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For EDA Tech Hubs designation, Philly’s life science leaders are reaching across state lines

Ben Franklin Tech Partners is leading over 50 partners in applying for the federal program. Here's why orgs from southeastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware and southern New Jersey have all joined this consortium.

Philadelphia's skyline, as seen from University City. (Photo by Flickr user AI R, used via a Creative Commons license)
Tech leaders from parts of Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are working together to apply for federal EDA Tech Hubs designation.

The program run by the US Economic Development Administration aims to help regions without the same funding or name recognition as Silicon Valley become global competitors, and assist the US in its aims to become a major player in high-tech manufacturing.

Phase 1, with a deadline of Aug. 15, is focused on identifying 20 regions from around the country as Tech Hubs. Phase 2, which begins in the fall, gives those selected regions the opportunity to apply for strategy implementation funding — between $50 million and $75 million from the CHIPS and Science Act. (Phase 1 will also identify a separate round of regions to receive grants from a $15 million pool to help them grow into “future tech hubs,” per the EDA.)

Consortiums made up of institutions including universities, state or local government entities, private sector firms and economic development groups apply on a region’s behalf. These consortiums must also align themselves with one of 10 key technology focus areas for their application — say, life sciences or robotics or AI.

In the Greater Philadelphia region, Navy Yard-based Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania is leading the charge for this effort. The state-backed venture firm enlisted over 50 partners across southeastern PA, southern New Jersey and northern Delaware for this consortium, with a focus on the region’s life sciences strengths.

Working together allows these partners to take advantage of all the assets in the region, strengthening the application, according to Tony Green, chief scientific officer at Ben Franklin Tech Partners.

The goal of being named a federal Tech Hub is to make it easier to get technologies that are developed in the region into the hands of people who need them, Green told The consortium must convince the EDA that Philly deserves designation status by proving it has the technology, collaboration, workforce, DEI initiatives, and potential impact for economic stability and national security.

One of the Greater Philadelphia region’s biggest advantages, per Green: All three states involved have strong life sciences production capacity and capability. For example, Philadelphia has a lively and growing cell and gene therapy industry.

“You have to focus on strengths, regional strengths that meet that baseline,” Green said, referring to the EDA’s requirements for this program. “Life sciences is the only technology-based, asset-based, corporate-based, workforce-based [industry] that we have in this region that meets that baseline of EDA.”

Collaboration is one element that makes this application strong, he said, although it is ultimately about how good the proposal is based on who is involved, what is each group contributing and how it is being managed.

Partners include Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce and Delaware Prosperity Partnership. Claire Marrazzo Greenwood, executive director and SVP of economic competitiveness for the Chamber, said her org is involved because of its broader responsibility to be a regional connector. Accordingly, for this application, the Chamber has been working to convene partner organizations and Chamber members.

Anne Nadol, the City’s commerce director, said this application demonstrates how these disparate organizations can come together around life sciences. While collaborations between these organizations existed before, this is an opportunity to put it in writing and deepen partnerships.

“We all believe that this is a real opportunity if we are able to get this designation, this hub designation, really to move the industry forward and to move the region forward,” Nadol said. “It was a great opportunity for us all to partner. We knew we didn’t want to have competing applications going in because that just doesn’t send a good, consistent message.” (Multiple consortiums may put forth EDA Tech Hubs applications for the same region.)

Sam Woods Thomas, senior director of business attraction and retention for the City, said Philadelphia tends to compare itself to other regions — but this is an opportunity to point out what makes the region unique.

“We are unique because of our diversity, and our ability to sort of harness that diversity into the workforce, into innovation,” Thomas said.

Outside of Philadelphia city limits, Delaware Prosperity Partnership is one of the partners involved in several consortiums, including the one led by Ben Franklin Tech Partners. The Wilmington-based economic development group’s director of innovation, Noah Olson, said his org’s role is advocating for more partners from Delaware to be involved in the Philly region’s consortium.

“Having validation from the federal government would definitely lend additional resources to help grow that, and that would benefit Philadelphia, obviously — but it would, of course, benefit the region,” Olson said. “That’s where it’s really important for Delaware, too.”

If Greater Philadelphia earns Tech Hubs designation, both Nadol and Green say it will give the region a competitive advantage in life sciences manufacturing.

Green said there is a gap between developing these technologies and actually producing them and bringing them to the public. The partners involved believe Philly has what it takes to make that manufacturing, commercialization and deployment process more efficient and cost effective.

Plus, he said, tech leaders in the region possess an equity mindset, with an aim to bring access to new technologies to underserved communities.

“We have a population that is incredibly diverse, but also incredibly unequal,” he said. “And so being able to efficiently and effectively deliver this next generation of interventions to centers into North Philadelphia, or to Camden or to Wilmington, is just as important as getting those out to people who live in Center City Philadelphia, or in Montgomery County or Bucks County.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Delaware Prosperity Partnership / Ben Franklin Technology Partners / City of Philadelphia / Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia / Economic Development Administration

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