Ben Franklin Technology Partners makes investments in cutting-edge startups in a 32-county footprint; in fact, it is the largest early-stage investor and supporter in the area. Last year alone, Ben Franklin assisted 301 businesses in the Commonwealth. The programs and resources that Ben Franklin provides help to create an ideal ecosystem for launching and growing businesses in Happy Valley.
Ben Franklin boasts a sea of experts that eagerly assist entrepreneurs and guide them to success. We wanted in on the action, so we asked the Ben Franklin experts these questions:
Here’s what they had to say.
Bob Dornich, director of Ben Franklin’s TechCelerator program, shared this advice:
“Before investing a fortune or mortgaging your house, be able to lay out what problem are you solving for whom; how do they solve it now (including doing nothing); and how will you solve it?”
As for what makes Happy Valley the perfect breeding ground for success, he said, “The local resources in the Invent Penn State community are beyond comparison! The support level at Ben Franklin is exceptional, with expert advice in marketing, sales, branding, finance, strategy and so much more. In addition to their mentoring, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA also has an investment arm to provide capital to these startups’ businesses.”
“On top of all this, you can overlay the bucolic haven that is Happy Valley. A pristine, pastoral countryside with almost no crime and a great community with phenomenal resources, and the icing on the cake is the kind and generous nature of the folks here. Overall, WE ARE a great place to start a biz!”
Aside from the available resources and knowledge, Dornich said that there is a whole world inside the Happy Valley corridor.
“On top of all this, you can overlay the bucolic haven that is Happy Valley. A pristine, pastoral countryside with almost no crime and a great community with phenomenal resources,” he shared. “And the icing on the cake is the kind and generous nature of the folks here. Overall, WE ARE a great place to start a biz!”
Entrepreneur-in-residence Jesse Harper shared his thoughts on the go-to-market strategy.
“So many founders focus on the technical aspects of their product or service and not enough on the go-to-market strategy to grow a business around that innovation. Hiring the right staff to help close that gap is one of the most important things you can do,” he said.
“Your first sales hire is critical,” Harper emphasized. “They will educate the customer – sell a concept first and a solution second. That is going to take a salesperson with flexibility.”
He also said that Happy Valley has a deep-rooted commitment to innovation.
“There are numerous resources from the LaunchBox, Invent Penn State, Innovation Park, etc. There is access to the world-class facilities, professors, professionals and students at Penn State University and one of the strongest and most active alumni networks in the country,” he said.
“1855 Capital is highly active locally and is further supported by Ben Franklin Technology Partners and their Techcelerator and Big Idea contests where very early-stage startups can receive investment, business mentoring, and support to assist emerging entrepreneurs as they take those first steps,” he continued.
Harper added that State College is a cool mix of college town and success. “State College offers a vibrant downtown and is within driving distance of several large East Coast cities. As an entrepreneur, you have access to resources, funding, top-notch research facilities and a highly educated workforce,” he concluded.
To startup founders, executive-in-residence Roger Dagen said, “I wish they all knew the importance of doing customer discovery before launching their product/service.”
Dagen also noted the value of Happy Valley's support services.
“These services include Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern PA, the Invent Penn State Happy Valley Launch Box offices in our region, the free services of the Penn State Law Entrepreneurship Assistance Clinic and the Penn State Law Intellectual Property Clinic. These free services help the startup entrepreneur understand and overcome the many challenges of a startup business, thereby reducing the risks associated with a startup business. Also present is the support network provided by CREN (Centre Region Entrepreneur Network), a group of aspiring and successful entrepreneurs who gather together to share their experiences in starting and growing their businesses,” he said.
According to executive-in-residence Craig Womeldorf, first-hand market research is key for startup founders.
“The only real way to determine if they have a business that can gain traction and grow is to find out who their customers are. They need to use all resources at their disposal to see if their solution solves a problem for a market segment and brings the customer joy,” he said. “Then, adapt to what they learn, and find out if there is a true match. It will save them huge amounts of time and capital to do this hard work first.”
"They all either provide a key ingredient or know where to direct the founder or growing businessperson to the rest of the ingredients needed to create a dish that customers cannot resist.”
Womeldorf believes the ecosystem found in Happy Valley is a recipe for success. He said, “Founders can start with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Happy Valley LaunchBox, SBDC, PennTAP, the CBICC, multiple Penn State alumni and community support resources and they all either provide a key ingredient or know where to direct the founder or growing businessperson to the rest of the ingredients needed to create a dish that customers cannot resist.”
“Combine those resources with the quality of life, people and expertise in the area, and I can see why Forbes thinks so highly of Pennsylvania and Happy Valley!” he said.