Governor’s 2020-21 Budget Proposes $5 Million Increase for Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Pennsylvania

Investing in Pennsylvania’s Future

Governor’s 2020-21 Budget Proposes $5 Million Increase for Ben Franklin

Smart investments in innovation, high-tech development fuel Pa.’s economy

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Jan. 24, 2020) — Gov. Tom Wolf today announced that his proposed 2020-21 General Fund budget will include a $5 million increase for the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority (BFTDA), which funds the statewide Ben Franklin Technology Partners initiative, one of the most widely known and emulated state technology-based economic development programs in the nation.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners serves all 67 counties through four regionally based centers in Pittsburgh, State College, Bethlehem and Philadelphia, with several satellite offices spread across the state. The initiative supports fledgling enterprises at their most vulnerable point — the early stages of commercialization and market development — and provides vital support services that clients cite as being key factors in their eventual success.

“Smart investments in innovation drive economic growth and ensure Pennsylvania continues to capture its share of emerging high-tech developments,” said Ryan E. Glenn, Ben Franklin’s Director of Statewide Initiatives. “In the nation’s highly competitive high-tech economy, every dollar matters. Investments in innovation will ensure our commonwealth remains a leader in supporting revolutionary technological developments, often driven by startups, that improve the human condition and address critical challenges now and in the future.”

Ben Franklin’s track record speaks for itself. According to an in-depth analysis by two independent nonpartisan research organizations, The Pennsylvania Economy League and KLIOS Consulting, every dollar invested by the state into Ben Franklin generates $3.90 in additional state taxes. Jobs created by Ben Franklin’s client industries pay an average of $79,364 annually, which is 52 percent more than the average non-farm wage in Pennsylvania.

Launched more than 35 years ago, Ben Franklin Technology Partners leverages the excellence of Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities to build and accelerate the development of technology-based industries through competitive investments in early-stage startups and funding for innovation in established manufacturers. The statewide initiative also supports university-based centers of excellence and promotes greater collaboration among academia, businesses, investors and government.

“That’s why this $5 million investment is so important — to help us continue the important work we do,” Ryan said. “We look forward to working with the governor and lawmakers to make it a reality as the state works to finalize a 2020-21 General Fund budget.”

For additional information, visit www.BenFranklin.org.

For a full copy of the in-depth analysis from The Pennsylvania Economy League and KLIOS Consulting detailing Ben Franklin’s success, visit www.BenFranklin.org/reports.

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Philly Go Fund Makes First Investments

Tom Paine

 

Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ Global Opportunity Philadelphia Fund , or Philly Go Fund for short, announced its first two investment in late August, in two Philly area expansion-stage ventures.

The Fund, announced in February by Ben Franklin along with Newtown-based EPAM Systems, has raised $20 million – a significant portion of it from EPAM and Ben Franklin-towards a $50 million goal. Ben Franklin’s chief investment officer and managing partner of GO Philly,  Scott Nissenbaum, told me he sees the fund not primarily as a vehicle for expanding seed funding to more early-stage startups, but as a way for Ben Franklin to participate in some followup fundings in ventures its already helped seed, which it can’t do today.

Its first two Philly Go Fund investments, Ambler-based customer loyalty platform Clutch, and Philly-based ecommerce performance marketing technology company Sidecar, fit the criteria. Sidecar ($1 million as part of a $7.5 million C-1 participating preferred round) has raised $38 million in total to date per CrunchBase, Clutch ($750,000 as part of the company’s $2.5 million senior preferred note in preparation for its forthcoming larger Series C) has raised $24.8 million.

With the Go Philly Fund’s potential level of investment, Ben Franklin can double down in later rounds in some of the promising ventures it seeded. That’s when a VC knows more about a venture’s chances for success, which can result in higher returns. Possibly, Ben Franklin can use such returns to further grow its investment pool.

When fully funded, Go Philly will be a considerable pool of capital. But investments of the size it just made are not, by themselves, going to have a significant impact upon the shortage in expansion stage capital that some feel holds the Philly venture scene back. Its not going to replace the millions that Safeguard Scientifics could sometimes invest in companies such as Clutch. Or going back aways, Portico Systems (where Clutch’s founder was CEO) or ThingWorx. But it will help.

The blockchain feature of the fund, in which one can invest using cryptocurrency, has already been utilized and is an innovative tool for the future.

But a further problem for Ben Franklin is the ongoing cut in its state funding. Since 2008, Pennsylvania lawmakers have cut its budget by nearly 50%, from $28 million to $14.5 million.

My own instincts are to be cautious about state-funded venture investing. I can imagine some states -none near Pennsylvania of course – where such funding might be diverted to political chronies, or even relatives. And everything I’ve ever been taught about investing tells me that the state doesn’t do it very well.

But I’ve been following Ben Franklin closely for a long time now, and I know it works closely with the area’s top VCs to vet deals, and I’ve never heard a squeak about impropriety. Its a model many states try to emulate. Its a winner for Pennsylvania.

In the past, supplemental state funding has eased the burden of the cuts, but Ben Franklin was told those sources would no longer be available in the new fiscal year.

I had an idea that some of the windfall the sate received from the new internet sales tax could be allocated to Ben Franklin.

It is difficult for such a small fund to produce optimal performance because there’s little scale to cover any overhead.

The logjam that exists in Harrisburg on this, considering the relatively small amounts of money involved, is hard to understand.

By the way, EPAM is a great company whose participation can only be a plus for the Philly Tech community..

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