Photo: Ben Franklin Technology Partners
Since the early ‘90s, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania (BFCNP) has invested heavily in supporting revolutionary technological developments that come out of Happy Valley—the kind of innovations that improve the human condition and address critical challenges both now and in the future.
With help in the form of investment capital and business support services, tech companies in and around Happy Valley have grown from startups to established companies. They’ve grown and flourished, helped to usher in Industry 4.0, and made global impact.
And that has never mattered more than it does now.
“If investing in innovation makes sense in the best of times,” says Stephen Brawley, president and CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania, “Then it is even more critical now and will be even more so post-pandemic. Innovation has been a crucial component in Pennsylvania’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and that it’s central to our economy’s recovery.
“Almost from the very first days of COVID-19, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania clients have answered the call to assist the commonwealth on a number of fronts,” Brawley says. “Ongoing efforts by our clients include offering students virtual college and career readiness distance learning options, utilizing medical expertise to share helpful health and supply chain information with the community, and providing services such as video-based order platforms to communicate the care preferences of critically ill patients.”
Within Happy Valley, Ben Franklin clients Drucker Diagnostics, KCF Technologies and Videon Central were among local businesses that developed and sold products and services that addressed COVID-19.
“We were happy to receive funding from Ben Franklin, and even happier to pay it back. The money we paid back gets recycled into new startups and the whole cycle starts again.”
Actuated Medical, Inc., which got their start with help from a Ben Franklin investment, is a 20-person company which ordinarily develops medical devices that integrate electronically controlled motion technologies that improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. In 2020, they pivoted to manufacturing face shields for first responders and medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic (you can read more about their story here).
In just one week, they managed to create and implement a production line for the reusable masks, which are designed to be cleaned with bleach, alcohol, or soap and water. AMI quickly ramped up production to 20,000 shields, shipping them to health care heroes locally in State College, as well Dallas, Texas and Baltimore, Md.
“We stayed the course,” says Bruce Pellegrino, vice president of marketing at Sensor Networks, Inc. about their company during 2020. “We stayed focused on what we do and what we are good at doing.”
What they are good at doing is in the highly specialized fields of ultrasonic and remote visual technologies, providing tools and technologies to help people inspect and monitor safety critical components with increased productivity and confidence. (See how they saved one refinery $4 million.)
As the pandemic changed business around the world, Sensor Networks, Inc. was able to continue to address industry challenges to provide remote visual tooling for in-situ inspection. And Pellegrino says that their company’s ability to stand in the gap owes a lot to Ben Franklin’s help in their early stages.
“The most important thing Ben Franklin did for us in those early years was a significant investment,” he said. “They didn’t require a personal guarantee. They also made us aware of various grants that were basically free money.”
The second most important thing that Ben Franklin did, Pelligrino says, was to take Sensor Networks, Inc. under their wing. “It was like having a friend in the neighborhood,” he says. “They introduced us to vendors, to the local tech ecosystem. They just gave us that helping hand we needed.”
Since Ben Franklin’s investment in 2015, Sensor Networks, Inc. has grown. The company headquarters in a 22,000 sq. ft. facility in State College that houses more than 45 employees, and has additional offices in Osaka, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City.
“We were happy to receive funding from Ben Franklin, and even happier to pay it back,” Pelligrino says. “The money we paid back gets recycled into new startups and the whole cycle starts again. It’s all good.”