Three businesses split $50,000 prize in 2023 PA Wilds BIG IDEA Contest

Three businesses split $50,000 prize in 2023 PA Wilds BIG IDEA Contest

Prizes go to CiviLink, White Cane Coffee, Caregiver’s Artbox


Three businesses split the $50,000 prize from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners BIG IDEA Contest, held in partnership with the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship on June 8 at the University of Pittsburgh in Bradford.

First place, $25,000, was awarded to Kafferlin Strategies / CiviLink of Warren for their civil government software platform. Second place, $15,000, went to White Cane Coffee Company of Warren for their innovative prepackaged and biodegradable coffee system. Third place, $10,000, was awarded to Julie Mader of Smethport with The Caregiver’s Artbox, a subscription art box specifically designed for senior facilities.

Mader also earned the most votes from the public, earning herself the People’s Choice prize of $2,500, sponsored by Northwest Bank.

In addition to the cash prizes, the winners also received the chance to pitch the business concept for a $10,000 seed grant from Ben Franklin and a guaranteed seat in an upcoming business accelerator program.

The event was emceed by John Sider, Vice President of Business Development for Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and North Pennsylvania, and Cathy von Birgelen, Executive Director of the Ben Franklin Learning Center. 

“Each of these eight finalists put their best foot forward as they shared their concepts and answered questions from judges,” said Sider. “Regardless of who wins the prize money, the process of preparing for a pitch competition strengthens your ideas and solidifies your business plan. Simply being selected as a finalist is something to celebrate. Truly, another prize in itself is the fact that all of these finalists are now connected with resources and service providers like Ben Franklin Technology Partners that can help them in their journey.”

The judges for the contest were the following: Michael Montecalvo, Senior Business Banker for Northwest Bank.; Amy Shields, Executive Director of Allegheny Hardwood Utilization Group Inc.; Jennifer Hibbard, Loan Program Director for North Central; Josh Curcio, COO/Partner of Protocol80; and Eric Wolfe, President of Horizon Technology.

“This region was built on creativity and ingenuity, and we know that innovation is not just in the history books. Innovation is still happening in the Pennsylvania Wilds today,” said Ta Enos, Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship. “Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ focus on our rural region proves that valuable, investable ideas are dreamt of in wild places.”

Dozens of emerging entrepreneurs who are developing innovations related to the maker economy, forest products, outdoors and recreation and even tech manufacturing applied to the contest for a chance to win $50,000 to help launch their big idea! More than 70 people downloaded applications and the preliminary review team had the difficult task of narrowing down the pool of contestants to eight finalists. 



CiviLink (Ben Kafferlin and Lisa Hagberg), located in Warren County, offers a unique, first-of-its-kind software package that streamlines procedures, maintains legal compliance, and enhances operational efficiency for government entities and public-sector employees on an intuitive, customizable platform.

White Cane Coffee, (Erin and Robert Willman) located in Warren County is bringing sustainability and more economical manufacturing to a multi-use pod-based hot drink brewing system. Created as a PA Wilds regional product, White Cane Coffee’s reusable bag just needs hot water for a quick on-the-go cup, perfect for busy people and those who are conscientiously reducing their ecological footprint!

Caregiver’s Artbox (Julie Mader), located in McKean County, is a subscription-based service that supports individuals working in a home-care setting, or other health professionals within care communities to help spread joy, a sense of purpose and a feeling of well-being to seniors. The Caregiver’s Artbox delivers engaging art lessons for physical and cognitive abilities, using quality supplies and helpful video instructions designed by experienced artists in health. Julie Mader is a member of the Wilds Cooperative of PA.

Photos by Rosie Marketing for PA Wilds Center and Ben Franklin Technology Partners.



Made possible by a unique partnership between Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA, the 2023 PA Wilds BIG IDEA Contest is the second of three annual BIG IDEA Contests funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The 2023 contest focused on entrepreneurship in the PA Wilds’ Allegheny National Forest landscape, covering the counties of Cameron, Elk, Forest, McKean, and Warren.

Other core partners involved in the contest series include the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP), the Gannon University Small Business Development Center and PennWest Clarion Small Business Development Center. 

Each year in the three-part contest series focuses on a different landscape within the PA Wilds. The 2022 contest accepted applications from the I-80 Frontier landscape of the 13-county PA Wilds region. The 2023 contest accepted applications from counties in the Allegheny National Forest landscape. The 2024 contest from the Dark Skies and Pine Creek Valley landscapes, including the counties of Cameron, Clinton, Lycoming, Potter and Tioga.

Learn about all of the finalists in the 2023 PA Wilds BIG IDEA Contest here:



The Pennsylvania Wilds is a 13-county region that includes the counties of Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Warren, and northern Centre. The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc., is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to integrate conservation and economic development in a way that inspires the communities of the Pennsylvania Wilds. The PA Wilds Center promotes the region as a premier outdoor recreation destination as a way to diversify local economies, inspire stewardship, attract investment, retain population and improve quality of life. The PA Wilds Center’s core programs seek to help businesses leverage the PA Wilds brand and connect with new market opportunities, including: the Wilds Cooperative of PA, a network of over 300 place-based businesses and organizations, and the PA Wilds Conservation Shop, a retail outlet primarily featuring products sourced from the WCO. For more information on the PA Wilds Center, visit To learn more about the WCO, visit Explore the PA Wilds at Find regionally made products at



The largest early-stage investor in the region, Ben Franklin Technology Partners/CNP, (an initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and funded by the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority) provides investment capital, operational assistance, BIG IDEA contests, and TechCelerator Startup Boot Camps to emerging tech-based companies and small, existing manufacturers to create and retain jobs in Pennsylvania.  Visit Ben Franklin’s website at or phone the Harrisburg office at 717-948-6339.



Media Contact

Britt Madera | Communications Manager

PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc.

[email protected] | 570-948-1051

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