A Bethlehem-based company is one of two Pennsylvania venture capital firms that will make investments in early-stage technology companies, with help from $2.5 million from the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority via the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
Activate Ventures III LP is a fund that will target investments of $1 million to $5 million in approximately 30 early-stage technology companies, with an emphasis on health care-related software businesses led by tenured entrepreneurs.
The group of investors leading Activate will include Managing Partners Glenn Bressner and Todd Pietri, formerly of Milestone Venture Partners. Joining them will be Pietri’s former Milestone Partner, Edwin A. Goodman, and fellow Bethlehem venture capitalist Jeff Davidson.
The mission of the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority is to encourage and coordinate programs and investments, which advance the competitiveness of Pennsylvania’s companies and universities in the world economy. It is one of the oldest and most emulated state technology development programs in the nation, a release said.
Rick Siger, acting secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, added: “This funding will create opportunities for early-stage technology companies to grow right here in Pennsylvania, and ensure the commonwealth remains an economic leader driving innovation on a global scale. DCED is proud to work with the BFTDA to provide funding to companies at the cutting edge of industries that drive our economy forward. Investments like these are key to the future of Pennsylvania.”
Air Products is building two nitrogen plants in Malaysia that it said will strengthen its position in the country and increase capacity to meet market needs.
The company, which has been serving Malaysia for nearly 50 years, said it will build, own and operate the two plants in Penang’s Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone and Batu Kawan Industrial Park and further extend its pipeline network in both areas.
“Air Products has a long-standing presence in Malaysia with a leading position in the Northern Region. Our latest investment in this fast-growing industrial district demonstrates our ongoing commitment to the country’s sustainable growth,” said Ramani Velu, Air Products’ Southeast Asia president. “We are dedicated to growing with our customers along their growth and sustainability journey with our safety, reliability, efficiency and excellent service.”
Air Products currently has two advanced air separation units in the Prai Industrial Area and a comprehensive pipeline network that covers Prai Industrial Area, Bukit Minyak Industrial Area, Penang Science Park, Batu Kawan Industrial Park, and Valdor Industrial Area.
To support growing customer demand, Air Products said it will build a nitrogen plant at its greenfield site in Batu Kawan Industrial Park, which is home to a host of manufacturing companies and integrate the plant into its existing pipeline network.
The company will also build a new nitrogen plant in the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone to serve the fast-growing demand from the electrical, electronics and other manufacturing industries. Air Products brought its first nitrogen plant in the zone onstream in 2021, the company said.
By converting hauled-in liquified nitrogen to gaseous nitrogen supply via pipeline, Air Products brings greater reliability and cost-effectiveness to customers, especially those with high-volume demand, the company said. This conversion also helps customers reduce carbon emissions and improve sustainability.
Six Lehigh Valley companies will share part of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s $1.1 million investment in regional economic development.
Ben Franklin Northeast will invest $100,000 in Venseca Inc., Lehigh County, an early start-up cybersecurity platform that creates a comprehensive network of trust between service providers and the organizations that use them by creating standardized, independent cybersecurity risk assessments and evaluations of suppliers’ cybersecurity risk postures. The funding supports product development and go-to market execution, Ben Franklin Northeast said.
Three established manufacturers will receive 1:1 matching funding for work with a college or university partner, Ben Franklin Northeast said.
BRD Noise and Vibration Control, Northampton County, which designs and manufactures materials for noise and vibration control for large commercial HVAC systems and industrial equipment, will receive $10,000 to support the implementation of parametric drawings which will enable the company to improve the productivity of engineering resources, on-time delivery and resource utilization, customer service, quality of product, and support top-line growth plans.
Straight Arrow Products, Northampton County, which produces hair and skin care products for the equestrian and human markets, will receive $20,000 to support the implementation of new modules to their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to enhance forecasting and reporting.
Both companies will partner with Lehigh University’s Center for Supply Chain Management.
US Specialty Formulations, LLC (USSF), Lehigh County, a biotech firm, commercializing an oral-mucosal vaccine, QYNDR, which recently successfully completed its Phase I clinicals, will receive $25,000 and partner with Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center.
Ben Franklin Northeast said this oral vaccine targets multiple COVID-19 variants and may be adapted to other viruses such as flu, Group A Strep and RSV. USSF also produces sterile injectable pharmaceuticals for hospitals, physicians, and is a key supplier in the perfusion market.
