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StartUp Valley Event Seeks to Position Lehigh Valley as Innovation Hub

By Colin McEvoy on November 4, 2019

The Bethlehem-based Factory LLV hosted the first Startup Valley event on Oct. 30.

The Factory LLC in Bethlehem is seeking to position the Lehigh Valley as the innovation hub of the East Coast by bringing together local business leaders, angel investors, industry experts, merchants, higher education representatives, students, community members, and entrepreneurs.

That was the purpose of the StartUp Valley event it hosted on Oct. 30, an event organizers hope to host on a quarterly basis at the Bethlehem-based innovation center for startup food, beverage, and pet health companies.

“With the support of the local community, we believe that the Lehigh Valley can become the next Austin, Texas or Boulder, Colorado: cities that are currently hotbeds for entrepreneurial start-ups,” said Richard Thompson, managing partner at Factory. “We chose the name StartUp Valley for this event to signify that it is truly inclusive of everyone in the Lehigh Valley community.”

Matthew Tuerk, LVEDC Vice President of Economic Development and Marketing, speaking at StartUp Valley.

More than 300 people registered to attend the event at 215 Columbia Street, which included remarks from Matthew Tuerk, Vice President of Economic Development and Marketing at the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), who stressed the value of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Having a strong network of support, resources, and contacts is essential for regional entrepreneurship to strive, and fortunate Lehigh Valley is rich with that,” Tuerk said. “That spark of innovation is something that’s present here in Lehigh Valley, and it’s something we’ve been highlighting as part of our Made Possible in Lehigh Valley initiative.”

The StartUp Valley event included an innovation pitch competition, in which 10 entrepreneurs and startup founders presented their business ideas to the crowd during a two-minute pitch, which was followed by a brief question-and-answer session.

Though Factory specializes in the food, beverage, and pet sector, the competition was open to all products and company types. The audience voted for their favorites, and the winner was awarded $1,000, with the top two runners-up receiving $100, according to Grady Barth of Factory’s Business Development team.

The winner was Matt Bilsky, a Lehigh University graduate whose company FLX Solutions is housed at the Ben Franklin TechVentures incubator in Bethlehem. The startup creates a 3-D printed flexible snake robot that can be used for inspections and repairs through walls and in data center computers, saving time for repairs and improving worker safety.

Located in a converted a former Bethlehem Steel mill, the Factory is an innovation center for startup food, beverage, and pet health companies led by Thompson, the former CEO of Freshpet. The site underwent a $12 million renovation in 2018, and currently houses four companies, and two more are expected before the end of the year.

The Factory includes a team of experienced operators with $250 million of investable capital who acquire meaningful equity stakes in client companies and partner with them to grow. The 40,000 square-foot laboratory offers services in everything from food safety, product development, supply chain, and social media marketing.

“The Lehigh Valley is situated in a wonderful location to be a center of innovation. We have easy access to major airports in New York and Philadelphia, great distribution centers, good manufacturing opportunities and wonderful local colleges and universities where we’ve found a lot of bright talent to intern at Factory,” Thompson said. “What we need to do is organize all of these local assets into attracting more and more entrepreneurs and angel investors to grow the ecosystem for entrepreneurship in the Lehigh Valley.”

The Factory also held its first annual Pet Innovation Challenge last month, in which companies from the pet industry pitched ideas for innovative pet products and competed for prizes. Additionally, Factory LLC was featured in a segment on the Fox Business Network earlier this year.

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