Pennsylvania Innovators Move Ideas to Market

Entrepreneurs find support to innovate in Pennsylvania.

By
Cara Sanders
On Friday, March 26, 2021 - 12:15
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Pennsylvania is an innovation destination that attracts and breeds entrepreneurial talent.

The state's affordability, quality of life, and resources network draw entrepreneurs who want to work where they want to live.

A highly developed entrepreneurial ecosystem supports fledgling companies and helps them grow.

Innovative programs, such as Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP), the Life Sciences Greenhouse initiative, Keystone Innovation Zones and a wealth of accelerators and incubators, help drive the state's entrepreneurial ecosystem and have assisted with the launch of hundreds of companies. These programs have helped many ideas develop into commercial successes.  

Strong Support System

BFTP, which has four regional headquarters and 10 satellite offices throughout the state, builds on regional strengths, capitalizes on new opportunities and addresses the specific needs of diverse communities, says Stephen Brawley, the president and CEO of the BFTP of Central & Northern PA.

"For us, it's not just a matter of financially supporting a good idea," Brawley says. "It's about creating a business community and support system where Pennsylvania's best and brightest minds can successfully build the businesses that strengthen the places we proudly call home."

In the past eight years, more than 100 teams have graduated from Ben Franklin's TechCelerator@ StateCollege, a successful partnership with Invent Penn State, an initiative launched in 2015 that gives entrepreneurs in all 21 Penn State undergraduate communities free access to accelerator programs, coworking space, legal and IP advice, mentorship, rapid prototyping, pitch competitions and funding.

These TechCelerator@StateCollege teams turned their ideas, many of which were based on intellectual property developed at Penn State, into tech startups. This is a no-cost opportunity for local entrepreneurs, grad students, professors, and university researchers to participate in the program's 10-week Business Startup Boot Camp. At the end of the program, each team has the chance to pitch its business concept to a panel of local professionals for up to $10,000 in seed funding.

Success stories are common among BFTP clients, including Videon, which helps its customers move digital media initiatives from concept to market. Videon secured funding from BFTP for continued software development in optical and streaming media, which has led to further growth for the company. 

"Working from our facility in State College, we now develop software and design hardware for audio/visual products worldwide," says Todd Erdley, Videon's CEO. "Because of Ben Franklin's investment and support, our aggregate sales total more than $200 million. We have provided jobs to hundreds of people over the years, paying them well over $100 million in total wages. And we have returned that original investment more than 20 times in taxes to the commonwealth."

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Courtesy of Ben Franklin Technology Partners

The Right Resources

A number of higher education institutions in the state offer entrepreneurship programs, including Penn State, Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne, Drexel and La Salle. 

At East Stroudsburg University, the Innovation Center serves as a hub of entrepreneurship for the region, housing its Business Accelerator, Warrior LaunchPad, Entrepreneurial Leadership Center and coworking space.

York College's J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship connects entrepreneurs to faculty scholars and successful practitioners and offers a state-of-the-art business incubator equipped with technology resources and collaborative space.

"It's about creating a business community and support system where Pennsylvania's best and brightest minds can successfully build the businesses that strengthen the places we proudly call home."

Stephen Brawley, BFTP of Central & Northern PA

Startup Alleghenies, a free program in Central Pennsylvania, offers a suite of services to connect entrepreneurs to what they need to move ideas from vision to market.

"We focus on bringing the right resources to entrepreneurs when and where they need it most," says Debbi Prosser, director of business development for the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, the organization that launched Startup Alleghenies in 2017.

Those resources include mentoring by a dedicated coach, access to spaces designed especially for entrepreneurs and support from a network of partners for legal, financial, business planning and marketing services.

With support from Startup Alleghenies, Sam Thurau of HHG Drums in Hollidaysburg in Blair County was able to take his craft and turn it into a business. Thurau makes custom snare drums and drum sets.

"When I started this, I was a drum builder and craftsman, and that's all I really knew," Thurau says. "One of the core things that was great for me was I came off of my little entrepreneurial island."

If you'd like to learn more about the Pennsylvania area, check out the latest edition of Pennsylvania: Work Smart, Live Happy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cara Sanders is the director of digital marketing for Livability.com.