Region has tools to support world-class startups

 In Blair County, Cambria County, entrepreneur, News, Somerset County

For the past 15 years, I’ve led the largest early-stage investor group in the region, Ben Franklin Technology Partners. This particular center covers a 32-county footprint in the commonwealth that includes the Southern Alleghenies (

There are so many good reasons to live, work and start a business in the Southern Alleghenies: Cost of living, commute time, four seasons with weather patterns that rarely rise to the level of an emergency, and a population with energy and drive.

But, we also have something more … an ecosystem that actively supports startups.

On Thursday, the Bottle Works in the Cambria City section of Johnstown will be the place to be.

Stephen Brawley is president and CEO of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania.

To help kick off the Startup Alleghenies initiative, this year’s Ben Franklin BIG IDEA contest targeted the counties located in the Southern Alleghenies and central Pennsylvania. The response was amazing.

In less than two months, nearly 2,000 people visited the site and more than 100 uploaded applications. The 10 finalists in Ben Franklin’s 2017 BIG IDEA Contest will make their presentations to a panel of judges. Each presenter will get five minutes to make his or her pitch followed by seven minutes of questions and answers.

Four winners will be named.

As mentioned in an earlier article in this newspaper by reporter Dave Sutor, there are a myriad of resources right here in Johnstown that target entrepreneurs: St. Francis University’s Small Business Development Center, Entrepreneurial Alchemy, Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, Johnstown Area Regional Industries, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, 814 Worx, and the Cambria Regional Chamber to name a few.

On a monthly basis, the Johnstown Region Entrepreneur Meetup Get-Together brainstorms new business ideas.

The Startup Alleghenies initiative is bringing together all these groups and more with the goal of helping existing businesses grow and new ventures start.

At Ben Franklin, we’ve already seen some of the results. We recently approved investments in three new companies in the region – WRIVO, LLC, whose CEO Dave Luciew developed the Wristocat; InnoH2O, a company in Somerset that created a reliable laundry-water reuse system; and TZero in Altoona, which developed specialized acoustic-sensing technologies.

We’re proud of the three latest members of the Ben Franklin portfolio. But we are even more proud to help play some small role in turning the individual parts of our ecosystems that support entrepreneurs in Johnstown and Altoona and all of the Southern Alleghenies into a cohesive economic engine – the sound of which can be heard all over the state.

Written by Stephen Brawley, President and CEO of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania