead in New Jersey and beyond, TechUnited:NJ is an empowering force for all innovators, instigators and entrepreneurs, achieving this by uniting our community to embolden the ‘what ifs,’ so that we accelerate opportunity, propel ideas into action, in order to build a better future for all.”

The word “all” is an important part of that statement, Price said, and it’s deliberately used twice “because we want to make sure the organization addresses all kinds of people from all different backgrounds, and we think about equity as an important driving characteristic of how we move forward.”

Bringing Value to Stakeholders

The organization is putting a lot of emphasis on the experiences and value it offers its members and others who may not be members. Price thinks a lot about what TechUnited:NJ’s differentiator is and what he brings to the table. Based on his experience running the NJ Tech Meetup, Propelify and the NJ Tech Council, he noted that “they all offer surprising and impactful opportunities that arise when the tech community unites.”

So, this time, “We were thinking about a name that represented the power of community, the power of bringing people together.”

There’s a ton of energy around the state and around the region about what can we do together, he added. “I think TechUnited:NJ is really well positioned to help catalyze a lot of that opportunity. It’s a really exciting time to be involved with all of this.”

The new logo was developed in New Jersey, said Price. He pointed out that, on the logo, the point where the “h” connects with the “u” represents when tech unites, and they are the only letters that are physically connected. A multicolored gradient shoots out from the space behind “united” to represent the impact and the opportunities that emerge when technology unites and people and companies come together. He noted that “h” and “u” are the first two letters in the word “human,” and that human powers activate this explosion, and humans are the catalyst driving energy and momentum.

“The graphic behind the ‘united’ is a gradient meant to represent a diversity of individuals and the ideas in the community,” he said. “It’s deliberately changing colors over time as a reflection of the diversity of people and ideas that come together. It goes from cooler tones to warmer tones in a nod towards building a better future for all.”

The word “Tech” is prominent in the logo. According to the website,”Tech isn’t just about coding languages and transistors. To us, being a ‘tech’ person is a lens through which one sees the world. Where some see headaches – we see opportunity. Where some find frustration, we look for efficiency. Where some think small – we leverage technology to make a dent in the globe.”

Data Driven

Price announced the new name and brand during an NJTC Town Hall webinar, making it clear that TechUnited:NJ would be holding itself to a very high standard, and would be collecting and monitoring data on user satisfaction with the organization and its programs. He noted that the overall goal will be to bring value to New Jersey’s tech community. “Whether you’re an early-stage entrepreneur with an idea just looking to get started, or you’re a Fortune 100 company,” TechUnited:NJ can accelerate your opportunities, he said.

There are three particular data points that are important to TechUnited, Price said. The first one is overall engagement. “Our goal is to have at least four meaningful engagements with every stakeholders’ organization each year. I hope we have significantly more, but it is a minimum of four. We’ve now committed to technology to start to track those things.” Secondly, TechUnited is looking to increase its value by having a higher net promoter score, which is the ratio that shows that people are heavily advocating for our organization.

 “We were looking to meet or beat a 35 Net Promoter Score. … We looked at the services industries, and 30 was the was the good-to-excellent score, so we set a slightly higher bar: 35. Most recently, and it’s early in the process, but we’re at 58 and above with most of the experiences.” The third goal is to look at growth as measured by an increase in members, an increase in overall revenue and “a decrease in our membership churn rate.”

Emphasis on New Jersey

During the launch webinar, Price was asked specifically if the goal of the rebrand was to start in New Jersey and to expand to other regions. He added that it is possible. “The goal wasn’t to come up with a brand necessarily that could expand to other regions, but it certainly was a major positive as we thought about branding, that it might open doors” to other areas.

“There are logical steps to how we could have other TechUnited brands around the country, around the globe. And our thinking was [that] we may or may not ever get to that place, but if we did, and the headquarters and the mother ship is in New Jersey, we can bring people together here and show that this can be the beacon from which it all grows. We think that’s a net positive for everybody.”

Price emphasized that, for the foreseeable future, TechUnited’s emphasis will be on this state and this region.

Why it Matters

So why does all this matter? It matters because the tech and innovation community is New Jersey’s future.  If we all pull in the same direction, if we can unite the state and the region, if we can get large companies, mid-sized companies, small companies and startups talking together and finding common ground, we can finally put New Jersey on the tech map.

Am I worried about Price’s possible long-term goal of replicating this in other places? To me, it only means that the organization will be working extra hard to get this right for New Jersey.

Innovation comes out of every corner of New Jersey, and TechUnited:NJ can help us all pull together to move forward. We wish TechUnited:NJ the best of luck in the next 20-plus years of this organization.

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About The Author

Esther Surden

Esther Surden

Esther is the Founder and Editor in Chief of NJ Tech Weekly. This article is republished here with her permission.



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Aaron Price and Marc Lore photo by Matthew Weber
Aaron Price and Marc Lore at a NJ Tech Meetup (File Photo) | Matthew Weber

Home » Around New Jersey » entrepreneurship » Innovation » Meetings » News » NJ Tech People » Startups » tech entrepreneurship » Walmart to Shutter Jet Brand, but Jobs to Stay in Hoboken


 May 19, 2020  Esther Surden

It is the end of the line for, the brave new e-commerce experiment started by New Jersey entrepreneur Marc Lore in Montclair in 2014. The startup raised over $820 million in four venture rounds and built a massive tech presence in Hoboken.

