When you think of high-tech hotspots, central Pennsylvania may not be the first place to come to mind.
But maybe it should rank higher.
John Sider thinks so. Sider works for the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, one of the nation’s longest-running technology-based economic development programs.
“Ben Franklin CNP [Central and Northern PA branch], has been investing in tech startups and small manufacturers located in our 32-county footprint for more than 30 years,” Sider said.
In sum, Ben Franklin helps promising technology companies get off the ground by providing funding, expertise and resources.
“We are looking for people who have an intellectual property-based solution for a problem we believe someone will pay for,” Sider said.
Founded in 1982, Ben Franklin was chartered by the state to assist research universities support technology businesses, with a goal of helping to launch companies and, ultimately, create jobs. There are four regional offices throughout the state, with the State College office covering the central Pennsylvania area.
“The purpose of this is to diversify and grow our region’s economy and ensure its competitiveness in the future,” Sider said.
The partnership, an initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and a number of corporations around the state, is designed to give a boost to promising tech startups that may need seed capital and expertise.
“Banks make their lending decisions based on quantitative data,” Sider said. “But early-stage technology companies have not yet built a cash flow or hard assets for collateral. So, we look more at qualitative data.”
Once a founder provides a summary of the business concept and financial projections, the staff of Ben Franklin CNP develops a market analysis. Each prospective company then makes a presentation to the Ben Franklin team.
In addition to its financing program, Ben Franklin CNP offers a 10-week entrepreneurial training program so prospective entrepreneurs can run their ideas through an evaluation process before launch. As part of the program, companies make a pitch to a panel of outside judges for prizes, including a cash grant.
“For example, we recently hosted six startups from Lancaster County, and the winner was Boostpoint, whose business is to assist home services companies develop their own Facebook and Instagram ads, thus increasing the value of their marketing program,” Sider said.
Lancaster-based Boostpoint won a $7,000 prize and has recently been approved for a $100,000 loan from Ben Franklin CNP to grow its business. The company is working closely with Andy Long, the director of business development and entrepreneur-in-residence for Ben Franklin CNP’s Lancaster/Lebanon region.
“When the company repays the investment, we will use the returns to fund future startups,” Long said.
Companies that become members of the Ben Franklin CNP program can, upon request, receive business consultation from a staff of subject matter experts in such areas as human resources or accounting to help them with challenges they may encounter as they grow. The partnership offers their portfolio companies support services free of charge.
Ben Franklin has also launched university and industry partnerships that accelerate scientific discoveries and has seeded regional initiatives that strengthen the entrepreneurial community.
“When I see friends at parties, I’m often asked what we do,” Sider said. “It’s pretty unique. So, I summarize by saying that we provide venture capital, funded by the state, to support technology companies that will help create jobs in our community.”
For more information about Ben Franklin Technology Partners, visit www.benfranklin.org or call 717-948-6763.
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