The following appeared in the November 10, 2015 edition of Innovate @ EDA
Ben Franklin once said, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” It’s therefore fitting that an institution bearing his name, Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP), has taken those words to heart. Since its founding in 1983, it’s become the leading technology-based economic development programs through continuous expansion.
Over the years, Pennsylvania has faced economic challenges as manufacturing and industrial jobs have left the region. BFTP has sought to help the region build new businesses and diversify its economy by providing both early-stage and established companies with funding, business and technical expertise, and access to a network of innovative, expert resources. BFTP estimates that it has created 140,000 jobs and boosted the Pennsylvania economy by $6.6 billion.
As BFTP has grown, EDA has provided grants totaling roughly $16 million to support its expansion. In 1998, EDA provided $500,000 to BFTP to help establish the Technology Extension Partnership Program (TEP), which assists businesses in identifying technology that can improve products and processes. After a couple years, BFTP realized it needed a more focused program to assist individual, smaller businesses with resolving specific product problems. In 2001, EDA invested another $500,000 in BFTP to establish the Technology Applications Partnership Program (TAP), which offers more sophisticated, targeted technology utilization assistance.
BFTP kept identifying new areas and opportunities to expand its offerings. In 2003, when it identified a need to help small businesses with planning, product development and commercialization, EDA invested nearly $800,000 to help implement the Product Development and Commercialization Center program. The following year, BFTP realized the potential of nanotechnology as a growth industry and it led the charge on applying for a $295,000 EDA grant to assist with the planning, organizing, marketing, and information dissemination activities of the Mid-Atlantic Nanotechnology Alliance (MANA).
In 2005, EDA provided funding to help BFTP improve the network, its incubators, and their services, and in 2007 EDA provided two more grants: $900,000 to support the development and implementation of the Commercialization Continuum (CC), which offers of a comprehensive, integrative technology commercialization system within and among technology hubs in southeastern Pennsylvania, and $1 million to engineer and design a fiber-optic network infrastructure capable of supporting Business Continuity and Recovery Services and data replication for the financial services industry.
In 2009, EDA invested $6 million to help build a 47,000 square-foot LEED silver certified addition to the existing Ben Franklin TechVentures incubator facility at Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus. The project expanded the BFTP’s award winning incubator program.
The following year, EDA provided a $5 million grant to The Philadelphia Authority Industrial Development (PAID) and BFTP to help fund the design and construction of various laboratories for the HUB/GPCI Innovation Headquarters and to support the external activities of the Commercialization and Creativity Institute. Most recently,EDA awarded $1.7 million to support the expansion of Tech Ventures.
If growth and progress are a measure of success, as Franklin suggests, then BFTP may be one of the most successful projects EDA has ever supported.