Data Inventions, an Erie company founded in 2014, is a small enterprise with an ambitious mission — to help mid-size manufacturers around the world collect, process and act on production data from their machines.
The goal is to use that information to improve productivity, said Clement, a native of Dunkirk, New York, who has a degree in chemical engineering.
Clement said his company, which was launched out of Gannon University’s Small Business Development Center and is based now in Erie’s Renaissance Centre, has won customers across the country, starting with Industrial Sales and Manufacturing in Millcreek.
Now, Data Inventions has won the attention of a new investor.
Part of the Opportunity Zone investment fund
Erie Insurance has announced that it will invest $1 million in the company through Its Opportunity Zone investment fund. Opportunity Zones are federally designated low-income census tracts, where capital gains can be invested with special tax advantages.
Erie Insurance, which announced the creation of a $50 million Opportunity Zone investment fund in August of 2019, has announced more than $35 million worth of investments, including $6.5 million in the Erie Downtown Development Corp.
Corporate announcement: Erie Insurance creates $50 million Opportunity Zone fund
Christina Marsh, chief community and economic development officer for Erie Insurance, said the investment makes sense both from a financial standpoint and for its potential to help the community.
“We certainly honor entrepreneurs,” Marsh said in an interview with the Erie Times-News. “We were a startup ourselves at one time 96 years ago.”
Marsh, who is also the chairwoman of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, said a 2019 study by Garner Economics identified high value-added manufacturing as a target industry for Erie County.
Data Inventions fits that description perfectly, she said.
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“We believe in the value of data,” Marsh said, adding that Data Inventions will help manufacturers both in northwestern Pennsylvania and around the world to improve productivity.
“Erie is proud to invest not only in the growth of this local company but also in Duane’s vision to build upon our region’s rich manufacturing history to position Erie as a global leader in manufacturing technology.”
Clement predicts the investment will make a difference.
“The money we just received is now going into investing in and growing the business,” he said.
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Expanding staff, looking for a new Erie home
That’s going to mean expanding his team of nine employees.
“The goal is to be close to 30 by the end of the year,” he said.
The company’s expanded workforce is going to need a new and larger home.
Clement said he’s been working with Erie businessman and developer Pete Zaphiris, who is at work on three separate renovation projects, which include the former Citizens Bank building at 12th and State streets, the former General Tire at 121 W. 12th St. and the former Metropolitan Dance Club building at 144 W. 13th St.
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Because of an uncertain timetable, it’s not clear yet which of those buildings will be the future home of Data Inventions.
The company was introduced to Erie Insurance through the Erie Homecoming investor conference sponsored by the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership.
James Grunke, CEO of the chamber, sees the company as worthy of investment.
“Data Inventions will help our existing base of manufacturers retain and grow jobs by improving both machine and human utilization, while concurrently growing a manufacturing technology company—a sector that must be cultivated in Erie,” he said.
In addition to the investment from Erie Insurance, Data Inventions has received support from individual investors, Ben Franklin Technology, Tech Council Ventures and the state of Pennsylvania.
This latest investment moves the company closer to the finish line.
“The Opportunity Zone investment from Erie Insurance “really gets us about 90% of the way there,” Clement said.
Clement believes in his company and what its technology can do for small manufacturing companies. Some will be able to improve productivity by 20% in a few weeks. Some will see better results, he said.
Clement, and apparently his investors, also believe that what’s good for his customers will also be good for his company. He’s projecting annual sales could grow to between $75 million and $100 million. He’s also expecting to grow employment to 100 in the next five years.
Clement, whose wife is from Harborcreek Township, said he’s happy to be growing the company in Erie, where he and his wife moved about 12 years ago to raise their family.
Given the number of manufacturing companies that remain and the area’s long industrial history, “It made sense to make it happen here,” Clement said. “Everything we do makes our manufacturing customers more competitive and that’s going to lead to them growing and hiring.”
Erie Insurance Opportunity Zone investments
- Erie Downtown Development Corporation – $6.5 million in 2019
- Arctaris Impact Investors – $25 million in 2020
- Whitethorn Digital – $1.2 million in 2020
- International Recycling Group – Erie and Plastek combined for $9 million in funding in 2020
- Data Inventions – $1 million in 2021
Source: Erie Insurance