When Dr. Katy Worrilow was in the planning stages of her company LifeAire – an air purification system for in vitro fertilization clinics – she pored over many decisions, but location was not one of them. Worrilow, a leading embryologist, had spent the last 20 years in Lehigh Valley and was well aware of the region’s wealth of resources, access to capital and business incentives that help companies like LifeAire launch and grow. Add to that the Lehigh Valley’s deep pool of talent and enviable quality of life, and the region is a top choice for entrepreneurs and startups.
“[Lehigh Valley] is a very collaborative, supportive and engaged community,” Worrilow says. “Our company is only five years old and I have found it just incredibly supportive. I’ve just met so many individuals and groups within our community who truly want to help you and if they can’t help you, connect you with others and resources who can. That’s just an intangible. That just doesn’t exist everywhere.”
Worrilow says one of the biggest advantages to starting a company in Lehigh Valley is access to business advisers, venture capital and incubator resources.
Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a statewide technology-based economic development program, is a key resource for new ventures. The organization has a regional headquarters on the Lehigh University campus in Bethlehem.
“Beyond their capital investment, we personally have found them very helpful with all types of topics and questions – whether it’s redirecting us to an individual who could address our question or directing us in the right path,” Worrilow says. “It’s just a tremendous resource above and beyond their capital investment.”
Ben Franklin TechVentures, the organization’s 109,000-square-foot high-tech incubator, joins a roster of entrepreneurial support organizations that includes Lafayette College’s IDEAL Center and Lehigh Valley LaunchBox, a community-based program supporting entrepreneurs in downtown Allentown. In addition, Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation offers degree programs in entrepreneurship and training for students who want to bring new products or services to market.
“As a university, our role is to educate students. We believe that the best way to educate entrepreneurial students is to have them be entrepreneurs. We support them through those experiences, activities and courses – immersing them in the world of entrepreneurship,” says Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute. “It’s our perspective that, to the extent that a student startup should stay in the Lehigh Valley once they graduate, we want them to have access to a whole pipeline of resources. We bring in experts from the Ben Franklin organization, as well as the City of Bethlehem, the Keystone Innovation Zone and the Lehigh Valley Angel Network.”
The Baker Institute is an umbrella organization, through which students can take classes while also participating in the institute’s activities, such as the Eureka! entrepreneur competition series or the summer student accelerator program. “We’re seeing students from the day they get the idea, all the way through the day they graduate and launch,” Getzler says.
Worrilow says access to a large pool of skilled talent is another of Lehigh Valley’s enviable assets.
“Once we identified the right hat to fill, the right position to fill, we had a plethora of highly qualified individuals applying for those positions, and it just accelerated our identification of the right individual, both for that position and for our team,” Worrilow says. “We have so many great area universities and colleges that provide a strong foundation of individuals who could fill critical positions for startups.
“Engineering is a large part of what LifeAire Systems does and what we offer,” she says. “The engineering resources have been tremendous in the area and manufacturing as well. My goal as the founder was to have as much, if not all, of our engagements and manufacturing and engineering occur right here in the Lehigh Valley and for the lion’s share, we’ve been able to do that.”