Entrepreneur to Investor – Full-Circle Innovation

by Laura Eppler

One good investment deserves another. That’s the philosophy of entrepreneur-turned-investor Marsha Wender Timmerman, who exited successfully as a founder of two early-stage technology firms and then became an early investor herself. 

A brilliant and high-achieving biotechnologist, Marsha was laid off from Air Products in 1984. In retrospect, as many good entrepreneurs note, that setback was a blessing in disguise. In the absence of the security of a salaried job, she was driven to establish her own company. 

In the mid-1980s, female technology executives were uncommon. Women entrepreneurs shared the same arduous challenges as their male counterparts and faced prejudice from investors and prospective clients. 

Marsha was the second employee of Enzymatics, a medical diagnostics start-up in Bethlehem. Enzymatics became one of the very first clients of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP), receiving investments and support, and grew over eight years. Enzymatics had a profitable initial public offering (IPO), and Marsha moved on. 

Marsha teamed with Jim Johnson, longtime friend, and coworker, to start their own company, JWT. They developed a lactic acid test for endurance athletes. There was a market need, and the product was effective, but they were research scientists, not marketers. They once again turned to Ben Franklin, which linked them with expert marketing consultant Dale Falcinelli to develop a business plan.  

In 1995, JWT tied for first place in a national Working Woman Magazine business plan competition. Housed modestly in a former executive washroom within the original Ben Franklin Business Incubator, JWT earned a $25,000 investment and local celebrity status. 

JWT grew and, with BFTP/NEP’s funding and introductions, set up a laboratory at Lehigh University and partnered with faculty. JWT merged with another firm, and Marsha and Jim successfully exited once again.  

Marsha was a pioneer as a female technology entrepreneur. Her business partner, Jim, often had to front client presentations to improve the chances of a sale. Potential investors nearly always bypassed her and talked with Jim. That was the reality of the biotechnology sector at that time.  

JWT’s remarkable success and strong exit allowed Marsha and Jim to jump to the other side of the table as angel investors. Together, they formed AJM Investments. 

“I invest on informed intuition,” says Marsha. “It’s much more about the leadership team than the product or service. I look for creativity, drive, and persistence. And the intangibles. I know it when I see it.” 

Marsha (marsha@ajm.llc) views her role as an investor, in part, as a giveback, to mentor and support other entrepreneurs, especially women. She aims to help them with the business sides of their companies, to help them improve the human condition through innovation, and to help them make money in the process. 

The Ben Franklin Technology Partners invests in technology-based start-ups that are commercializing proprietary technology. Like Marsha, BFTP/NEP carefully chooses the management teams with the best opportunities, talent, and vision and provides extensive support to mold teams’ ideas into effective implementation.  

Marsha Timmerman’s story is one of tenacity and resilience during a time of change in the role of female entrepreneurs. It was also a time of change in the Lehigh Valley economy. Heavy industry, which had supported northeastern Pennsylvania for decades, was faltering. Led by BFTP/NEP and its partners, the regional economy transitioned and developed robust technology sectors. The diversity of today’s Lehigh Valley economy is also a story of tenacity and resilience. 

The success of technology-based start-ups is greatly influenced by a regional infrastructure. The availability of early-stage and follow-on funding, the accessibility of higher education and other research resources, the availability of facilities and networking opportunities for young companies, and the presence of a skilled workforce are pivotal. The Ben Franklin Technology Partners builds, develops, and accelerates the region’s technology business ecosystem. 

An effective technology business ecosystem supports innovative local entrepreneurs, attracts technology-based companies to locate here, accelerates the learning curve for new companies, and creates a synergy among companies that helps the entire region thrive. Marsha Timmerman’s life and contributions illustrate that one good investment deserves another.   

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