The investment supports implementing an electronic quality control system to improve its operational workflow and tie into its anticipated new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
In addition, Ben Franklin Northeast will invest in early-stage companies as part of the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). These projects were financed, in part, from Pennsylvania Small Business Credit Initiative funds from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Community and Economic Development.
LifeAire Systems, Lehigh County, which manufactures air purification equipment for the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), hospital, long term care, and life science markets, will receive $340,000 to continue new product and technology development, increase inventory, and improve its supply chain, Ben Franklin Northeast said.
Spoke Sciences, Northampton County, which develops technologies to deliver insoluble lipidic ingredients in water-based formulations, will receive $400,000 to support and scale up research, development, and commercialization efforts.
Leadership training is a top priority for Dr. Robert Barraco when it comes to educating physicians.
The chief academic officer and trauma surgeon for Lehigh Valley Health Network, said education that includes leadership training in health systems and value-based patient care creates better providers.
“We provide the most leadership training outside of the military,” he said.
The training is part of LVHN’s medical school partnership with the University of South Florida in Tampa which just graduated its 8th class of 56 physicians.
To accommodate that program and others, LVHN is expanding its medical education program which includes expanding the Graduate Medical Education offering for physicians who have completed their degrees and are training for specialties, building residencies at LVHN-Pocono and LVHN Schuylkill, and nursing program expansions.
LVHN recently bought the Venel Center, an anatomical research and educational facility in Bethlehem that will allow current physicians, residents and fellows to learn new procedures on cadavers.
And a new educational building, The Center for Healthcare Education in Center Valley, will provide space under one roof for medical training. The first classes will be Feb. 6.
“This is a move toward national recognition of our medical programs,” Barraco said. “We need to rebuild our research and educational offerings. The heart of our program is a strong clinical engine, but we need research and education to support this.”
Cindy Cappel, vice president for education at LVHN said the Center for Healthcare Education will provide education for existing employees, specialty programs and simulation for teams.
“We need to provide increased quality of care,” Cappel said, and the new 70,000-square-foot center will provide space to do that.
In addition to classrooms and computer labs, the center has several small bays for anatomical simulations, she said. It also has 12 outpatient and three inpatient simulation rooms.
The expanded program goes beyond just physician and nurse training, the two said. The health care system needs all types of caregivers. “This will provide education for all our learners,” Cappel said.
Those include physical therapists, medical technicians, medical assistants and more.
The expanded programs will help offset the shortage of nurses all health care systems are experiencing now. Cappel said while the pandemic led a large number of nurses to leave the field, the shortage has been around for some time as the Baby Boom generation is retiring or preparing to retire.
“This has created vacancies everywhere and the new center will help us fill those needs,” she said.
In addition, LVHN is partnering with other schools in the region to provide training it may currently not offer. Cappel said those partnerships will bring needed providers to the area.
The new center also offers programs to high school and college students looking to explore careers in health care. Cappel said those programs are offered at both Venel and Center Valley facility.
“There are many careers in health care. There are roles where you help the doctors and nurses. There are surgical technicians where schooling is not as technical or long,” Barraco said. “It takes a village.”
Barraco said, too, that there are a variety of positions outside the patient care realm, like working in information technology, record keeping and registration. “Many kids don’t understand that so the center will allow us to introduce them to the possibilities,” he said.
“A lot of our programs offer scholarships that obligate the student to LVHN for a certain amount of time,” Barraco said. “Once an employee, scholarships are available for continued education so people can grow their careers.”
As for growing the physician and nursing population, Barraco said LVHN offers clinical rotations for other schools as well. “We know that if they experience us, they will want to stay.”
Rent prices in Reading rose 25% in the fourth quarter of last year, catapulting it to the top of the national real estate investment market.
Home365, a tech-enabled platform for real estate investing and property management, today released its quarterly Market Investing Report showing the average rent increase across the country was up only 9%.
Chad Gallagher, chief investment and growth officer for Home365 in Lancaster, said the Reading market is hot for investors. “I don’t have all the answers,” he said, “but it seems to be a trifecta.”
The city, which experienced a lot of job losses a few years ago, has recovered as is evidenced by the unemployment rate decrease of 34%, he said. More workers mean more demand for housing.
And Reading had the lowest rental rates in the area, which Gallagher said, were impacted by inflation, which has made nice equity growth for investors as rates increased.
