Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Tank-tech company scores a win

EcoTech Marine's co-founders Pat Clasen, Tim Marks and Justin Lawyer at a ribbon-cutting for the new Hanover Township, Lehigh County, facility. Photo courtesy of Altitude Marketing.

An aquarium-technology company co-founded a decade ago by Lehigh alums Tim Marks and Pat Clasen has been named a “Small Business Exporter of the Year” by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Philadelphia District and Mid-Atlantic Region offices.

EcoTech Marine, whose growth in international markets accounts for 33 percent of its total sales, received the prestigious award for the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C., and West Virginia.

“We are proud to have been awarded this honor,” said Clasen. “As a small business—now in our 11th year—we have tremendous respect for the unique challenges presented to a business like ours, as well as for the other entrepreneurs chasing their dreams to make their own success. “

The company has been picking up accolades since its creation on the Lehigh campus in 2003. Hatched in an Integrated Product Development class, it won the grand prize at Lehigh’s 2002-03 Joan F. & John M. Thalheimer  ’55 Student Entrepreneurs competition.  Revenues of $3.8 million in 2009 helped place them into Inc.com’s Top 500 companies in 2010.

Two years ago, EcoTech Marine expanded from Bethlehem into a 36,000-square-foot facility in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.

Clasen ‘04 ‘07G is the company’s director of finance, and Marks ’04 ‘06G, director of manufacturing. The third co-founder, Justin Lawyer, an alumnus of the University of Oklahoma, is director of research and development.

“It is incredibly humbling to have been selected for this award knowing so many other businesses that are doing such great things,” Clasen said. “It is a true honor to have been selected for this designation and it is one that we will take to heart as we continue to grow and evolve.”

The Exporter of the Year awards recognize the accomplishments of companies that have shown creative overseas strategies, increased export sales and profits, found creative solutions to business strategies and encouraged other small businesses to export.

Cora Landis, international trade director of Lehigh’s Small Business Development Center, nominated EcoTech Marine for the award, not only because of the growth in exports but also for their diligence in pursuing international distributors, their hunger for knowledge and willingness to learn, and their efforts to expand and bring manufacturing jobs back to the Lehigh Valley.

Landis said EcoTech Marine’s founders were willing to “rough it out” in their initial years, overcoming many obstacles.

“They didn’t start in plush surroundings,” she said. “They made do with what they had. I respect that.”

In turn, as they’ve grown, she said, they have been willing to reach out to other small business owners in their industry and share advice and ideas on growing internationally.

One on the company’s most successful products is the innovative and patented VorTech tank pump, which places the motor outside the aquarium so that the water is not heated. Other products include Radion lighting products, Elements coral glue and accessories.

The regional SBA award will be presented to EcoTech Marine’s founders on June 12 in Philadelphia.

Story by Mary Ellen Alu

Posted on Wednesday, June 04, 2014

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