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How CNN helped manufacturer launch in Bethlehem

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Chris Clark, Mike Planer and Paul Hodges, CEO.
Chris Clark, Mike Planer and Paul Hodges, CEO.

A post on CNN Money citing Bethlehem as one of the “100 best places to live and launch a company” helped spur a startup to establish its home in the city

Soltech Solutions, a manufacturer of light-emitting diode lights that grow plants, said it established its headquarters in Suite 5 at Pi: Partnership for Innovation in Southside Bethlehem.

The startup company formed in 2014 and its three employees occupy the 232-square foot space where it will manufacture the product called the Aspect.

Asher Schiavone, economic development coordinator for the city of Bethlehem, said the CNN posting helped the startup decide where to locate.

“They seem like the real deal; they are reaching out to all the right people in the community,” Schiavone said.

Now that the startup is in Pi, it has reached out to other startups and is working with students from Lehigh University and Moravian College to have them help with the business, Schiavone said.

“They are really looking to ramp up retail and wholesale operations,” Schiavone said. “What I see going forward is identifying larger space for them. They are going to need space.”

Soltech Solutions is selling the product at Pi and storing some of the product at Hatch House, another Southside Bethlehem startup, Schiavone said.

The Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone board awarded a $15,000 technology transfer grant to the startup, which will use the funding to build its inventory of the Aspect, an LED pendant light that grows plants. The light is developed specifically for interior design and allows users to grow plants indoors.

The startup had its headquarters in the Pottsville area but was looking for a space to grow. After looking in Philadelphia, New Jersey and doing lots of research in other locations, it settled on Bethlehem.

Paul Hodges, CEO, said the startup put a lot of value in the city’s central location, the resources of the Keystone Innovation Zone and the low cost of living.

“What stood out the most, we think, is a real sense of pride in community, and with that sense of togetherness, things move a lot quickly,” Hodges said.

Hodges oversees the overall development of the company, including sales, finances and day-to-day operations. Mike Planner is the chief technology officer and is responsible for the overall product development as well as working with suppliers and overseeing quality control. Chris Clark is the chief marketing officer and responsible for developing and implementing marketing strategies, creating marketing content, and managing the website and social media accounts.

With the advent of lights designed exclusively for marijuana growing, Hodges said, the startup realized plant-growing lights were a trending product. However, Hodges said he wanted to develop a light that wasn’t large, high-powered and ugly. He decided to focus on developing a better-looking plant-growing light that could grow all types of plants with a museum-quality light that was softer.

“[It’s] very soft, displays color near perfectly,” Hodges said. “It takes the office space, the empty corner and puts something beautiful there.”

The market audience has been predominantly homeowners and the Better Homes and Gardens crowd, as well as people interested in interior design and urban dwellers in apartments, he said. However, he is looking to the office environment, as well.

The light can grow any type of plant, he said, including lemon, avocado and pineapple trees, red rose bushes and spices for the kitchen.

The KIZ, a state tax incentive program, has been fueling growth for entrepreneurs in Southside Bethlehem through grants and tax credits that have helped more than 80 companies since its inception in 2004.

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Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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