Lastly, he said, there has been no increase in crime in Reading, making it an attractive place to live.
“All of this adds to the equation and results in interesting growth,” he said. “Investors see good results and stable returns.”
Gallagher, who said his team has been as busy as it was at this time last year helping investors find property, predicts that there will be a slight decline in the market over the next six months, but then expects to see a 10% to 15% increase.
In its report, Home365 calculated real estate trends across the US, indicating rents have increased by an average of 9% and are growing in demand while unemployment plumets.
The data also shows mortgage rates in each market have skyrocketed to over 106% and new home listings decreasing across most markets at double digits percentages.
Reading’s housing market has seen some of the lowest drops in sales compared to similar markets, holding on relatively well considering the national market with home sales only slipping by 10% and new listing dropping by only 12%, Gallagher said.
This data proves to show Reading is a unique market for investors to watch going into the new year, Gallagher said.
“For the first time in nearly a decade, we are seeing a slow housing market. Interest rates are high, and homeowners are yearning for someone to purchase their current homes,” said Gallagher.
“Even though renting can be seen as a safer option, this does not mean it’s time to take your money and run away from real estate. Sellers who need to move their home quickly are very much open to negotiations for the first time in 2-3 years, with less active buyers in the market. This quarterly report indicates how to approach each of our markets. We are looking forward to seeing how this continues in 2023,” he said.
Gallagher said Home365 has seen some homeowners, even if they have to move, opt to rent out their property because they are holding low-interest mortgages. “That adds to the rental market as well.”
Gallagher, who owns property in Reading, said, “The dark cloud has changed, and Reading is a place where you get a rental property and get cash flow from day one. We are seeing more investment happening.”
According to the report, Baltimore is going to be a market to watch in 2023, although rents saw some of the lowest increases across the board at 5%. The market also had the highest drop in home sales at 55% and a decrease in new listing of 39%.
With such a stark drop in the housing market, investors can anticipate rents to rise to the national average in Q1 of 2023. Baltimore will see rental interest spike in the coming months as the market will slowly catch up to national trends. The data proves the market has become ever more investor friendly entering the beginning of 2023.
Fulton Bank is investing $1 million to help minority and women-owned businesses grow.
Fulton, a subsidiary of Fulton Financial Corp., invested the funds in Innovate Capital Growth Fund, L.P., which provides capital and operational expertise to minority- and women-owned businesses.
The investment is part of Fulton Bank’s Commercial Affinity Banking initiative, which is designed to increase access to financial services for diverse businesses, the bank said.
“Fulton Bank’s investment will advance our mission of connecting institutions with minority businesses, unlocking the potential for future growth,” said Innovate Capital Growth Fund Partner Della Clark. “There are more than 3,200 minority-owned and 8,800 women-owned businesses in our target market in the Mid-Atlantic region and providing them with equity capital represents a significant opportunity to contribute to overall economic growth.”
Based in Philadelphia, Innovate Capital Growth Fund is a Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) focused on providing equity investments in women- and minority-owned lower middle market firms in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Innovate Capital Growth Fund said it typically works with businesses with annual revenues of approximately $2 million to $10 million from a range of industries, including manufacturing, consumer products, technology, and healthcare services.
“Fulton Bank is committed to ensuring that businesses in the communities we serve have access to the capital and banking services that will empower them to grow and thrive,” said Curtis Myers, chairman and CEO of Fulton Financial Corp. “We are excited about the opportunity to invest in Innovate Capital Growth Fund, which is focused on supporting diverse businesses.”
Senior Vice President and Director of Commercial Affinity Banking Joel Barnett said, “This investment in Innovate Capital Growth Fund is part of Fulton Bank’s Commercial Affinity Banking Program. As part of that program, we are creating a suite of commercial banking solutions which includes access to capital and deposits and payments. Fulton bankers are undergoing training on these new programs and resources to develop expertise in assisting diverse businesses.”
UGI Electric Division (IUGI Electric) is seeking to raise base rates for electric distribution by $11.4 million annually, increasing the average rate for residential customers by 8.9%, commercial customers by 10.8% and industrial customers by less than 1%.
The Denver-based company filed a request with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Friday saying the rate increase would fund ongoing system improvements and certain information technology investments necessary to support customer service activities and maintain safe and reliable electric service.
“UGI Electric is working hard to manage costs and improve system performance while continuing our commitment to safely and reliably deliver electricity to our customers and the many communities we serve,” Eric Sorber, vice president and general manager- UGI Electric Division, said.
