Better sheets, courtesy of chemistry

In 2017, chemical engineer Allison Howard found a way to make bed sheets that would be kinder to a sleeper’s skin than traditional products.

Her logic was simple but brilliant: Common bedding textiles like cotton absorb water from our skin. Night after night, our skin rubs and drags along the surface of those cotton sheets and pillowcases, losing moisture and quietly suffering from the friction. A former researcher at GE Advanced Materials and Bayer, Howard decided to create Auratek, a company that engineers new fabrics that integrate skin science principals.

Image of sheets courtesy of Auratek.

Howard couldn’t be the only person who felt like her skin looked “slept on” in the morning and remembered past generations prizing satin pillowcases for their beauty benefits. So while based at the business incubator Ascender, she bounced business ideas off leaders in the local tech community before deciding to target the high-end hospitality industry for her initial products.

Her first beta customer, Mansions on Fifth in Shadyside, gave her feedback that showed she was on the right track. Beyond the beauty benefits, housekeepers told her the fabric in her bedsheets made it easier to make and strip a bed. They also clean better and dry faster than the sheets that the inn had been previously using.

As Howard works on securing her second beta test, she’s opening up product sales online for consumers to try the product. For the month of July, she’s offering a presale, that she describes as her own type of crowd-funding: Consumers can purchase Auratek bedding online and have it shipped with the company’s first production run at the end of the summer.

She’s hoping to learn more from consumers who purchase in the presale and to use positive comments to help her penetrate the hospitality market. She may then look to sell directly to consumers.

One million high-tech baby seats and counting

After running a focus group with Mt. Lebanon moms, Pittsburgh-based 4moms introduced an infant seat with robotic technology in early 2010. The seat, called the mamaRoo, was designed to gently move like a parent.

Coach Mike Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins joins in on the celebration to commemorate the sale of 4moms millionth mamaRoo infant seat.

They soon gained distribution at major retail chains and last week the company announced it had shipped its one millionth mamaRoo. To commemorate it, they created an adult-sized version that will go on tour.

When the fourth generation mamaRoo was announced last year, company president Gary Waters said the company would donate four percent of its 2017 sales to Project Sweet Peas, a nonprofit that helps families whose infants are in neonatal intensive care units. Now, with the one-millionth mamaRoo, Waters announced that they will donate $1 to Project Sweet Peas for every adult that rides in the oversized mamaRoo while it’s on tour.

Last month, initial data from a preliminary study by the National Perinatal Association found that babies suffering from Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal — a condition affecting 0.6% of U.S.-born infants — were in a calmer behavioral state when placed in the mamaRoo seat.

While the company continues to market in-home baby products, one of its founders, Henry Thorne, has spun off his research on car seats, creating Safest Seats LLC to make a safer car seat.

Help for manufacturers from prototype to small batches

As Pittsburgh’s tech economy continues to grow, the need for well-trained workers has also been increasing. New Century Careers, a nonprofit workforce development organization, announced last week another solution to this workforce challenge by opening a job shop on the South Side that will train workers while it fills orders for smaller manufacturers.

According to Paul Anselmo, president and CEO, production of reasonably priced prototypes and small batch runs of machined parts are unmet needs in the region. NCC’s program can meet these needs while trainees get tuition-free training and job placement assistance with area manufacturers.

Upcoming business, career & networking events

Financial Literacy Series – Understanding and Raising Your Credit Score
Monday, July 9, 5:30 – 7 p.m. at CoLab 18 / Nova Place

Made in PA Supplier Forum: Wabtec
Tuesday, July 10, 8:30 – 10 a.m. at the Pittsburgh Technology Council

Pro Speed Networking
Tuesday, July 10, 6 – 8:30 p.m. at Spaces Bakery Square

FBI Recruitment Fair
Tuesday, July 10, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Westin Convention Center Hotel

Recognizing and Releasing Mental Clutter
Wednesday, July 11, 9:30 – 11 a.m. at Cranberry Township Municipal Center

Thinking Architecturally with author Nate Schutta
Thursday, July 12, 6 – 8 p.m. at Dick’s Sporting Goods HQ