Penn State’s industry partner KCF Technologies helps to power innovation

September 14, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A high-growth Penn State startup, KCF Technologies deploys mostly wireless vibration monitoring into factories to reduce unexpected equipment failures, reduce process and energy waste, and dramatically improve the safety of the operating conditions. The company serves a variety of industries including pulp/paper, automotive, power plants, and even museums like the Smithsonian.

“KCF optimizes American manufacturing by giving machines a voice,” explains Jeremy Frank, KCF president and co-founder, and a Penn State mechanical engineering alumnus.

KCF Technologies is a standout among Penn State’s industrial partners. Not only does it provide strong support to students by sponsoring the College of Engineering’s senior design capstone projects and supporting the rapidly growing entrepreneurship community, but it works with Penn State researchers on challenging business problems.

“There’s such a breadth of expertise across the faculty and departments,” said Frank. “Anytime there’s a topic we don’t have expertise in, we can find the individual or lab that does. We have access to the talent and global experts on nearly every topic that comes up. And because the nature of our business is to optimize American manufacturing, which is very broad, we’re talking about many diverse sectors. There’s an expert at Penn State in nearly every one. It’s a wonderful partnership, and we’re thrilled to be connected.”

Frank's also been a speaker at Happy Valley LaunchBox, and he mentored students in Invent Penn State’s Summer Founders Program. Additionally, KCF Technologies, along with Videon, sponsored Happy Valley LaunchBox’s pilot Hedy’s Garage program, where student entrepreneurs work with companies on a project to create new technology and have an opportunity to earn a share of the projects result, which could include ownership in a company spin-off.

“Hedy’s Garage was a great opportunity to share our experience with a new start-up to help them get off the ground,” said Frank. “We actually started with two projects and set it up as a bit of a rivalry between ourselves and Videon. I’m pleased to say we have already lost. Our team galvanized around Videon’s after our project stalled out, and they are moving forward. And I hope to be their first customer.

"It’s a good example of how entrepreneurship really works: You try things and you have to recognize that they don’t always work the way you expect them too," he added. "And that’s perfectly fine. With a combination of humility and aggression, you hit the reset button and move in the direction that seems more likely to be successful. I’m thrilled to see our students making those decisions and moving in a path that will lead them to success and accelerated learning, which is even more important. There’s nothing like being on your own and trying to make your own money.”

Based in downtown State College, KCF was founded in 2000 by Frank and Gary Koopmann, an emeritus distinguished professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering. The founders met when Frank was a graduate student working on his doctorate in mechanical engineering.

In its early days, KCF was a tenant of the Penn State Incubator in Innovation Park. It also received support from Ben Franklin Technology Partners when it won $25,000 from the Shale Gas Innovation Contest in 2014. Later that year Ben Franklin announced $475,000 in funding for five Pennsylvania startups and KCF was one of the selected companies. These collaborations have been invaluable to KCF Technology’s growth and development as evidenced by Penn State alumni making up over half of KCF’s employees. The company is a strong recruiter of Penn State graduates.

“We’ve collaborated a lot over the years, and we get the most benefit from accessing Penn State talent and expertise," said Frank. "We’re growing quickly and hiring lots of people, so that connection is vital. Penn State is a wonderful incubator of talented individuals who are change makers."

The feeling is mutual. Jeff Fortin, Penn State associate vice president for research and director of the Office of Industrial Partnerships, said, “KCF is a great example of a local, fast-growing company that works with Penn State in a variety of ways.”

The changing entrepreneurial landscape at Penn State and in State College has created immense enthusiasm among local businesses and innovators.

“There are so many things happening at Penn State that were not happening 20 years ago when we started KCF,” Frank said. “I think those of us that have been around are absolutely thrilled to see them happening — the supportive community of entrepreneurship is a wonderful thing. The biggest impact that it can have is on our culture. If we create a culture of support and acceptance around entrepreneurship and the idea that failure is not only okay, but a good thing, then we can actually build a very healthy, vibrant economy around it. And that’s what I really see in Penn State’s role — creating the underlying culture that shows support and acceptance of entrepreneurship to allow the individuals who are capable to rise into it and flourish.” 

Last Updated September 17, 2018