Reading Eagle: New Ben Franklin CEO plans to 'hunt' startups for Reading, Berks
You don't have to dig very deep to find some of the qualities that made Angelo Valletta the pick to head up Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Valletta is self-motivated. He's worked with entrepreneurs and startups throughout his career. His professional background is in technology. He's a Pennsylvania guy — South Philly, to be exact — so he cares about the communities he's serving. He has connections that can help area businesses grow and succeed.
What you wouldn't necessarily be able to glean from reading his resume, however, is Valletta also has a mindset that meshes with the mission at BFTP, a renowned business incubator.
"My mother said to me when I was young, 'Angelo, you were born with two ears and one mouth — listen twice as much as you speak,'" Valletta said. "I try to adhere to that."
Valletta became president and CEO of BFTP's Northeastern chapter on April 1, taking over for Chad Paul, who retired.
A public-private partnership, BFTP/NEP creates and retains jobs in the state by linking early-stage tech firms and established manufacturers with funding and other resources such as facilities to help facilitate their growth and ensure their survival.
BFTP already performs its function quite effectively, having become one of the world's largest business incubators and a national and international model of sorts.
So, Valletta isn't stepping into his new role with plans to overhaul BFTP/NEP. Rather, he intends to continue building upon its mission.
"I want to drive the organization, not change the culture," Valletta said. "How do we build those great regions like our Reading and Berks area? How do we bring new early-stage organizations to that great region? How do we drive technology innovation into our established manufacturers?"
His answer: go hunting.
What it means for Reading and Berks
Some of the groundwork for Valletta's hopes to bring more jobs and innovation to Berks County has already been laid.
Valetta cited BFTP/NEP's partnership with Alvernia University and its O'Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship being built in Reading, which once completed will become the 14th incubator in what is already the nation's largest network.
"We're positioned right in downtown Reading because we want to grow that," Valletta said. "That's important to us."
Yet, already he's finding ways to be a valuable asset, working with BFTP/NEP regional manager Connie Faylor to bring Valletta's extensive connections.
"Connie has been leveraging my network in a fantastic way with some of my financial services contacts," Valletta said.
"We have organizations that want to build in programs and application program interface into their systems, but just didn't know how to go about it, so I put together a list of a few companies that they can go through and actually did some more introductions on the back end."
Ultimately, Valletta wants to use his resources along with the area's natural geography to appeal to startups and businesses that might otherwise set up shop someplace else.
"We are positioned extremely well being just a stone's throw away from all the activity in Philadelphia," Valletta said. "We're a little bit father away from New York, but we're right there with this whole remote-hybrid model that I believe we're going to be working in. We're close to our state capitol. We have international airports all around.
"How do we leverage all of that to be able to drive organizations into the Lehigh Valley, into Northeastern PA, into Reading? I'm gonna go out and hunt those early-stage organizations. I love the United States and I love all the states that we have in our union, but I'm concentrating on the northeast, and how do I hunt and bring them in? How do I help manufacturers to stabilize and grow, not move out?"
Valletta's roots shape his worldview Valletta doesn't only have resources to offer, but something of a shared sense of entrepreneurship as well.
His 30-year career in financial services began when he was only 17. Technically, Valletta wasn't old enough to be employed at what was formerly known as Provident National Bank, but he convinced the manager to allow him to work for free until his 18th birthday, at which time he would be allowed to take a test and officially be hired.
"I can guarantee you I didn't pass that test because I didn't have the books," Valletta said. "I was just taking notes and doing the best I can. I'm some young knucklehead from South Philly, quite honestly.
"But she saw something in that young man."
Valletta worked full-time all through college, earning his bachelor's from Temple University, and, later, a master's from Philadelphia University.
He came to be increasingly involved in fintech, serving as a technology officer and vice president at PNC Bank, Legion Insurance Co. and finally Sun National Bank.
"That's really where I get my early-stage experience from, working with young technology organizations to help them prosper and grow," Valletta said.
"I delivered a particular technology which was managed technology, but when you're running a division, it's more about how do you integrate with those small, innovative financial institutions and helping them grow by ensuring that they're positioning themselves from a technology and operation perspective."
Valletta never forgot about that opportunity he got when he was 17, though — a "break," he called it — something he's never forgotten and helps shape his outlook.
Over time, Valletta has been drifting away from the corporate world, eventually taking a position as president and CEO of The Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia in 2017.
Even before jumping out of the financial world, philanthropy was taking a bigger role in his life. After his older brother passed away in 2009, the Valletta family set up an annual endowed scholarship in his name at Temple University.
"My involvement at the colleges was all about mentoring and trying to find that paradigm shift for those young folks," Valletta said.
"Especially at Temple, there are a lot of students that come from economically depressed areas and they just need that break, so I tried to help facilitate that."
Having been in leaderships for so long, Valletta understand there are times you have to say no or make difficult choices.
However, he understands the need to listen to and consider all ideas.
"You need to come with an open mind and give the benefit of the doubt the person on the other side," Valletta said. "It's about making sure we get all of the facts and understanding it, then making that decision."
Valletta is also guided by what he refers to as the 7 R's of life and leadership — respect, resolve, responsibility, relationships, doing the right thing, readiness and recreation.
All seven build upon each other, he notes, though the first one might be most important.
"It all starts with respect," Valletta said. "How could you do anything else if you don't respect yourself or the others that you interact with?"