By Cara Aungst
On March 1, Videon founder Todd Erdley joined Ben Franklin Technology Center as a central regional director responsible for mentoring startups and small manufacturers in Centre, Mifflin and Juniata Counties. He calls it a natural next step for him — Ben Franklin was instrumental in Videon’s growth and market dominance, and Erdley has been an outspoken advocate for private industry in his hometown for decades.“I’m running to this opportunity. It’s so obvious that it’s my destiny,” he said.
His first order of business: engage with current Ben Franklin companies, expand the funnel for company funding opportunities, and activate the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“We are going to all put our oars in the water together, going faster toward an outcome that works for us. Happy Valley has a diversity of opportunity and culture along with being a fertile place to start a business and grow that business. We all can prosper from the success of these businesses which is why it is so important for Ben Franklin to provide intellectual support and financial resources while also amplifying all the Centre Region represents.”
We’re meeting in Erdley’s new office in the 200 Building at Innovation Park, and the feeling is something like the first day of school. He shows off the new perks — like Pi Day — and an office filled with new coworkers. “The depth of experience in these halls!” he says. “It’s incredible. People are here because they want to be here making a difference.”
There’s something that isn’t new — Erdley’s laser-focused vision for boosting private industry in the area. He’s been championing it for years, notably with his $3B33 strategic plan that he unveiled in 2012. In it, he showed that in 1998, 26 percent of Happy Valley’s top employers were private industry, and by 2012, that number had shrunk to a mere 7 percent.
“What happened,” he asks. “Companies like Corning, C-Cor, Raytheon and Cerro no longer operated in the area — but it barely made a ripple because the University absorbed that talent.”
Happy Valley has a diversity of opportunity and culture along with being a fertile place to start a business and grow that business.
And while he says that those researchers and innovators have enabled Penn State to vastly grow its research, the lack of private industry is ultimately an unhealthy situation. “Back in 2012, I presented the goal of driving private industry from $1 billion to $3 billion in 2033.”
“Why? Because we need to positively impact society with opportunities that are proportionate to their passions. We need to create jobs for spouses of Penn State employees. We need to fill gaps that can be created in a company town. Not just that, but it’s my own personal mandate to positively help people become the people who they dream of being.”
In 2012, Erdley was still CEO of Videon, the company he founded, and well on his way to selling solutions to Amazon Web Services, and his 3B33 plan took a backseat. Today he’s eager to drive outcomes to change the future of Happy Valley.
In addition to pushing for more private industry in the area, he said that he wants entrepreneurs to learn from his own entrepreneurship journey. “I went from the point of personally guaranteeing company debt — using money from my 401K to make payroll — and knew that something had to change. Raising venture capital relieved me of that burden, and gave wind to Videon. It also gave me the chance to be here with the team at Ben Franklin, who has welcomed me with open arms. The point is, I am supposed to be here.”
“I want to tell founders that company growth starts with culture,” he said. “You need to be focused not on the what but on the why, and you have to be impassioned about it. Founders also need to be really honest with themselves about creating powerful teams. What is your own superpower and kryptonite, and how can you purposely align with others and complement their strengths and weaknesses? Great outcomes can be achieved, but entrepreneurs need to make sure that they aren’t so headstrong that they aren’t coachable.”
He said that the end result that he wants to work toward is nothing like Silicon Valley of today.
“People talk about Silicon Valley as a shining star, but it’s evolved into a venture-driven mentality that is not at all what we want to achieve. It’s not a place we should aspire to be.”
“Instead, we have an opportunity to be more like Silicon Valley of 1990 — a place with a can-do attitude, all boats rising, gritty and fast and focused on outcomes. That is what Happy Valley can be.”