Sorber noted that since its last base rate case in 2021, UGI Electric has made and continues to make system investments to improve the quality and reliability of service to the company’s customers. These include construction of a new substation and upgrading of UGI’s Outage Management System.
“Adding anticipated investments included in this base rate increase request, UGI Electric will have invested nearly $70.5 million in the distribution system since the last time UGI Electric filed a base rate case,” Sorber said.
The investments include accelerated repair, replacement or improvement of aged and aging distribution infrastructure on its system and the ongoing upgrade of UGI Information Technology systems.
UGI Electric’s base rate increase request will impact only the delivery charge component of customers’ electric bills. The delivery charge, which this proposal would increase for certain customers, provides a utility with the funds needed to own, operate and maintain the electric distribution system and provide customer service and emergency response services.
If approved, the total bill for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month and receiving default power supply service from the company would increase from $192.73 to $209.96 per month or by 8.9%.
The total bill for a commercial customer using 1,000 kWh per month would increase from $199.06 to $220.49 per month or by 10.8% and an industrial customer using 50,000 kWh per month would increase from $6,455.07 to $6,475.18 per month or by 0.3 percent.
UGI Electric is requesting that the new electric rates take effect March 28, 2023. However, the PUC typically suspends the effective date for general base rate proceedings to allow for investigation and public hearings. The PUC proceeding is expected to last approximately nine months, which would delay the implementation of the new rates until fall 2023.
Lehigh Valley and Denver-based National Energy Improvement Fund LLC (NEIF), which is a Certified B-Corp energy efficiency and resilience improvement lender, has launched the sixth round of an investment program targeted at smaller investors.
Go Greener Preferred Investment Certificates are a Regulation Crowdfunding offering on the RaiseGreen impact investment platform.
The investment program is geared towards those who wish to earn a fixed return while supporting NEIF’s mission of financing the transition to efficient and resilient homes and businesses.
The five previous rounds all exceeded their funding targets.
Formerly called Climate Action Investment Certificates, Go Greener Preferred Investment Certificates are offered under Regulation CF through RaiseGreen, Inc, an SEC and FINRA licensed Funding Portal.
The certificates have a minimum investment level of $1,000 and pay a 7% annual return with 28 scheduled quarterly payments.
“We are excited to be able to continue to broaden the audience for investment in clean energy and building resilience,” said Peter Krajsa, NEIF co-chair and founder.
To help long-term care facilities build resilience to sustain quality care as the population ages, the Department of Health (DOH) announced plans to distribute approximately $11.7 million in federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding.
Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said in a statement the investments will contribute to the long-range success of facilities that care for Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents.
“These funds will be invested in key areas including workforce development, staff retention, and infrastructure developments that support infection prevention control and emergency preparedness.”
The “Long-Term Care Quality Investment Pilot Request for Applications (RFA)” is open to skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), personal care homes (PCHs), assisted living facilities (ALFs), and intermediate care facilities (ICFs). Facilities must be enrolled by Dec. 9 in the state’s LCT RISE program’s quality improvement work initiative to be eligible to receive funding.
Philadelphia facilities are not eligible for this funding, as the Philadelphia Department of Public Health received its own funding. The application deadline is 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2022. Funds are anticipated to be awarded in the second quarter of 2023.
The stateHouse of Representatives has created a bipartisan International Relations Caucus to strengthen the state’s standing around the world.
The caucus, chaired by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Berks/Lehigh, will focus on a variety of issues, including international trade, tourism, and investment, as it works to cultivate a greater understanding and enhance mutual respect between the state and foreign nations.
The caucus would accomplish its mission through a variety of efforts, which will include:
Hosting foreign delegations.
Enhancing cultural and educational relationships.
Fostering trade relationships to promote Pennsylvania business and industry abroad.
Optimizing shipping, logistics, and supply chains.
“Other state legislatures have created similar groups that promote their interests internationally and I believe it is time for Pennsylvania to do the same,” Mackenzie said. “I look forward to working with members from both sides of the aisle in improving our relationships and developing new ones with foreign governments, businesses, and academic institutions.”
Rep. Danilo Burgos, D-Philadelphia, will join Mackenzie as the Democratic chair of the International Relations Caucus. “I look forward to working with Rep. Mackenzie and our colleagues to identify new commerce and cultural opportunities for our Commonwealth,” Burgos said.
