Innovative ideas flourishing here

Many well-known companies in our region, in industries as diverse as those served by Videon Central, Salimetrics, SilcoTek, Drucker Diagnostics, SoftGenetics and Schoolwires, all have one thing in common — they were once startups that got their “start” with Ben Franklin Technology Partners. As the largest seed investor in the region, we have had the privilege, for nearly 35 years, of partnering with and investing in the best and brightest innovators in our 32-county footprint — a footprint that naturally includes our home office right here in State College.

Because of the work we do and the people we meet every day, we have known all along what a dynamic startup community we have right here in central Pennsylvania. But in case someone hasn’t seen the recent article in Entrepreneur magazine, it’s obvious that a lot of people agree with us. Check out the Penn State News story, “State College named one of 15 best cities for entrepreneurs,” about the article, which is the result of a study done with Livability.com. The criteria for making the list included not only being a great place to launch a business, but that entrepreneurs received outstanding community support.

Ben Franklin is proud to be an integral part of that community support. Our program, a long-standing partnership between Penn State, the commonwealth, and our area’s techstartups and small manufacturers, has resulted in an extensive portfolio of entrepreneurs and tech companies that have revolutionized the way we live and work. These folks had the courage to take their ideas from the back of a napkin on their kitchen table all the way to a viable business with hundreds of employees. The road to their success was likely fraught with many sleepless nights, maxed-out credit cards, and the pressure from family and friends to just shuck it all and, “Go get a job.” But, because of their vision, tenacity and our programs’ ability to share their risk, today they are able to provide those very jobs.

Space prohibits me from mentioning all the entrepreneurs in and surrounding State College who we’ve invested in over the years. Many started in their garage or basement but went on to change the world we live in — sometimes in dramatic, life-saving ways, and others in how we shop, go to school or spend our leisure time. But at the end of the day, they changed our community as well. Because of the success of folks like Todd Erdley with Videon Central, or the recent acquisition of Schoolwires by Blackboard, those with an entrepreneurial mindset don’t have to leave home to start a tech business. As one of the “15 Best U.S. Cities for Entrepreneurs,” State College is the place to be.

Stephen Brawley is president/CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners/Central and Northern Pennsylvania.