Ben Franklin TechVentures2®, the recently completed expansion of the Ben Franklin TechVentures incubator/post-incubator on the campus of Lehigh University, has been lauded by economic development and building design organizations alike.

Ben Franklin's TechVentures incubator/post-incubator helps startup companies generate jobs in Pennsylvania.

The 47,000 square foot addition, owned and managed by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP), which includes wet labs, office/meeting space and a parking deck, is designed to support and accelerate the success of early-stage technology firms. The facility is registered to be a certified Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building, and has already won an array of accolades, including first-place national honors in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Challenge, the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association Project of the Year award and the American Institute of Architects Eastern Pennsylvania Award of Merit.

But TechVentures2 isn’t just about a building. It’s about creating jobs – sustainable, high-paying, technology-based jobs right here in Pennsylvania.

Twenty-nine early-stage firms, employing 158 people, are currently located in Ben Franklin TechVentures. Since 1983, Ben Franklin TechVentures and its predecessor, the Ben Franklin Business Incubator, have graduated 54 successful companies. Together, these incubator graduates grossed more than $408 million in annual revenue last year and created more than 5,200 jobs. The new facility is projected to create as many 200 quality jobs and retain 100 more at start-up companies in just its first three years.

Growing in Bethlehem

The original Ben Franklin Business Incubator, established in 1983 and located across the street from the current Ben Franklin TechVentures campus, had been at capacity for most of its quarter-century of operation. BFTP/NEP and its economic development colleagues had to turn away promising young companies due to a lack of incubator space, and the lack of availability of wet lab space was a problem for emerging companies in many technology sectors.

“Ben Franklin TechVentures2 epitomizes our work at the Ben Franklin Technology Partners,” BFTP/NEP president and CEO R. Chadwick Paul, Jr. said. “Like its predecessors, Ben Franklin TechVentures2 is a job creation factory.”

Lehigh University donated what is now TechVentures to BFTP/NEP in the mid 2000s, and Ben Franklin completely renovated the former Bethlehem Steel lab to meet the needs of high-tech companies. Early projections showed that TechVentures’ 35,000 square feet of rentable space and 11,000 square feet of wet lab space would meet the area’s needs for five years. But the facility was filled to near capacity just 18 months after its September 2007 opening.

BFTP/NEP began securing funding for an expansion in 2009, with eyes on improving TechVentures’ ability to generate jobs and provide resources, workspace and hands-on support to early-stage technology companies. After two years of construction, Ben Franklin TechVentures2 was dedicated in October 2011, expanding the facility to 109,000 square feet with capacity for as many as 40 start-up companies. The architect was Spillman Farmer Architects and the construction manager was Allied Building Corporation, both of Bethlehem.

“Ben Franklin TechVentures2 epitomizes our work at the Ben Franklin Technology Partners,” BFTP/NEP president and CEO R. Chadwick Paul, Jr. said. “Like its predecessors, Ben Franklin TechVentures2 is a job-creation factory.”

Success stories

Effectively demonstrating BFTP/NEP’s job-creation expertise at Ben Franklin TechVentures are post-incubator clients Saladax Biomedical, Inc., and Texas Instruments Lehigh Valley, formerly CICLON Semiconductor Device Corp. Both of these companies currently reside at TechVentures.

Saladax develops and commercializes MyCare™ diagnostic test kits, sophisticated blood tests that quickly, accurately and inexpensively determine the systemic chemotherapy drug levels that enable oncologists to personalize dosing for optimal results in cancer patients. BFTP/NEP has invested in multiple funding rounds of Saladax and advised the company principals. Saladax has 16 issued patents with additional applications pending, raised more than $22 million in equity funding and launched its first product (My5-FU™) in North America, Europe and Australia. The company has grown from two founders to 30 employees.

“We’re helping patients and doctors around the world every day,” Saladax COO Adrienne Choma, Esq., said. “Starting and growing our company at Ben Franklin TechVentures has provided us with tremendous support and resources at crucial points in our company’s development.”

In 2004, Texas Instruments Lehigh Valley began as CICLON Semiconductor in the Ben Franklin Business Incubator with three employees. The company’s product dramatically increases efficiency in power systems, delivering new levels of system compactness, cost, energy efficiency and performance. CICLON’s technology has been designed into products offered by world leaders in electronics, including Apple’s iPod, iPad, iPhone, iMac, and MacBook; Motorola cell phones; HP tablets and notebooks; Blackberry phones; and Kindle readers, among others. CICLON was acquired by Texas Instruments in February 2009, and all local jobs were retained. After investment and years of support and counsel from BFTP/NEP, it now employs 65.

“We’ve been a Ben Franklin company for as long as we’ve existed,” general manager Mark Granahan said. “We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and we’re proud to provide a boost to the Lehigh Valley economy. Ben Franklin made that possible.”

And thanks to the resources available at the newly expanded TechVentures2, even more companies will be able to say the same thing soon.

Photo ©2011 Halkin Photography LLC