Meet the New Satell Institute Member That’s Powering Free Enterprise and Corporate Social Responsibility Simultaneously


By investing in both startup companies and nonprofits, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA is creating jobs and elevating the community.

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At the heart of effective Corporate Social Responsibility — and at the heart of the Satell Institute’s mission — are strong relationships, particularly between for-profit companies that want to improve communities and nonprofit organizations that take on the tasks that business and government aren’t equipped to handle. The more closely those corporations and nonprofits work together, the more they create benefits for everyone and the community.

Few organizations understand the power of relationships more profoundly than Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA, the economic development program founded more than 40 years ago by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Part of the statewide Ben Franklin network (there are other Bens in the southeastern, southwestern and central/northern parts of the state), Ben Franklin of Northeastern PA is set up as a nonprofit and receives some state funding — but it operates like a private equity firm, investing in (and getting returns from) promising Pennsylvania startups that ultimately create jobs for commonwealth residents.

“We’re typically the first dollar into an organization outside of friends and family,” says Angelo Valletta (pictured), President and CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA, which proudly joined the Satell Institute in recent months. “The companies are typically pre-revenue or just at revenue. We come in and really help spur rapid growth and give them an ecosystem.”

But the organization doesn’t just support fledgling for-profit companies — it also supports a dozen nonprofit business incubators in its geographic region. It’s a quintessential example of the multiple (and mutual) benefits of CSR: Ben Franklin’s dollars help those incubators, which in turn foster companies that help Ben Franklin fulfill its mission.

In this conversation, Valletta talks about the power of free enterprise to create jobs and lift communities, as well as a new book he’s written about leadership that puts an emphasis on responsibility and relationships. And he highlights the many unique benefits members get when they join the Satell Institute—the leading CEO organization dedicated to Corporate Social Responsibility.

“Supporting nonprofits is something that’s near and dear to us from an organizational perspective,” Valletta says, “and that’s why it was so important for me to be part of this incredible journey with the Satell Institute.”

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We were set up…
…a little over 40 years ago by Governor Dick Thornburgh and Lieutenant Governor Bill Scranton to offset some of the challenges the state was having as we started to transition from a manufacturing economy to a more service-oriented one. Their thought was, how do we have a growth engine from a job perspective with investment in technology? So they started the Ben Franklin network.

The state grants us dollars every year…
…but we have to match those dollars with returns on our investments. Are we private equity? A little bit. But we’re also an ecosystem that supports and incubates young companies and moves them from pre-revenue to where they’re really creating jobs.

For every $1 the state invests in the Ben Franklin network…
…$4 is returned to the taxpayers of the great state of Pennsylvania. As jobs increase, tax revenue increases. We make an economic impact for the companies that we support and for the state.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pa. operates…
…in four areas: Lehigh Valley, Reading/Berks, the Pocono Northeast, and the Susquehanna Valley. We have a 130,000 square-foot facility right near Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus and a 30,000 square-foot facility in Bloomsburg, where we house in total about 50 of the close to 200 companies in our portfolio.

One of our many success stories over the years…
…is OraSure Technologies. They started out as a towelette company to apply sunscreen, then morphed into rapid medical testing. Think: Ebola, SARS, COVID- 19. They’re a huge success story. They have close to 500 employees in the Lehigh Valley and around Pennsylvania.

Another success story is LifeAire. They have technology that bolts onto HVAC systems that eradicates airborne pathogens down to the level of anthrax. We invested in the organization about 10 years ago. When COVID-19 hit, their company increased exponentially. They’re bringing more manufacturing in-house, and they have built a recent relationship with Siemens to be able to have a global impact.

We know we’re not going to be successful with 100 percent of our investments…
…but success doesn’t always look the same. When you’re in the Susquehanna Valley or the upper northeastern part of our state, it’s very rural. An organization that employs 10, 15 or 20 people is huge from an employment perspective — that’s a huge success to me.

My new book is called…
 7 Rs of Leadership and Life. The idea for it goes back about 25 years to when my son was in middle school. He said, “Dad, you have too many rules. I never know whether I’m doing good or bad.”  So, I said, challenge accepted. I’m going to come up with a few mantras that you can live by, and I came up with the following:

Resect, Resolve, Responsibility, the Right Thing, Readiness, Recreation, and Relationships. The book is meant to be read every day, and it’s for all levels – middle schoolers to corporate executives.

Corporate social responsibility…
…is something near and dear to my heart. Some corporations have a CSR program because they must. The ones that make a difference are the ones that take responsibility and embrace it.

We feel the responsibility to ensure that we’re supporting other nonprofits. We support 12 incubators in our footprint in northeastern Pennsylvania—one of the largest incubator networks in the United States. Not only does our support help those incubators, but we’re able to connect and receive introductions to entrepreneurs.

I was introduced to the Satell Institute…
…through a good friend of mine, Joe Clark, who invited me to the private CEO conference last fall. I knew about Satell from its great reputation, and I jumped at the opportunity. Because we support nonprofits already, it was easy for us to be able to go through the Satell Institute process to be accepted as a member.

The Satell Institute CEO conference…
…was really powerful. The individuals in that room came from multiple industries, and they were CEOs and executive directors. I’ve never been to a CEO networking event that was that large, but felt so intimate. And that’s because of the Satell Institute’s roundtable conversations. The intimacy was really what I enjoyed.

And then there’s the content at the CEO conference. The presentations weren’t really long. It was succinct, quick, and we were able to move on to the next thing.

Satell Institute and CSR go hand in hand…
…because they’re about mutual benefits that help the greater community. It goes back to one of my Rs—relationship building. It’s about relationships at the end of the day.

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