Bethlehem’s Ben Franklin TechVentures Starts New Year Strong

By Colin McEvoy on January 19, 2016

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf visited Ben Franklin TechVentures recently as part of his "Jobs That Pay" tour.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf visited Ben Franklin TechVentures recently as part of his “Jobs That Pay” tour.

Ben Franklin TechVentures is off to a strong start for the new year, welcoming two new resident companies and hosting a visit from the Pennsylvania governor, as they continue explore a new building expansion to accommodate growing demand for more space.

The Bethlehem technology-based business incubator has announced two new resident companies in the past four weeks: STRIVR, Inc. and the Beijing Oriental Yuhong Waterproof Technology Co.

Additionally, on Jan. 12, Gov. Tom Wolf visited TechVentures as part of his “Jobs That Pay” tour, a statewide tour that also included stops at such Lehigh Valley spots as Martin Guitar, the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, and PA CareerLink Lehigh Valley.

“I’m thrilled to meet with the extremely talented staff and companies working at TechVentures, an award-winning incubator doing great work in the Lehigh Valley,” Wolf said. “My administration remains committed to moving Pennsylvania forward by creating a business climate that supports Pennsylvania entrepreneurs like these.”

Thirty-eight early-stage firms, employing more than 170 people, are currently located in more than 109,000 total square feet at Ben Franklin TechVentures. Located on Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus to Ben Franklin, which is owned and managed by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP).

Since 1983, the Ben Franklin Business Incubator and TechVentures have graduated 64 successful companies, together grossing more than $1.2 billion in recurring annual revenue and creating more than 6,400 jobs, according to Laura Eppler, director of marketing with BFTP/NEP.

With its current rentable space nearly full, BFTP/NEP is exploring funding sources to expand TechVentures, eyeing a new West Wing expansion that would provide much-needed business incubation, office, and meeting space for its resident companies.

“We are reaching out to various funding sources for the expansion of Ben Franklin TechVentures,” said Eppler. “This additional space will give more early-stage technology firms space to start and grow.”

BFTP/NEP also released its 2015 Annual Report last week. Click here to download it.

STRIVR, one of the two newest resident companies, is a free iPhone app that initially targets the 21 million-member college student market. College students typically have more needs, more independence, and fewer resources than other groups. STRIVR creates connections between them to help with various problems and questions, such as finding a tutor, getting a ride for a friend, matchmaking, or borrowing textbooks.

“Being part of Ben Franklin has been great for STRIVR,” said company founder Zach Gray. “The advisers there, specifically Wayne Barz, have provided invaluable feedback that has helped guide STRIVR’s growth. Being in an environment with so many other companies has allowed us to learn and get insight from how they are solving problems and executing in the real world.”

TechVentures’ other new resident company, Beijing Oriental Yuhong Waterproof Technology Co., develops waterproof coatings for such applications as residential construction, roads, bridges, railways, airports, and water conservation facilities. The Lehigh Valley’s second Chinese-based firm, after Fuling Plastics USA, the company chose to conduct research at TechVentures based on the incubator’s world-class attributes and location on Lehigh University’s campus.

“Ben Franklin TechVentures turned out to be an ideal starting point for us to build roots,” said Willie Lau, chief scientist with Beijing Oriental. “The facility is superb and the support and resource from the organization are excellent. The proximity to Lehigh University, which Oriental Yuhong is also collaborating, allows a seamless overlap of technical exchange.”

Gov. Wolf’s visited four TechVentures companies during his tour stop: Colymer Industries, which is working to commercialize a non-asphalt roofing and waterproofing material; Orbweaver Sourcing, which has developed a cloud-based software platform; US Speciality Formulations, which manufactures sterile injectable pharmaceuticals; and TB Biosciences, Inc., an early-stage medical diagnostics company developing a rapid point-of-care tuberculosis test.

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