Ben Franklin Technology Partners Helps Companies in the PA Wilds Innovate, Grow
Funding – BIG IDEA Contests -TechCelerator Business StartUP Boot Camps
Compiled by Staff
If you are planning to develop and commercialize a new product, process, or software application, be sure to check out Ben Franklin Technology Partners. This state funded program has been investing in tech startups and small manufacturers for nearly 40 years. In addition to capital, Ben Franklin also offers business mentoring and support, $50,000 BIG IDEA Contests and a 10-Week Business StartUp Boot Camp called the TechCelerator.
The Ben Franklin TechCelerator creates an experience that enables those who are thinking about starting a business to explore the likelihood of success with the benefit of a safety net and the guidance of trained professionals. During the ten weeks, participants are exposed to topics such as Market Research, Basic Financials, Revenue Models, Funding Options, and Presentation Skills. At the culmination of the program, graduates are given the opportunity to pitch their business concepts to an independent panel of judges from the region, with the possibility of winning up to $10,000 for their efforts.
Ben Franklin’s TechCelerator program — which is accepting applications through mid-March in select counties — has helped more than 150 emerging entrepreneurial teams across a 32-county service area form companies that are creating jobs and generating more than $26 million in revenue. In turn, Ben Franklin’s traditional funding program has invested more than $3.3 million in 24 of the companies formed.
PA Wilds Center Founder and CEO Ta Enos encourages rural companies participating in its entrepreneurial ecosystem through the Wilds Cooperative of PA to consider reaching out to Ben Franklin. “Sometimes in rural PA we prematurely take ourselves out of the running for things,” Enos says. “Your business doesn’t have to be sending rockets to the moon to qualify for an investment from Ben Franklin. If you need funding to help develop and commercialize an innovative product or process, Ben Franklin is a great resource. They bring investment capital, technical expertise, and their widely respected network to the table.”
The Laughing Owl Press Company, which is active in the PA Wilds entrepreneurial ecosystem, received funding from Ben Franklin in late 2019 to help develop a web-based software that makes it easier to order highly customizable letterpress products. “It was a big leap for us to apply to Ben Franklin,” says Joe Lanich, who co-founded the business with his wife, Andrea in 2010. “We were concerned that maybe letterpress printing isn’t what they would consider as techy enough. But the prospect of funding from Ben Franklin allowed us to ask ourselves, how can we do this better?”
The company is now on track to launch a beta version of their software this year, helping them continue to grow. Joe Lanich said the innovation would not have been possible without Ben Franklin’s support. “I wouldn’t have had the confidence, the direction, or the money,” he says. “Having Ben Franklin’s mentorship was really beneficial.”
The Wild Sonshine Factory is a new agricultural venture in Kane that is leveraging the PA Wilds brand to bring an innovative new spirit to market that is distilled 100% from sunflowers grown in the PA Wilds region. The company received financial support from Ben Franklin through the BIG IDEA Contest in late 2019. Owner Dave Conklin credits that support for helping him strive further in his entrepreneurial pursuits.
“Our experience with Ben Franklin Technology and the Big Idea Contest has been extremely beneficial,” says Conklin. “The preparation and training that we received for the day of the Big Idea Contest was a true stepping stone for us. These events molded us to prioritize information, innovate communication and initialize unique networking. The training and contest I experienced helped immensely when only weeks after the contest I was respectfully asked to be a guest speaker at Public Officials Day in Harrisburg. Ben Franklin Technology is a true asset to propel entrepreneurs’ ambitions and ideas into successful motion.”
Dave Conklin, left center, and Joe Lanich, right center, were named winners of Ben Franklin’s Big Idea Contest in late 2019. Conklin and Lanich were two of eight finalists who presented their ideas to a panel of local judges. Also pictured are from left to right, Tosha, Serrena and Sienna Conklin, and Andrea Lanich.
Another Kane-based tech start-up business, EasyRaising, completed the 10-week Ben Franklin TechCelerator boot camp held at the Penn State Dubois Launchbox in the Spring of 2020. The pandemic began near the end of the program, and the participants were the first TechCelerator class to do their graduation pitch competition remotely via Zoom, with $10,000 awarded to help the winning businesses get started.
EasyRaising, a web-based platform that connects independent product makers with organizations who want to fundraise online, won funding from Ben Franklin to test out their business idea.
The TechCelerator program gets entrepreneurs into a boot camp format, where they spend 10 weeks collaborating with other individuals who are pursuing an entrepreneurial path. As a result, program participants end up with more than just some extra cash to help their business succeed: They become part of Ben Franklin’s larger interconnected ecosystem of entrepreneurs.
“The TechCelerator format gives you an opportunity to connect and be creative with other entrepreneurs who are taking on the same kind of risk,” EasyRaising co-founder Boyd Lewis says. “The mentorship, education and technical assistance we’ve received from Ben Franklin and the Clarion University Small Business Development Center has made a huge impact on our business, and we’d encourage other entrepreneurs to apply.”
EasyRaising has already conducted a trial fundraiser with a Penn State University student group that was raising funds to enhance the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer. Jefferson County-based King Krunch Gourmet Brands, a company in the Wilds Cooperative that also received investment from Ben Franklin, was the exclusive supplier for the EasyRaising fundraiser.
King Krunch received funding from Ben Franklin in the fall of 2020 to upgrade their ecommerce site, redesign its packaging and manufacturing areas, upgrade systems and develop a more robust online sales and marketing strategy.
This summer, PA Wilds Center will launch an online marketplace that will allow rural makers to sell directly to consumers but with the added marketing power of the PA Wilds brand. Erie-based MakerPlace, also a Ben Franklin portfolio company, earned the development contract.
“Our marketplace site is more software development than website development and going into it, we weren’t sure we could find the services we needed close to home,” Enos says. “Ben Franklin connected us to MakerPlace and they turned out to be an awesome fit. It was great to keep the development contract in our backyard, and we appreciate Ben Franklin helping us make that connection.”
Enos says she sees Ben Franklin as a key collaborator in the Center’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and rural revitalization efforts and hopes to do more with them in the future. “We work closely with many of our region’s business service providers and each one has different expertise or resources that they bring to the table,” Enos says. “Companies need a lot of tools in the toolbox to innovate and grow, and we are grateful to have Ben Franklin as part of ours.”
To learn more about the Ben Franklin program, visit cnp.benfranklin.org or phone 814-863-4558.