Q&A: More state funds means more help from Ben Franklin

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Once the head of a startup technology venture, R. Chadwick Paul Jr., president and CEO of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, takes his job of nurturing technology-based economic development very seriously.

And now, with additional funding just approved in the 2013-2014 Pennsylvania state budget, he’s looking forward to shrugging off several years of reduced state funding and leading the region’s technology leaders into the future.

Recently, he was interviewed by Lehigh Valley Business about Ben Franklin’s mission and future, as well as what advice he would give to entrepreneurs.

Lehigh Valley Business: Ben Franklin offers a technology incubator, coaching, technical support, funding assistance and advocacy. Briefly, how do those come together to fulfill your mission?

The Ben Franklin Technology Partners is a proven and internationally recognized model of successful technology-based economic development. Since the program’s inception 30 years ago, our staff has developed its knowledge base and experience, along with its relationships and networks, to efficiently and effectively fund and support entrepreneurs and established manufacturers.

Our financial investments are further complemented with support from our solutions network of business and technical experts, as well as college and university resources. The Ben Franklin endorsement is highly regarded by institutional investors, and we introduce clients to sources of follow-up funding.

We’ve developed and fine tuned networks and approaches that combine to support our clients enormously on an enterprise-wide basis. Taken together, these investments and efforts allow Ben Franklin to create and retain highly paid, sustainable jobs. The companies we nurture build the manufacturers of the future, and thus, our regional economy.

Since beginning operation, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania has created 15,820 new jobs for Pennsylvania workers and retained 21,645 existing jobs, started 442 new companies and developed 1,189 new products and processes. The Ben Franklin Technology Partners statewide has returned $3.60 to the Pennsylvania state treasury for every $1 invested in the program.

LVB: Funding has been an issue for Ben Franklin. How does it cope with less funding?

Due to the budget pressures caused by the recession, Ben Franklin funding has been reduced more than 50 percent since fiscal year 2007-08.

Because BFTP/NEP’s operating budget is primarily dependent on state funding, these blows to our resources dramatically curtailed our ability to fund companies appropriately.

In addition to reducing our staff size and cutting expenses substantially, we were forced to invest less in companies. We were unable to invest in deserving companies that may have created the jobs that our economy needs, and we had to seriously short-fund many of those in which we did invest.

Because of a lack of sufficient funds, our region was missing out on real opportunities for substantial job creation and retention.

LVB: If you had significantly more funding, how would you use it? What would be the results?

We are tremendously grateful for the additional Innovate Pennsylvania funding that was recently passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. [Tom] Corbett.

This three-year influx of funds will be put to immediate work investing in deserving, qualified companies. As we have done so effectively in the past, Ben Franklin will strategically invest in and support regional companies, and leverage those investments.

We will help clients implement technological innovation as a path to increased economic prosperity in northeastern Pennsylvania.

LVB: How do you define success for Ben Franklin?

We work with clients on an enterprise-wide basis to enhance their entire way of doing business. Ben Franklin defines its success by the success of its clients. We are evaluated on our clients’ accomplishments in commercializing their products or services, and in creating and retaining jobs. Those jobs are the key to generating incremental state tax revenue.

LVB: What has been your biggest pleasant surprise?

We have a rigorous vetting process for prospective clients, so while we’re always thrilled, we’re not surprised when our clients go on to great accomplishments. A number of our clients have exceeded both our and their wildest expectations in terms of commercial success and growth.

It is extremely gratifying for us to have participated in that success.

Also, we were very pleased to have been able to obtain funding for and complete the expansion of Ben Franklin TechVentures [BFTP/NEP’s home] in 2011. To garner that kind of funding during a persistent recession, demonstrated to us the multifaceted support that we have earned through our work.

LVB: Outside of using Ben Franklin or another resource, what advice would you give to an entrepreneur just beginning his or her venture?

I started Chadwick Telephone while still a Lehigh [University] student, so I have experienced many sides of entrepreneurship in my career. I would advise an entrepreneur to build a solid business plan from the start. Spend time and effort considering all areas of the business before launching.

Also, entrepreneurs need to get their legal houses in order. Get written agreements with partners before a funding raise or selling any product or service; obtain tax numbers and business licenses; be sure that you are complying with all applicable government regulations.

Many young companies scrimp on legal expenditures at the outset, and that often costs them dearly later on.

LVB: What do you think the future holds for Ben Franklin?

More and better. Ben Franklin is a well-oiled machine with outstanding teams, clients, investors and investments. We do our work efficiently and well.

We are extremely fortunate that our clients, the greater business community, and elected officials recognize our contributions and capabilities. Our clients will continue to develop technologies that improve the human condition. We look forward to more and better for our clients and for our regional economy.

Stacy Wescoe

Stacy Wescoe

Writer and online editor Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at stacyw@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 104. Follow her on Twitter at @morestacy and on Facebook. Circle Stacy Wescoe on .

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