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Bethlehem Startups Get $450,000 in Keystone Innovation Zone Tax Credits

By Colin McEvoy on May 25, 2022

A half-dozen Bethlehem startup companies have been awarded a total of more than $450,000 in tax credits from the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ).

SolTech Solutions co-founders Michael Planer (left) and Paul Hodges (center) accepting the Eastern Pennsylvania Entrepreneurial Success of the Year Award earlier this month. The company also received more than $150,000 in KIZ tax credits.

Soltech Solutions received just over $150,000 in KIZ tax credits, while Seven Sirens Brewing Company and Paro AI, Inc. were each awarded $100,000. Almas Foods International received $88,569, while Opatmo LLC and UBMe, Inc. were also provided tax credits.

This year’s tax credits are even more impressive because they require that revenue in 2020 be greater than 2019, a task made especially difficult considering COVID-19 protocols and mandatory government shutdowns, Bethlehem Mayor William Reynolds said.

“It is encouraging to see how well our entrepreneurs fared securing tax credits in spite of the challenges of 2020,” Reynolds said.  “These credits will help ease the tax burden for many of our startups and will provide financial flexibility to help support their further growth.”

A total of $456,614 were awarded to the Bethlehem companies, which was part of a statewide total of $14 million provided to KIZ companies across the Commonwealth, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

All six Bethlehem startups are located within the physical Keystone Innovation Zone in the city’s southside neighborhood. Since 2004, the KIZ has helped to foster innovation and create entrepreneurial opportunities by aligning the combined resources of educational institutions, governmental agencies, and the private sector.

There are 28 KIZs across Pennsylvania, and companies within them can seek up to $100,000 in annual tax credits. But the Southside Bethlehem KIZ offers additional unique incentives, including the chance to apply for $15,000 and $25,000 Technology Transfer Grants, $2,500 and $3,750 Student Internship Grants, and other benefits.

Since 2004, the Southside Bethlehem KIZ has seen $9 million in investments made to more than 110 companies. The active grant program is supported by community partners who invest in these startup companies and economic development in the region, and the KIZ also provides access to resources through Lehigh University and Northampton Community College.

“KIZ tax credits opens up incredible opportunities for our startup and allows us to hire more talents in Lehigh Valley,” said Ali Almasi, CEO of Almas Foods International, which creates a brand of the saffron spice called Zaffrus. “We plan to use this resource in the technology needed to expand our soft drink production and even initiate a high-tech indoor saffron farm operation to produce our main ingredient.”

For-profit companies are eligible for KIZ tax credits if they are physically located within the Southside Bethlehem KIZ, have been in operation for less than 8 years, operate within one of the KIZ targeted industry clusters, and are developing innovative technologies, according to the Bethlehem Department of Community and Economic Development.

For more information, please visit the Southside Bethlehem KIZ website or contact the City’s Economic Development Coordinator, Asher Schiavone via email or via phone at (610) 865-4347.

“It’s vital to support our tech entrepreneurs here at home and foster their growth,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. “These tax credits help reduce the burden on companies as they are just starting out. In turn, these businesses and entrepreneurs will push Pennsylvania’s thriving tech sector forward.”

The KIZ tax credits for Soltech Solutions come shortly after the company was received the 2022 Eastern Pennsylvania Entrepreneurial Success of the Year Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Eastern Pennsylvania District Office.

Soltech Solutions is a manufacturer of state-of-the-art glow lights for plants. The three co-founders, Paul Hodges, Michael Planer, and Chris Clark started the venture in a friend’s unfinished basement, launching a Kickstarter campaign in 2017. Today, Soltech has 21 employees, and expanded from its original 232 square-foot space at Pi to 3,500 square feet.

“The Soltech team has worked with every resource and organization available to them. They are smart and savvy, yet humble business owners,” Reynolds previously said. “We are honored that the team, who did not grow up in Bethlehem nor go to college here, decided to launch their company in the City of Bethlehem based on a CNN Money article entitled ‘Top 100 Places to Live and Launch.’’

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