The LVEDC Interview: Ben Franklin’s Chad Paul
By LVEDC Staff on September 17, 2013
Editor’s Note: R. Chadwick Paul has been at the helm of Ben Franklin Technology Partners since 2002 after a sucessful career as an entrepreneur. BFTP’s mission is strightforward: To provide start-up companies with the expertise, funding and other resources to help them make the cut. Founded in 1983, Ben Franklin is a state-funded program started by then Governor Richard Thornburgh.
LVEDC: What do most young people not know about what it takes to be successful in business?
Chadwick Paul: I started Chadwick Telephone while still a Lehigh student, so I have experienced many sides of entrepreneurship in my career. I would advise any entrepreneur to build a solid business plan from the start. Spend time and effort considering all areas of the business before launching. Also, entrepreneurs need to be certain to correctly arrange the legal aspects of their businesses. Get written agreements with partners before a funding raise or selling any product or service, obtain tax numbers and business licenses, be sure to comply with all applicable government regulations. Many young companies scrimp on legal expenditures at the outset, and that can cost them dearly later on.
LVEDC: How do you identify technology that has commercial potential?
Paul: Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) Enterprise Developers identify investment opportunities throughout our 21-county northeastern Pennsylvania service area, and qualify the most promising prospects. Our portfolio team evaluates each potential client on its merits over several parameters, including market opportunity, management team, market channel strategy, protectable intellectual property, and job creation potential. Our staff has deep knowledge and experience in determining companies’ strengths and weaknesses, selecting the best opportunities, and supporting clients.
BFTP staff serve as facilitators and catalysts to help clients consider new perspectives and connect them with the resources they need for success. When appropriate, we link companies with colleges and universities, whose faculty and students work directly with our clients. We team with communities, government, other economic development organizations, professional service providers, venture capitalists, private investors, and industry leaders, many from our own client base, to bring together the resources that help our clients prosper.
LVEDC: What is your assessment of the state of the economy?
Paul: The regional economy is gradually rebounding, as measured by a variety of statistics. Pennsylvania has benefitted from the foresight of then-Governor Thornburgh who established Ben Franklin Technology Partners 30 years ago to accelerate the transition of the state’s economy from a dependency on heavy manufacturing to diversification into technology sectors. Ben Franklin’s work, in partnership with colleagues including LVEDC, has resulted in the Lehigh Valley now being viewed as a model in successfully navigating that transition. Ben Franklin has helped established manufacturers integrate technology into products and processes to make them more competitive globally. Further, many of our early-stage firms become the manufacturers of the future, and grow to be significant regional employers. For example, OraSure and IQE started as early-stage firms in our business incubator, and are now established manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley employing hundreds of workers.
LVEDC: Explain how technology actually puts more people back to work and drives up wages for the general public, instead of the opposite.
Paul: BFTP helps regional companies employ technology to help them to compete effectively worldwide, allowing firms to prosper here, instead of shipping jobs overseas. Ben Franklin’s mission is to create well-paid, sustainable jobs in northeastern Pennsylvania. BFTP recently commissioned an independent, third-party evaluation of its impact. Conducted by the Pennsylvania Economy League, the report found that BFTP clients are in industries that pay annual salaries that are 36% higher than the average for all private non-farm industries in PA. Further, since 1989, BFTP has boosted the state’s economy by more than $23.5 billion. New state tax revenue generated because of BFTP represents a 3.6 to 1 payback to the Commonwealth. Since 1989 alone, BFTP statewide has generated 51,000 jobs in client firms.
LVEDC: Give us an example of what would make an ideal start-up company in which Ben Franklin would want to invest.
Paul: Ben Franklin client companies are selected competitively based upon the expected creation and retention of Pennsylvania jobs, the potential to develop industry-leading positions, and building Pennsylvania‘s identity as a high-technology leader. We also seek to diversify the regional economy by investing in companies from high-potential technology sectors. Currently, we focus on alternative and clean energy, information technology, life sciences, nanotechnology and advanced materials, and optoelectronics/semiconductors/ photonics.
For a start-up company to move from concept to successful commercialization, it takes marketing ingenuity. Entrepreneurs need a viable and high-margin product or service, well-conceived distribution channels, and a keen understanding of the market. Start-ups are frequently in a race to become profitable before their seed funding runs out. Ben Franklin helps promising young firms succeed by providing them with guidance and support at crucial times so they can grow into substantial employers.
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