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Southside Bethlehem KIZ Continues to Invest in Bethlehem Entrepreneurs

By Colin McEvoy on August 20, 2021

Almas Foods International, which makes saffron-based products under the brand name Zaffrus, was awarded a $15,000 Technology Transfer Grant by the Southside Bethlehem KIZ this year. (photo courtesy Southside Bethlehem KIZ)

The Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) has been continuing its tradition of supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in the Lehigh Valley, while also stepping up to help Bethlehem companies seeking relief funds during the COVID-19 crisis.

Due to the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the KIZ did not invest the full amount budgeted for 2020. Instead, those available funds were used to support companies that had applied through the City of Bethlehem COVID Funding programs, but were at risk of not receiving grants due to high demand and limited funds available.

The KIZ board awarded $40,800 to nine companies that had applied for COVID-19 relief funds, according to Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez.

“I’m thankful the KIZ stepped up and approved funding for these startup companies,” Donchez said. “Research on resilient communities following periods of economic decline suggest that investing in entrepreneurship has a measurable and positive impact on our community.”

UBMe, a Bethlehem startup behind a smartphone app that allows customers to place online orders or make reservations at a business from a safe distance, was among the companies to receive COVID-19 relief funds through the Southside Bethlehem KIZ.

Val Arzunian, CEO of UBMe, said the financial support has allowed UBMe to aid communities with safe and efficient vaccine distribution, particularly in Bethlehem and Montgomery County, when it was needed the most. 

“The KIZ has been amazing to work with, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” Arzunian said. “Along with the vaccine distribution, we worked with local restaurants to provide online ordering and curbside communication, thus generating the highest quality of safety while still providing revenue to restaurants.”

The mission of the Southside Bethlehem KIZ is to foster innovation and create entrepreneurial opportunities by aligning the combined resources of educational institutions, the public sector, and the private sector.

The KIZ has had a profound impact on innovation and entrepreneurship in Bethlehem by offering critical financial resources and assistance to early-stage startup companies. It has invested more than $9 million in 100 companies since the program’s inception in 2004.

“Plentiful early stage investment, coupled with affordable living and unparalleled quality of life, separate Bethlehem from other communities,” Donchez said. “I’m willing to put the resources and culture available to entrepreneurs here in Bethlehem up against any other community.”

In addition to the COVID-19 relief funds, the Southside Bethlehem KIZ has awarded Technology Transfer Grants of $15,000 to two companies in 2021 so far, and helped provide local student interns for five regional startups through the KIZ Student Internship Program. 

Almas Foods International was one of the companies awarded $15,000. The company, which makes saffron-based products under the brand name Zaffrus, will use the funds for marketing, and is working with Lehigh University’s Small Business Development Center to further develop their marketing plan.

This is their second such award Almas Foods International has received through the KIZ, and the company has recently expanded its facility at the Pi: Partnership for Innovation business incubator in Bethlehem, growing from 232 square feet to 777 square feet.

“Each of KIZ grants has helped us in different directions,” said Ali Almasi, CEO of Almas Foods International. “One has allowed us to optimize and increase our manufacturing capacity, and the other has helped us to reach a bigger market for our saffron products.”

The other Technology Transfer Grant was awarded to Celebr8 Life, a new Bethlehem company that focuses on creating highlight reels from customers’ saved content. The company, which is based at Ben Franklin TechVentures, will use the funds to develop video solutions and marketing of the technology.

“Celebr8 Life is excited to be working with the Southside KIZ to grow our business in Bethlehem!” said Steven Freed, CEO of Celebr8 Life. “We look forward to helping people get more from their pictures in Pennsylvania and beyond.”

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