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Allentown’s Story of ‘Rebuilding the Zombie Incubator’ Wins National Recognition

By Colin McEvoy on May 4, 2015

Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, the Allentown Economic Development Corporation's business incubator.

Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, the Allentown Economic Development Corporation’s business incubator.

The story of how the Allentown Economic Development Corporation rebuilt its business incubation program won “Best in Show” at a national conference last week.

Anthony Durante, AEDC program manager, shared the story of the Allentown Bridgeworks Enterprise Center with a group of more than 50 professionals at the National Business Incubation Association’s (NBIA) Annual Conference in Denver on April 27.

The 75-minute presentation – entitled “Rebuilding the Zombie Incubator: Breathing Life Back into a Struggling Business Incubation Program” – was among five selected as “Best in Show” through a peer voting process. More than 50 incubators had participated in the event.

That recognition is a positive reflection of the growth at Bridgeworks, which today boasts a dozen clients and has undergone more than $1.6 million in physical improvements in recent years.

“As one of the longest standing business incubation programs in the nation, we need to be sure that we are sharing our expertise with our peers,” Durante said. “Where the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center is today versus just three years ago is a night and day difference.”

In the presentation, Durante credited the program’s turnaround with a “getting back to basics” approach. When Durante was hired in 2012, there incubator included only a handful of companies and was burdened with more than a decade of deferred maintenance.

Today, Bridgeworks is home to Architrep, ColdEdge Technologies, The Colony Meadery, County Seat Spirits, Gonzo Pockets, HiJinx Brewing Company, JH Plastics, LightLab International Allentown, MTS Ventures, Netizen Corporation, Polymer Contours and Zzyzx Polymers.

Anthony Durante, program manager at the Allentown Economic Development Corporation, speaking at the 2014 NBIA Annual Conference.

Anthony Durante, program manager at the Allentown Economic Development Corporation, speaking at the 2014 NBIA Annual Conference.

“We immediately raised the bar in order to set expectations to where we wanted to be rather than always talking about the state we were currently in,” Durante said. “By doing so, we were able to start recruiting some high potential clients who saw the vision of what the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center could really be.”

Among the center’s most significant physical improvements was a $1.1 million roof replacement project, funded predominantly by Federal EDA and Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grants. That project resulted in a 54 percent decrease in energy expenses for AEDC’s 2013-14 fiscal year. It also made the building much more marketable.

With Bridgeworks back on its feet, Durante said he is currently focused on the experience that its early-stage companies have while being in the program. AEDC’s goal is to help these startups become $1 million to $2 million companies that are profitable and self-sustaining in just five to seven years.

“It is incredibly important that we do everything we can to make sure these companies have the best experience while in our program,” Durante said. “If the entrepreneur feels that we did everything we could possibly have done to ensure they were successful, then we will have created someone who is a champion and an evangelist of our program.”

Over the course of its 26-year existence, the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, founded in the refurbished Mack Trucks Plant 4A in 1989, has helped launch more than 50 companies in Allentown that have created more than 300 jobs.

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