Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Pennsylvania Universities Create a Winning Partnership for All
By Ryan E. Glenn, Director of Statewide Initiatives
Last spring, I touched on all the reasons why Pennsylvania is a great place to start and grow a technology company, scale a manufacturing operation or create solutions that improve and benefit the human condition. As part of my analysis, I cited the many resources possessed by the commonwealth – including our esteemed higher education system.
With world-class research universities, and hundreds of public and private colleges located across our 67 counties, Pennsylvania remains an attractive destination for entrepreneurs looking to contribute to a forward-thinking economy. But it’s not just Pennsylvania’s many amazing educational institutions that set it apart, it’s the powerful partnership that exists between Ben Franklin’s regional offices and the state’s colleges and universities that gives Pennsylvania a true competitive advantage.
So what happens when you combine the power of Pennsylvania’s renowned colleges and universities with the national standard for innovation-based economic development? You get an unprecedented level of support from entrepreneurs that can successfully compete in an expanding global economy. Let’s take a look at a few of the different ingredients that contribute to Pennsylvania’s recipe for success:
Ben Franklin of Central & Northern PA: In the past eight years more than 100 teams have graduated from Ben Franklin’s TechCelerator@StateCollege, a successful partnership with Invent Penn State. These teams turned their ideas, many of which were based on IP developed at Penn State, into tech startups.
This is a no-cost opportunity during which local entrepreneurs, grad-students, professors, and university researchers are invited to participate in the program’s 10-Week Business Startup Boot Camp. Assistance with initial legal, accounting, and market research (customer discovery) costs are provided for the participants. At the completion of the ten weeks, each team has the chance to pitch their business concept to a panel of local professionals for up to $10,000 in seed funding.
Business mentoring from Ben Franklin’s Transformation Business Services Network and Penn State’s Small Business Development Center staff is also available. The graduates come away from this experience with a working business model, networking contacts, and the confidence that comes from knowing if it’s the right time to start a tech-business. Learn more at https://cnp.benfranklin.org/techcelerator-at-state-college.
Ben Franklin of Northeastern PA: Launched soon after the statewide Ben Franklin program began in 1983, the Ben Franklin Business Incubator at Lehigh University in Bethlehem is one of the oldest business incubators in the nation and provides resident companies ready access to the equipment, faculty and students at Lehigh, complementing Ben Franklin’s in-house expertise and network of experts and other resources.
In 2007, Ben Franklin Northeast expanded and relocated its incubator enormously, creating Ben Franklin TechVentures on Lehigh’s campus. Expanding twice more to accommodate accelerating demand, TechVentures now has 129,000 square feet of space for companies to start and grow. A total of 44 firms called Ben Franklin TechVentures home last year, employing as many as 170 people. Since its inception, the incubator has graduated 69 successful companies, together grossing more than $1.2 billion in annual revenue and creating more than 6,900 jobs.
Ben Franklin NEP also owns and manages the Bloomsburg Regional Technology Center, and leads a 13-member Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network, which is among the largest in the nation. This network brings together incubator managers throughout the region to work collaboratively and share best practices. Learn more at https://nep.benfranklin.org/ben-franklin-business-incubator/.
Ben Franklin of Southeastern PA: Partnering with highly respected academic leaders such as Temple University, Drexel University, and University of Pennsylvania allows Ben Franklin of Southeastern PA to identify and support burgeoning technologies, while encouraging talent retention for economic development. Inside the academic atmosphere, these partnerships help drive discoveries to commercialization by supporting the formation of new companies.
Ben Franklin’s Temple Ventures-Powered by Ben Franklin partnership and collaboration with the Coulter-Drexel program have leveraged both Ben Franklin and university capital to support new company formation from the emerging technologies within each institution’s research environments. The ic@3401 incubator on Drexel’s campus, supported by Ben Franklin’s Ben-in-Residence program, has been home to more than 140 newly formed companies since its opening in 2014. At least 40 of ic@3401’s member companies have received investments from Ben Franklin, with its companies creating more than 350 jobs attributable to Ben Franklin’s support. At Penn, the Ben-in-Residence program supports the 23-acre Pennovation Center incubation and lab facility with guidance and resources for the facility’s member companies, while Ben Franklin’s partnership with Penn’s sector-focused accelerator programs and business competitions have provided capital, mentorship and guidance to founders coming from its various schools.
Innovation Works (Western PA): Pennsylvania's world class universities churn out hundreds of great technologies every year. In 2019, Pitt and CMU spun out dozens of innovations to be commercialized - and that's not counting the licensing deals and other ways tech moves from university to marketplace. But that journey from idea to consumers' hands needs partners, and that's where Innovation Works comes in. At Innovation Works, the SWPA Ben Franklin Technology Partner, we've had close working relationships with CMU, Pitt, Duquesne and other area universities since our inception to be the hand-off partner seeking out commercializable ideas on campus and moving them along the path to consumer availability.
One good example of this partnership is upcoming International Hardware Cup finals in May. More than 100 investors will be in Pittsburgh on Carnegie Mellon's campus to attend this annual, global competition aimed at finding the best hardware startups across North America and five other countries. Many of the investors, corporate customers and entrepreneurs at the event will also participate in an investor fair held jointly with CMU and Innovation Works. Together, CMU and IW reach the attention of venture capitalists and corporate investors in a way that each single entity cannot, helping to move these companies forward after the initial seed investment. To read more about the partnership:
Pennsylvania has worked incredibly hard to build a network of trusted community leaders that play an active and essential role in entrepreneurial success. This network is powered by some of the brightest, forward-thinking minds in the commonwealth and allows Pennsylvania is the gold standard by which other innovation-based economic development initiatives are measured. By supporting university-based centers of excellence, and promoting greater collaboration among academia, businesses, investors and government, Pennsylvania can ensure it remains a national competitor in attracting and retaining entrepreneurs and startups for generations to come.