Listening to the rhetoric about how the federal government needs to spend big to make sure the U.S. stays on technology's cutting edge, I wonder if big carrots are better than baby ones.
Over the last 26 years, Pennsylvania's Ben Franklin Technology Partners program has done a lot with a little state money. Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association, recently praised the program, which provides young technology firms with small investments to nudge them ahead to where a venture capital firm may want to invest.
Other states who'd rushed to copy Ben Franklin when it was created in 1983 tended to shut down their programs when the governorship changed, Heesen said. Not Pennsylvania, which has continued to nurture home-grown tech firms. Ben Franklin has survived three Republican and two Democratic administrations even as its funding has expanded or contracted during budgetary feasts or famines.
This year, the four nonprofit centers that receive Ben Franklin funds, including one based at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, saw their total allocation cut to $16 million from $27.6 million last year. That may not be famine, but some technology companies will go hungry this year.
So we'll see fewer announcements like Monday's in which Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania said it invested a total of $950,000 in five companies. I wrote about one of them two weeks ago - Innova Materials L.L.C., an advanced materials company based in West Philadelphia, which got $225,000.
Ben Franklin invested in two firms in the "cleantech" sector, which has nothing to do with killing germs, but rather energy efficiency. CogniPower L.L.C. , of Malvern, received $200,000, to develop its method of monitoring current in power converters. BuLogic Inc., of Philadelphia, received $150,000 to work on wireless control systems for energy conservation.
Fort Washington-based ListenLogic L.L.C. got $250,000 to follow $125,000 that Ben Franklin injected earlier this year. The firm tracks tweets, blogs, and other online forums to let businesses know what's being said about them.
Finally, Snipi Inc., of Center City, which is using a social media platform to try to make online shopping easier, received $125,000.