Whether it’s an app that connects people at events, a museum-quality energy-efficient lighting product for plants or a portable machine for the sport of cricket, startups in South Bethlehem are creating innovative products.
The program that’s been fueling their growth is The SouthSide Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone. The financial incentive program has been funding startups through grants and tax credits that have helped more than 80 companies since its inception in 2004 and is one of 29 throughout the state.
The KIZ helps companies get patents, develop new products, hire employees and interns and invest in research and development.
This morning, the annual KIZ update at Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus in Bethlehem revealed the latest news of the success stories enjoyed by the entrepreneurs and the partners involved in making it happen. The boundaries of the KIZ include most of South Bethlehem.
“It’s that initial funding that we hope leads to future investments,” said Asher Schiavone, economic development coordinator for Bethlehem.
Though many of the companies that get funding from the KIZ are local, there are companies from outside the area that find Bethlehem is the place they want to be, he said.
“Throughout its history, Bethlehem has proven itself to be a leader in innovation,” said Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez.
With support from the program’s partners in the private and public sector, the city is well-positioned to foster the growth of startups, he said.
“Through supporting these new ventures, we are helping to facilitate the job creators of tomorrow through this homegrown economic development effort,” Donchez said.
The KIZ program in SouthSide Bethlehem also is funded by its primary partners, which include BB&T, PPL, St. Luke’s University Health Network, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Lehigh University and Northampton Community College. The state Department of Community & Economic Development is a partner, but does not provide funding.
The city is looking to expand the KIZ tax credit program, Donchez said.
The KIZ tax credit program is based on increased revenue and can be used in conjunction with federal research and development and state research and development tax credit programs.
The KIZ also awards technology transfer grants up to $15,000 to help eligible companies in the commercialization of innovative technologies that hold promise for transferring into the marketplace.
Other financial resources offered by the KIZ include student internship grants up to $2,500 for undergraduate level students and $3,750 for graduate level students.
Companies also can use the Fab Lab resources and equipment at Northampton Community College and be awarded up to $5,000 in Lehigh Technical Entrepreneurship Capstone program grants.
Some of the grants awarded this year went to Soltech Solutions LLC, UBMe Inc. and Freebowler LLC, three companies featured in today’s event.
With a budget of $137,000 this year, the KIZ program has created 29 new jobs, 23 new products and awarded three new patents in 2016. Since its inception, the program created 444 jobs, 141 new products and awarded 119 new patents.
Lehigh University continues to support the KIZ through a variety of initiatives, including the use of The Baker Institute and Wilbur Powerhouse facilities on its campus, with the goal of raising entrepreneurs, said John Simon, president of Lehigh University.
“This space is defined by accessibility,” Simon said. “The doors are open to anyone who wants to make things.”
Similarly, NCC is helping fund the KIZ program by renovating its Fowler Center campus in South Bethlehem, where it will open its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship next year, said Mark Erickson, NCC president. The project will double the size of its Fab Lab, which offers resources and equipment used by many entrepreneurs in the KIZ program.
Paul Hodges, co-founder and CEO of Soltech Solutions, spoke about how his company created The Aspect, an energy-efficient lighting product for home and office plants which he said is the first grow light for interior design.
“We needed an environment that would help grow our company,” Hodges said. The company moved from Schuylkill Haven to Bethlehem to take advantage of the KIZ.
“It’s not only a place you could call your headquarters but a place you could call home,” Hodges said. “Largely because of the KIZ, we were able to function like a business.”
Each of the companies shared plans to stay and grow their businesses in South Bethlehem.