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Soltech Solutions, Lehigh University SBDC Win SBA Awards

By Colin McEvoy on May 13, 2022

Soltech Solutions co-founders Michael Planer (left) and Paul Hodges (center) accepting the Eastern Pennsylvania Entrepreneurial Success of the Year Award.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Eastern Pennsylvania District Office has announced its 2022 Small Business Week Award Winners, and two of the winners are based right here in the Lehigh Valley.

Soltech Solutions LLC, a Bethlehem-based manufacturer of state-of-the-art grow lights for plants, has received the Eastern Pennsylvania Entrepreneurial Success of the Year Award for 2022.

Additionally, Lehigh University’s Small Business Development Center, which assists small businesses in the greater Lehigh Valley area, has won the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award for 2022.

“For more than 50 years, SBA’s National Small Business Week awards have recognized the achievements of small businesses and the organizations that assist them in eastern Pennsylvania,” said SBA Eastern Pennsylvania District Director Steven Dixel.

Lehigh University SBDC Director Brett Smith (center) accepting the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award.

“It’s an honor to present these awards,” Dixel said. “Each business is exceptional and deserving of recognition as they have demonstrated their resiliency and resolve to create and deliver products and services impacting our communities and economy post pandemic.”

Based in the Pi: Partnership for Innovation incubator in Bethlehem, Soltech advanced photosynthesis spectrum, sleek minimalist fixtures, and ambient indirect lighting offer a simple solution for plant owners to grow any plant with integrated lighting anywhere in their home.

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,” said Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds, who nominated Soltech for the SBA award. “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.’’”

Soltech faced difficulty in the fall of 2021, when the pandemic and global supply shortages caused lead times to change from several weeks to several months. SBA-guaranteed loans and credit lines though M&T Bank helped Soltech secure enough product supply for continued sales, increased revenue growth, and the sustainment of jobs in the local community.

“Through awarding Soltech this award, it will hopefully inspire others to continue in a similar pursuit, persevere, and ultimately become the positive change they wish to see in their lives and the lives of others,” Clark said.

Lehigh University’s SBDC was one of the original centers launched more than 40 years ago to serve small business clients in Pennsylvania. The program has grown under current director Brett Smith’s leadership, expanding its outreach to underserved communities and expanding its services in government procurement and international trade.

“Under Brett’s leadership, the SBDC has taken on innovative funding and outreach in their service territory for micro lending,” Dixel said. “Lehigh SBDC works closely with Pennsylvania’s Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance (PREP), Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and SBA lenders to ensure that small business community capital needs are met.”

Lehigh University SBDC’s strengths include helping clients access capital as well as its bilingual export and procurement specialists. Pennsylvania SBDCs are the only statewide, nationally accredited program that provides high quality one-on-one consulting, training, and information resources to empower new and existing businesses.

“Our team is dedicated to helping small businesses succeed across the region,” Smith said. “Last year alone, the SBDC served more than 900 individuals, resulting in 56 new business starts and a record $26.7 million in capital formation for start-up and existing businesses.”

Ernie Post, Director of the Pennsylvania SBDC Network, said the Lehigh center stands out due to its excellent reputation, knowledge of its consultants, and its connections to the banking community.

“Lehigh SBDC provides consulting to businesses that want to start, grow, and prosper,” Post said. “Lehigh SBDC is truly an example of how all SBDC centers should be run.”

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