Mackenzie has a long-standing interest in international relations and has played a role in several related issues during his 10 years in the House of Representatives. Most recently, Mackenzie fought to secure funding in the 2021-22 state budget to reopen Pennsylvania’s Office of Trade and Investment in Taiwan, which had been closed by the Wolf Administration. Earlier this year, he hosted a visit to the Capitol by Germany’s Consul General David Gill.
Additionally, Mackenzie was named a Young Leader by both the American Swiss Foundation and the American Council on Germany; was selected to serve as a delegate to the Palestinian Territories, Israel, and Jordan by the American Council of Young Political Leaders; and he has been a fellow of both the U.S.-Japan Leadership Program and the British-American Project.
Olympus Innovation Ventures, Center Valley-based Olympus’ venture capital fund, made its first investment in a Carlsbad, California company Wednesday.
Olympus said it invested in the Series A financing of Virgo Surgical Video Solutions for AI research.
The Olympus corporate venture capital fund makes investments in emerging digital, device, and diagnostic companies in minimally invasive detection and treatment of disease in gastroenterology, urology, respiratory care and other clinical areas.
“The pace of innovation in endoscopy is accelerating rapidly, with companies like Virgo contributing to advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning that are designed to assist physicians in delivering optimal patient care,” said Townsend Goddard, senior vice president, global head, business development of Olympus. “As a global leader in medical technology, Olympus is focused on startups, like Virgo, with innovative technologies to improve clinical outcomes, reduce healthcare costs and enhance the quality of life for patients.”
Gastroenterologists use the Virgo platform powered by AI, in part to record endoscopic procedures without interrupting clinical workflows. Virgo also leverages endoscopy video data and AI to identify patient candidates for inflammatory bowel disease clinical trials.
“Virgo is excited to have the support of Olympus, whose expertise in endoscopy makes this investment a natural fit,” said Matt Schwartz, Virgo co-founder, and CEO.
He said the company will use the investment to develop automation and AI tools to help improve patient outcomes and clinical workflows for endoscopy.
“Olympus, aiming to be a partner of choice for innovators, will continue to help its portfolio companies succeed,” said Nacho Abia, COO of Olympus. “We will do this by contributing clinical and technical expertise, along with insights on strategies for launching and scaling innovative solutions in the global market.”
Air Products is furthering its commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The company said it is creating a new “Third by ’30” carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions intensity (kg CO2/MM BTU) goal for Scope 3 emissions, in addition to its existing Scope 1 and 2 goal.
Air Products will also spend or commit at least $4 billion in additional new capital for the transition to clean energy over the next five years, bringing its total commitment to first-mover projects to $15 billion through 2027.
“These commitments complement and reinforce our growth strategy of building our business to deliver climate benefits and work alongside our customers on their sustainability journey,” said Seifi Ghasemi, chairman, president and CEO, Air Products.
“Air Products is uniquely positioned to bring together its portfolio of technologies and legacy of experience to ensure the future climate benefits generated by our first-mover projects come online at a crucial moment in the energy transition,” he said. “We continue to see significant opportunities for hydrogen and carbon capture technologies, and our industry-leading $15 billion capital commitment is further demonstration of sustainability being at the heart of our business and growth.”
To help reach net zero from its operations by 2050, in step with society’s progress towards achieving net zero, Air Products has identified tangible transition plans for new investments and modifications of existing company assets, including low- and zero-carbon hydrogen.
Air Products will also continually increase its use of renewable energy, convert its fleet of about 2,000 trucks to hydrogen fuel cell zero-emission vehicles, and implement additional actions, according to Ghasemi. Achieving this net zero goal will also require strong policy and regulatory support that promotes the adoption of key technologies to address the pace and scale required to support a net-zero future.
Consistent with its net-zero commitment, Air Products is engaging with the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), a leader in mobilizing the private sector on climate action.
Since SBTi does not currently have a methodology for the chemicals sector, Air Products will participate in the SBTi Expert Advisory Group to help support development of the sectoral framework that will shape the methodology for the chemicals sector, the company said.
Air Products is also committed to addressing climate impacts throughout its upstream and downstream value chain, also known as Scope 3 emissions. The company’s additional “Third by ’30” goal is to reduce the intensity of Air Products’ Scope 3 emissions by one-third by 2030, using 2015 as the baseline year.
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