• Ben Franklin 4 PA

Pa.’s investments in innovation paying off in fight against COVID-19 | Opinion

By Ryan E. Glenn


Ben Franklin Technology Partners has long been focused on supporting revolutionary technological developments that improve the human condition and address critical challenges now and in the future. That mission takes on an entirely new meaning today as our state and nation come together to respond to this pandemic.

With cases of COVID-19 confirmed in every Pennsylvania county, no corner of our commonwealth has been left untouched. That makes Ben Franklin – which serves all 67 counties through four regionally based centers in Pittsburgh, State College, Bethlehem, and Philadelphia --- uniquely situated to support the state both in terms of managing this crisis and helping our economy recover during its gradual reopening.


Almost from the very first days of COVID-19, Ben Franklin clients have been working around the clock and contributing to efforts to address this public health issue in various ways, from treatments to testing to logistics to other support mechanisms.


Many of the emerging companies we backed in southeastern Pennsylvania, for example, are working on tremendous innovations to help stem the spread of the virus, mitigate its effects, and prevent or minimize future outbreaks. That includes work on vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, surveillance epidemiology, devices, manufacturing and supply chain.


Similarly, clients in northeastern Pennsylvania are innovating against COVID-19 by developing and producing 3D-printed biocompatible medical masks for frontline health-care workers and first responders, and by providing a remote clinical services platform to support health-care providers that triages and assesses ill patients.


While companies work to innovate and protect their employees in this uncertain time, some also are offering extraordinary resources to support response time and healing. Clients in southwestern Pennsylvania are offering their software for free to essential care services, so health-care customers can hire medical staff faster; innovating on drug therapy that could treat COVID-19; and providing the bridge to recovery for patients who had to endure ventilators that save lives but may damage the lungs.


Clients also are answering the call here in central Pennsylvania to assist on a number of fronts by providing a video-based order platform for families to accurately communicate the preferences and desires of critically ill patients with health-care providers, and by utilizing their medical expertise to share helpful health and supply chain information with the community.


Most recently, Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development tapped Ben Franklin, along with several other life sciences, health-care, and business organizations, to create the “Pennsylvania Manufacturing Call to Action Portal” to mobilize manufacturers that can produce critical medical supplies and products in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The fact is that at Ben Franklin, everything we are doing right now, in conjunction with our clients, is about innovating against COVID-19. Innovation has proven to be key in our response to this pandemic and it will remain central to our recovery.


We are fortunate that Pennsylvania has such a robust innovation economy. The success our state has achieved over the last 35 years to build this ecosystem is among the reasons Ben Franklin is one of the most widely known and emulated state technology-based economic development programs in the nation.


Unfortunately, many of the same startup firms and entrepreneurs who are helping us respond to this crisis are particularly vulnerable. They are entirely exempt from accessing support through most existing grant and loan programs that are narrowly focused or available only to established businesses.


Fortunately, in April, the state announced $4 million to support Ben Franklin clients that are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of our four regionally based centers will match the $1 million it receives in state funding with another $1 million. If investing in innovation made sense in the best of times, it is even more critical now and will be even more so post-pandemic, especially as we see firsthand how many of these innovative companies are helping us respond to this crisis. It truly demonstrates that investments in innovation save lives. Ryan E. Glenn is the Director of Statewide Initiatives for Ben Franklin Technology Partners.

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