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TMCNet:  Local tech leaders starting initiative to assist startups [Central Penn Business Journal (PA)]

[December 07, 2013]

Local tech leaders starting initiative to assist startups [Central Penn Business Journal (PA)]

(Central Penn Business Journal (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) REGION It's no secret that trying to start a technology company in southcentral Pennsylvania is difficult. But a group of midstate tech companies executives are banding together to help make the process easier, starting in 2014.

"Maybe we as a startup community ... can help someone who has a great idea but maybe not a technology partner or is a technology guy who needs a business partner," said Pam Martin, director of Ben Franklin TechCelerator and Murata Business Center.

East Pennsboro Township businessman Sam Coyl said he loves startup companies because the people behind them have the enthusiasm and energy to take over the world. Now, the president of Netrepid is working with a group of entrepreneurs, economic development professionals and a trade association to replicate the atmosphere he remembers from working in the Silicon Valley.

The technology incubator program they are creating is expected to launch in January.

Advisers with the technology incubator will evaluate ideas to determine if they are able to contribute consulting as well as hardware, software or other technology to the newly forming company.

"I'm trying to do what nobody did for us. It took us eight years before anybody gave us our first round of capital, and it was excruciatingly painful," said Coyl. "If we can do a little bit to help some of these other ideas, these other companies get offthe ground, that's the right thing to do." Coyl's information technology business has pledged servers, email systems and use of its data center and cloud services for businesses vetted through the technology incubator. The idea to form the incubator stemmed from Startup Weekend Harrisburg in September, during which teams offered presentations and business plans they developed over 54 hours.

The energy from the weekend was "intoxicating," Coyl said.

"As an individual, I don't have millions of dollars to invest in companies, but we do have capacity in our data center and we want to be able to provide that as a way to give back to the community and help start that entrepreneurial environment in Central Pennsylvania," Coyl said. "If they have the right technology to get things started, maybe more companies will get offthe ground, maybe more ideas will stay, maybe more people will come to work here, maybe more people will start companies here." Technology and the related costs are often a barrier for any startup company, he said.

Technology incubator officials held a kickoffmeeting in October. The advisory board consists of Coyl; Martin; Joe Chiarella of Colloid; Larry E. Dittmann of ExecuStar; Chuck Russell of Collective Intelligence; Melissa McLaughlin of Capital Region Economic Development Corp.; Linda Drei of Technology Council of PA; and Tom Baldrige of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

"It's a good cross-section of experience that should delight any entrepreneur," Dittmann said.

Dittmann, whose program helps CEOs with professional development, previously worked with a startup in Silicon Valley for seven years.

"One thing we all have in common is we've all been in the startup business. We've all been founders of companies," he said.

Coyl said he hopes the financial investment community will see what is vetted by the technology incubator and step in with financial capital.

David F. Bonsick, president and CEO of Technology Council of PA, said he envisions his organization being able to help startups by providing services like marketing. The hardest things for startup companies to find are space and, perhaps more importantly, the people who can help throughout the development process, he said.

"For startup and early-stage companies, the requisite support is critical," Bonsick said.

This technology incubator is unique because it is driven by entrepreneurs, not government agencies or outside entities, he said.

"We have so many great ideas, so many great people," Coyl said. "Big talent is leaving; good companies are starting here and leaving." Coyl laughed when he described "selfish business reasons on the side," saying the technology incubator advisers can also evaluate technology and talent they may want to acquire or hire.

"We feel as though what is missing is the place where people with great technology ideas could develop those ideas," Martin said. "We need to show there are successful companies that are willing to support and mentor startups." "One thing we all have in common is we've all been in the startup business. We've all been founders of companies." Larry E. Dittmann, ExecuStar BY JENNIFER A. FITCH Contributing writer (c) 2013 Journal Publications Inc.

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