Jet’s claim to fame was its “smart cart,” an e-commerce technology that bundled goods together to reduce costs to consumers. was a digital-first e-commerce company that was emboldened to try new ways of doing business. The startup’s employees could be found in their purple shirts everywhere in Hoboken, and they were a presence at the Propelify Innovation Festival, with Jet sponsoring a Ferris Wheel that it used to conduct job interviews.

Walmart, which bought for over $3 billion from Lore and cofounders Mike Hanrahan and Nathan Faust in 2016, has decided to put an end to all that. According to a report by TechCrunch, the company stated that “due to continued strength of the brand, the company will discontinue The acquisition of nearly four years ago was critical to accelerating our omni strategy.” reached out to Walmart to ask what will happen to the tech jobs in Hoboken. Prior to this announcement, Walmart had already incorporated those teams into the main Walmart e-commerce brand. “These teams are part of and are not affected by this change,” a Walmart spokeswoman told us.

“These teams are part of and are not affected by this change,”

Walmart spokeswoman

When the news of the Walmart acquisition of Jet in 2016 hit New Jersey, many in the local tech community, including Aaron Price, now president and CEO of the NJ Tech Council, were disappointed. They had hoped that Jet would grow into a large e-commerce entity that would spin off many e-commerce technology startups of its own, and be the anchor for an innovation hot spot in New Jersey.

At that time, Lore said about the acquisition, “We started Jet with the vision of creating a new shopping experience. Today, I couldn’t be more excited that we will be joining with Walmart to help fuel the realization of that vision. The combination of Walmart’s retail expertise, purchasing scale, sourcing capabilities, distribution footprint, and digital assets — together with the team, technology and business we have built here at Jet — will allow us to deliver more value to customers.”

When Walmart began integrating the teams into its overall e-commerce strategy last year, Lore wrote a blog post noting that, after the acquisition, “we merged many Jet and Walmart teams to become one, and created incredible new customer experiences. Our combined supply chain team has retooled fulfillment centers and mirrored inventory. This initially led to two-day free shipping, and more recently, free NextDay Delivery, all without a membership fee.”

He continued, “The smart cart technology we built for Jet played a big role in making that possible. Our combined retail team has added incredible new brands, including private brands with Sophia Vergara, Ellen DeGeneres, Drew Barrymore, and a lot more. They’ve built amazing tools like FlightDeck to put data at our merchants’ fingertips, and created a new baby registry and PetRX.”

Lore added that his company had repositioned the Jet site itself. “Across most of the country, we saw we could get a much higher return on our marketing investments with, so we’ve dialed up our marketing spend there. However, in specific large cities where Walmart has few or no stores, Jet has become hyper focused on those urban customers. It added iconic local brands in New York and brought in products from brands like Apple and Nike that you haven’t seen on While this has made Jet smaller from a sales perspective, it has helped us create a smart portfolio approach where our businesses complement each other,” he wrote.

“Bringing together talent from Jet and Walmart into joint teams has created more opportunity for our business and our people. We’re now merging the rest of our Jet teams, including Retail, Marketing, Technology, Analytics, Product and several others within Walmart.”

More of our coverage of can be found here:

At NJ Tech Meetup, Lore Talks about Jet’s Value Proposition, Massive Market, and What Keeps Him Up at Night, by Esther Surden

At June NJ Tech Meetup, Jet Reveals the Tech Secret Sauce That Helps It Compete with Amazon, by Givon Zirkind

Hoboken-based Jet Changes Its Business Model; Goodbye to Yearly Fee, by Esther Surden

Some Details Emerge on Marc Lore’s E-Commerce Startup Jet, by Esther Surden


Esther Surden is founder & publisher of NJTechWeekly. This article is republished here with her permission.

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DuckDuckGo in the limelight

Tom Paine

In case you haven’t noticed, news about Paoli-based alternative privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo has grown from a trickle into a flood, partially based on recent interviews founder & CEO Gabriel Weinberg has granted.

In one, he says he is talking with the Feds about their active Google antitrust investigation. In another, he is described as “talking to investors”, perhaps implying another funding round might be forthcoming.

The latest is a slew of articles ( prompted by a Wall Street analyst) ) suggesting Apple should acquire DuckDuckGo (for less than $1 billion, the analyst recommends)

Here are some dates and milestones mentioned in recent articles:

Raised $3 million in a Series A round in 2011, led by Union Square Ventures.

Says it might pass the $100 million revenue barrier for the first time in 2020

89 staff members currently

Profitable since 2014

In March 2018, 17 million daily DuckDuckGo searches were made; exactly two years later, 57 million searches were completed.

2018: Canadian investment fund leads $10 million round

1.5 billion monthly DuckDuckGos already taking place.

If DuckDuckGo is generating $100 million in revenue with 89 associates and no large content acquisition costs, its economics are exceptional

DuckDuckGo advertising contextual; Google search advertising personalized behavioral

Gooogle is paying Apple an estimated $7-8 billion per year to be Apple’s default search engine

Continue reading “DuckDuckGo in the limelight”