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Bucks business activity remains high even during pandemic

Doylestown, Dec. 17, 2020 - Now is the time.

From scaling an idea to manufacturing and engineering it, accessing space for bio science research and development or launching a new business Bucks County’s resources are home growing the next frontier.

“I believe incubator spaces opening in Bucks County is the beginning of a revolution,” said Stephen Barth, president of Barth Consulting Group in Doylestown. Barth is Perkasie Borough’s economic development consultant.

At the forefront of area coronavirus research and therapeutics Lou Kassa, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County in Doylestown said the non-profit received $800,000 of Pennsylvania CARES Act funding to help build additional lab space for research.

“With $1.8 billion of economic impact on the surrounding area we are one of the best kept secrets in the country,” Kassa said.

Emerging trends for business startups had dovetailed with the pandemic, creating a perfect storm for new businesses.

“I’ve never seen this much business activity in research,” Kassa said.
Working in partnership with Bucks County PA Biotechnology has offered space for the county to store Covid-19 vaccine, once it becomes available.
It is one of the few facilities to have ready access for the exceptionally cold storage freezers the two current vaccine candidates require – Pfizer’s to minus 80 degrees and Moderna’s minus 20 degrees.

“We are among the few places in the county to store it, and we have room,” Kassa said.

Future plans at the PA Biotechnology Center include working with the county’s workforce development board to create new life science jobs here.
Kassa said conditions are aligned to keep fledgling firms from leaving the county.

“They go off to other states and places. We want to work with the county to keep these new companies in Bucks County,” Kassa said.

Putting cash into the entrepreneurial system in Bucks County is an initiative at Startup Bucks, a non-profit organization based in Doylestown.

Jon Mercer, co-founder, president and board member of Startup Bucks and Stacks Co. Workspace in Doylestown said $250,000 in $25,000 grants to five competitive finalists would be available over the next year. The funding will be offered in two $125,000 rounds. Finalists also receive 12 months of support from Startup Bucks, Mercer said.

The money is offered through Bucks County Industrial Development Authority.

“What they want to see is jobs creation,” he said.

Mercer said attracting employers to locate in Bucks County who offer remote and virtual jobs was a growth opportunity.

Offering free weekly meetings to anyone through 1 Million Cups, a Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation program has taken off.

“We started in person and when the pandemic hit we had to go virtual. The impact allowed us to expand our reach, especially in Bucks County. I think going virtual has been one of the best things that could have happened,” Mercer said.

He said Startup Bucks serves a niche for companies looking to scale their businesses beyond the county, either through platforms or apps.

“A single yoga studio offering classes would not be a fit for us. But a yoga platform who is based in Bucks County, with an app looking to expand beyond Bucks County – that model would fit us,” he said.

“The mission we began last year was to connect the startup ecosystem,” Mercer said.

Other funding opportunities include the Spark Bowl, a competition aimed at innovative startups, non profits and entrepreneurs. Spark Bowl is in partnership with Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Center at Delaware Valley University.

William Viel co-chair of Delaware Valley University business department and director of the center said the pandemic had absolutely impacted business and industry.

The second annual Spark Bowl was postponed to April 2021, with finalists and students working to fine tune their pitch packages.

Delaware Valley student support teams and three Spark Bowl finalists share $30,000 to help fund their companies.

According to Viel changing state government guidelines have made launching a business challenging this year, but a pandemic silver lining remains.

“Now is a good time for planning and making mistakes, fine tuning ideas and figuring things out,” Viel said.

The Spark Technology Center in Perkasie, independent from the Spark Bowl, is open to entrepreneurs looking to access manufacturing, engineering, and mentoring guidance, serving those sectors as an incubator and resource space.

And while a farmers market might not seem like an incubator space, Barth said the Perkasie Farmers Market has created an informal one.

“Our farmers market… worked like one. For a lot of small business owners it is the first step in creating a business,” Barth said.

The end result of helping small businesses is keeping these communities together. “If you do nothing, these businesses are going to close,” Barth said.

Commissioner Robert J. Harvie Jr. said prior to Covid-19, the Bucks County Economic Development Task Force and Economic Advisory Board has been exploring how to work together more effectively.

“We’re looking at a more integrated approach,” Harvie said.

“Covid has forced us to do that because we’ve been working with them, how to gather information ways we can respond,” Harvie said.

Harvie praised small business owners and said they are not only employers but often the sole support for families. “So many small businesses fill that role,” he said.

Stephanie Shanblatt, president of Bucks County Community College in Newtown said broad support from the county for workforce development had been essential this year in supporting small business operations and in staffing them.

“There are businesses out there that need people. We are trying to make sure we can connect people able to work with folks that need them,” Shanblatt said.

She said free BCCC workshops helped businesses figure out virtual workforce processes and lead them to work together better as teams, using real time software.

“It sounds straightforward and easy but for a lot of industries it hasn’t been,” Shanblatt said.

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