Ben Franklin Clients Innovating to Recovery

by Laura Eppler

As the government, public, and private sectors continue to address the severe problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) clients contribute to the efforts. Ben Franklin enables client companies to not only create highly paid, sustainable technology-based jobs, but also to develop innovative solutions that fight COVID-19 and prevent or address disasters yet to come.

Ben Franklin invests in and links companies with experts, universities, follow-on funding, and other resources to help them prosper through innovation by:

  1. developing and growing early-stage technology-oriented companies;
  2. supporting established manufacturers as they creatively apply new technology to help them succeed globally by producing better, faster, and at a lower cost; and
  3. promoting an innovative community-wide infrastructure that supports Pennsylvania’s business technology ecosystem.

BFTP/NEP is part of a four-center statewide economic development initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

There are many illustrations of clients throughout BFTP/NEP’s 21-county service area whose products or services are immediately applicable in the work to fight COVID-19, or which have pivoted, using existing technology in a different way to address the need. The proprietary and revolutionary air purification units initially developed for highly sensitive In Vitro Fertilization facilities by LifeAire Systems, LLC, Allentown, for example, are capable of killing airborne pathogens, including COVID-19. LifeAire has applied its proven kill technology in protecting dental practices, office spaces, and transportation and educational facilities. The company also applied its technology to develop a portable, rapid decontamination unit for N95 masks that kills COVID-19 within all layers of the mask in just 3½ minutes, disinfecting 8,500 masks per day per unit.

One of Ben Franklin’s first clients, OraSure Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: OSUR), Bethlehem, is developing two tests for COVID-19 that could be key contributors to the testing paradigm. The OraQuick® rapid antigen self-test for COVID-19 would detect an active infection with a rapid result at the point of sample collection, with no instrumentation needed to interpret the results, and no need to transport samples to a lab for analysis. Fast, frequent testing could be invaluable in opening up economies and enabling the safe return to work and school. The OraSure Sars-Cov-2, oral fluid antibody test, is a laboratory test that would be the first antibody test to use oral fluids to detect past infection. 

The agility of early-stage technology firms and innovative manufacturers to respond to a crisis or market opportunity quickly is emblematic of Ben Franklin clients. That was one of the reasons Gov. Tom Wolf tagged Ben Franklin to help launch his “Pennsylvania Manufacturing Call to Action Portal” to rapidly mobilize innovative manufacturers to produce critical medical products in response to the virus.

Investing in innovation made sense in the best of times, and it is even more critical now. In May, the state provided $1 million to each of the four statewide Ben Franklins, matched by each, to invest in promising clients that were challenged during the pandemic. COVID-19 has demonstrated that investments in innovation will help both reboot the economy and save lives.

So, what makes Ben Franklin Technology Partners and its clients so special? BFTP/NEP customizes its services for each client in each stage of development, drawing on both internal staff expertise and a network of external resources. BFTP/NEP provides direct financial investments; preparations for and introductions to follow-on funders; coaching and mentoring; a comprehensive and proven array of technical and business support; and participation in a community infrastructure that grows a robust technology-business ecosystem.

In short, Ben Franklin supports clients with a “secret sauce” that magnifies the impacts of its financial investments and often makes the difference in a company’s success. Since 1983, BFTP/NEP has led the regional transformation to a substantial presence in a range of technology sectors, the diversity of which has made the economy more resilient. Ben Franklin’s successful and proven approach took years to develop and is an enormously valuable asset to northeastern Pennsylvania.

Ben Franklin’s secret sauce lets the Commonwealth leverage and optimizes taxpayer dollars. It enables client companies to both create good technology-based jobs, and to develop and implement innovative solutions that fight COVID-19 and upcoming calamities. These contributions will be pivotal as we progress through recovery.

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