For some of us it can be tricky to pinpoint from where the inspiration came that got us into the line of work we choose. But for others, it’s much more apparent.

“I guess you could say that I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” he explained. “My grandfather owned a diner in City Island, NY; my uncle owned a contracting company; and my great uncle and his son owned a pharmacy. So I was around small business owners growing up and I think it influenced me more than I realized it did.”

For the past four years, Program Manager Anthony Durante has led the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center Business Incubation Program for the Allentown Economic Development Corporation. He manages the program’s day-to-day operations, bringing early-stage manufacturing companies into the former Mack Trucks plant to set up shop in order to launch and grow their companies.

In this line of work, it helps that Durante has a special place in his heart for entrepreneurs.

“When I was studying for my MBA at Lehigh University we had a guest speaker who was a venture capitalist investing in startup companies, and his presentation really inspired me to get involved in that line of work. I try to remain empathetic to entrepreneurs and what they have to deal with to start a business from scratch.”

For Bridgeworks, Durante identifies possible startup clients for the program and then begins an initial dialogue to gauge interest. If he and the business owners are on the same page, and if their business plan has potential, the entrepreneurs present their plan to the Bridgeworks Advisory Committee in order to be recommended. Once approved by the Board of Directors, the onboarding process begins. This includes leasing space inside Bridgeworks, fitting out that space, and eventually culminating in a grand opening. Most companies stay in the incubation program for 4-7 years. One client, MTS Ventures, even stayed on to become an anchor tenant at Bridgeworks after graduating from the business incubation program.

But just because a new client moves into Bridgeworks doesn’t mean Durante’s job is done. “That’s when we’re just getting started!” he commented. “We have a very hands-on relationship with our clients. We provide them with a mentorship program, assist them with planning, perform semi-annual reviews of their company, and much more. It’s our staff’s job to help make them as successful as they can be.”

Durante’s vision for the incubation program has included starting a peer-to-peer mentoring group for Bridgeworks clients last year and bringing the facility’s first Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Karen Campbell, on board this past January.

“I want to continue building our mentorship program,” Durante continued. “I want to cultivate more meaningful engagements between mentors and clients, as well as to help them make better strategic and tactical decisions. What we do for our clients and the services we offer to them has to have the highest impact on their businesses. It takes the efforts of the entire AEDC staff working closely together as a team in order to make all of this happen. We’re able to develop plans from different opinions and perspectives in order to have a positive impact on our clients’ growth, and thereby the economic development of the City of Allentown.”

When asked what his vision for Bridgeworks is in the coming years, Durante says, “I’d like to see us create a post-incubator space for our graduating clients and other Stage 2 companies ($2 million – $20 million in revenue). Having properly sized spaces for our clients to grow into and call home for the next several years is key to ensuring that they stay in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley.”