Armed with a $50,000 prize from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Allentown Economic Development Corp. is making changes at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center aimed at attracting new and early stage tech companies that could ultimately make use of the building’s available manufacturing space.
The Growth Accelerator Fund award, announced Sept. 4, is one of 50 presented to incubators/accelerators in 31 states and is aimed at encouraging those programs “that are on the cutting edge of successful, innovative new endeavors,” said SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet. “We’ve seen the enormous success of the accelerator model in communities like Silicon Valley. We believe we can export this type of sophisticated support structure across the country to help start-ups become commercially viable and create jobs more quickly. I want SBA to stand for ‘Smart, Bold and Accessible’ and these accelerators encompass all three of these goals.”
The winners were selected from a pool of more than 800 applicants by a panel of seven judges who are experts in entrepreneurship, investing and business plans both inside and out of the federal government, the SBA said. The judges reviewed the applications and pitch videos submitted by the 100 finalists in the competition.
Program Manager Anthony Durante said AEDC entered with a 15-slide Power Point presentation and followed up with a 5-minute video for the second round of judging.
“Going forward we are going to be actively recruiting early stage tech companies – companies we typically would not have considered or who were here operating on their own without any guidance and assistance that our program provides.,” Durante said. “The space will be more mission-focused now.
“Our goal is attract those startup companies that are operating in the gray areas between manufacturing and technology,” added Durante “Ideally, we can move them into our larger manufacturing spaces as they grow.”
Plans for the Bridgeworks renovations are already underway. The changes will bring a refit and rebranding to the suite of offices known as the Home Office Alternative, as well as the 5-year-old coworking space known as Hive 4A.
That means an overall renovation of the existing space into five larger offices furnished for two to five people, a bigger conference room and more common space that can be used by client companies. The new lease agreement will provide greater flexibility for these ventures to grow quickly without getting caught in the mire of real estate negotiations.
“Once we accept a client into the program for the new space, we envision the founding team taking one of the new offices as their primary space,” explains Durante. “As the company grows and hires additional employees, it can take on a dedicated desk space in the common area for a nominal additional fee set out up front. It makes things super simple – add a body, add a desk.”
The kitchenette and lounge areas of the current Hive 4A space will also be remodeled and expanded to provide more comfort, networking and discussion space for use among the various clients, Durante said. A limited amount of shared desk coworking space will be preserved, he added.
Finally, the access between the office suites and the common work area will be expanded to create a more connected feel.
“We want to give it a more modern industrial feel and we want to make it fun to work here,” Durante said.
Construction should begin as soon as the permits are approved, which Durante expects to happen by mid-November. The refurbished space should be open by mid-January, he said.
“We want to build a community here. We want to host companies that can grow and add employees over the years,” he said. “But we expect these companies will be a lot less capital-intensive than our traditional manufacturing clients.”