Four months after abruptly shutting down Bak USA, putting nearly 80 people out of work, the family behind the Buffalo-based 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"After further discussion with the Baks and consideration, they have withdrawn the application and are looking at all of their financing options, one of which could mean submitting a complete application," Weathers said in an email.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.