Founders of shut­tered tablet-maker Bak USA start­ing a new tech firm

Blank Tech­nolo­gies to fo­cus on class­room com­put­ers

The Buffalo News - - BUSINESS - By Stephen T. Wat­son NEWS STAFF RE­PORTER

Four months after abruptly shut­ting down Bak USA, putting nearly 80 peo­ple out of work, the fam­ily be­hind the Buf­falobased tablet-maker has started a new com­pany that seeks to bring tech­nol­ogy into the class­room.

Mem­bers of the Bak fam­ily and at least one for­mer Bak USA ex­ec­u­tive have started a new com­pany, Blank Tech­nolo­gies Corp., which looks to pro­vide schools with tablet or lap­top com­put­ers and with guid­ance in how best to use them, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views and doc­u­ments filed with the state.

“It’s still in the plan­ning phase, and we’re still kind of get­ting things as or­ga­nized as pos­si­ble,” Ian Don­nelly said in an in­ter­view. Don­nelly, who de­scribed him­self as a found­ing mem­ber of the com­pany, was a se­nior ac­count ex­ec­u­tive with Bak USA.

Chris­tian Bak is listed as pres­i­dent of Blank Tech­nolo­gies on the com­pany’s in­cor­po­ra­tion papers. Chris­tian Bak is the son of Bak USA founders J.P. and Ulla Bak and served as that com­pany’s vice pres­i­dent of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment.

Bak USA op­er­ated as a so­cial en­ter­prise, try­ing to make a profit while boost­ing its host com­mu­nity. The Baks at­tempted to as­sem­ble tablet and lap­top com­put­ers in this coun­try and hired from dis­ad­van­taged and im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties to do that work.

The com­pany was part of the Start-Up NY pro­gram, which of­fered state tax in­cen­tives, and it quickly grew to more than 100 em­ploy­ees early in 2018. But by last sum­mer, Bak USA an­nounced sev­eral rounds of lay­offs and it missed pay­roll at least once. The com­pany closed its doors in early Novem­ber, when 77 work­ers lost their jobs.

Chris­tian Bak didn’t re­spond to a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment. Don­nelly de­clined to com­ment on who else is in­volved with Blank Tech­nolo­gies.

But an ex­ec­u­tive with the Erie County In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Agency said he met on Tues­day with J.P., Ulla and Chris­tian Bak to dis­cuss Blank Tech­nolo­gies’ in­ter­est in IDA sup­port.

Steve Weathers, pres­i­dent and CEO of the ECIDA, said the Blank Tech­nolo­gies loan ap­pli­ca­tion was in­com­plete.


“After fur­ther dis­cus­sion with the Baks and con­sid­er­a­tion, they have with­drawn the ap­pli­ca­tion and are look­ing at all of their fi­nanc­ing op­tions, one of which could mean sub­mit­ting a com­plete ap­pli­ca­tion,” Weathers said in an email.

The new com­pany ap­pears to have some sim­i­lar­i­ties to Bak USA.

The for­mer com­pany sold com­put­ers to schools, among other clients. Blank Tech­nolo­gies on its web­site pitches its “next gen­er­a­tion of class­room com­put­ers.”

The com­pany’s LinkedIn page states it is a pub­lic ben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tion, a for-profit com­pany owned by share­hold­ers that promises to spend some of its prof­its to­ward some pub­lic good.

“We are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing ed­u­ca­tional tech­nolo­gies are ac­ces­si­ble to over­looked com­mu­ni­ties through­out North Amer­ica,” Blank Tech­nolo­gies says on its LinkedIn page.

Those com­mu­ni­ties in­clude stu­dents in ur­ban schools that strug­gle for fund­ing, home-schooled stu­dents and stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties.

The com­pany stated on LinkedIn that it has a goal by next year of train­ing stu­dents and their teach­ers in how to make high-tech re­pairs — “turn­ing our prod­uct de­ploy­ment into a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and life skill.”

Don­nelly elab­o­rated a bit dur­ing a brief phone in­ter­view. He said the com­pany has not sought pub­lic­ity yet be­cause it’s still try­ing to de­ter­mine what ser­vices it will of­fer and how it will op­er­ate.

Fun­da­men­tally, Don­nelly said, “It re­ally has ev­ery­thing to do about cre­at­ing the most value as pos­si­ble for K-12 ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions.”

He said Blank Tech­nolo­gies wants to re­spond to what schools need.

“Tech­nol­ogy providers for years have been kind of dump­ing tech­nol­ogy into schools, only for the schools to have to fig­ure out how to bring th­ese de­vices to life,” Don­nelly said.

Asked whether the com­pany will pro­vide com­put­ers it pro­duces it­self, or com­put­ers made over­seas by an­other com­pany on its be­half, he said, “All of that is be­ing eval­u­ated.”

Cris­tian de Rosa, who worked for Bak USA for nearly two years as an ac­count man­ager, said he re­cently ran into Don­nelly.

“He told me that he’s cur­rently work­ing on a way to help schools and stu­dents with ed­u­ca­tional tech­nol­ogy,” de Rosa said ear­lier this week. “I just saw the web­site to­day, and I briefly read through it, and it doesn’t sound very dif­fer­ent from Bak USA.”

It’s not known where the name Blank Tech­nolo­gies comes from, nor how many em­ploy­ees the com­pany has now.

The in­cor­po­ra­tion papers list an ad­dress of 10 Lafayette Square, Buf­falo, which hosts a Hil­ton Gar­den Inn, sev­eral floors of apart­ments and the cor­po­rate head­quar­ters for the Hamis­ter Group.

The com­pany’s web­site lists two ad­dresses: 2321 Ken­more Ave., a build­ing in an in­dus­trial sec­tion of the Town of Ton­awanda; and 19 Mor­ris Ave., Brook­lyn, home to the New Lab tech in­cu­ba­tor.

Don­nelly said Blank Tech­nolo­gies is in tem­po­rary space now as it looks for a per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion, but he wouldn’t iden­tify any sites.

Derek Gee/News file photo

Chris­tian Bak, son of Bak USA founders J.P. and Ulla Bak, is listed on in­cor­po­ra­tion papers as the pres­i­dent of Blank Tech­nolo­gies.

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