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Ben Franklin, EPAM look to fuel startups with new $50M blockchain fund

State-backed Ben Franklin Technology Partners is taking cryptocurrency payments for its newest initiative, the GO Philly Fund. Welcome to 2019.

The portfolio wall inside the Navy Yard offices of Ben Franklin Technology Partners. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)
The latest $50 million fund from state-backed capital provider Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania is a sign of the times.

Through the newly launched Global Opportunity Philadelphia Fund (GO Philly Fund), the organization wants to tap into the hundreds of billions of dollars in the cryptocurrency market in order to fuel early-stage Philly startups. But first, some hard cash: The fund had an initial close of $15 million, with Newtown-based EPAM Systems as lead investor, a $5 million investment from Ben Franklin and investment commitment from investors like Provco Group, Fulton Bank and SRI Capital.

“The newly formed GO Philly Fund is well-positioned to attract investors and contribute to the growth of our region,” explained RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, Ben Franklin’s president and CEO. “Last year, we reviewed nearly 1,000 promising young companies before ultimately selecting to invest in 50 of them. This fund allows us to expand our regional impact by inviting a new group of investors to share in the opportunities our region offers.”

After the initial $15 million close, the fund will enable blockchain participation to reach the last $35 million of the goal: In addition to boring old cash, it will also accept cryptocurrency payments via the upcoming issuance of GO Philly Fund tokens — which will run on the Ethereum blockchain. This process will be handled by California-based digital securities company Securitize. Per Scott Nissenbaum, Ben Franklin’s chief investment officer, the blockchain structure will help streamline investor participation.

(Here’s a quick explainer on what a “token” is, and why Ethereum-based ones have become the standard.)

Beyond its cool crypto component, Ben Franklin expects the GO Philly Fund to behave as a traditional venture capital fund that will co-invest in Ben Franklin’s pipeline of deals. Because of that, the first GO Philly investment could come as early as this quarter. Investments of $50,000 to $500,000 will be made through the fund, with up to $3 million in follow-on capital.

Doc Parghi, SRI Capital partner and a Ben Franklin board member, told Technical.ly that his firm’s participation in the initiative was about being good corporate citizens — but also about scoping out promising deals.

“The tokenization was to us the least important part,” Parghi said. “This lets us support the work that Ben Franklin is doing, and it’s also about deal flow and about getting first look at companies.”

For EPAM, easily among the area’s largest publicly traded tech companies, joining the initiative is about fueling the area’s tech ecosystem.

“For over 25 years, EPAM has helped established, technology-driven enterprises and startups build software products and platforms, including many which have become globally recognized leaders in their respective markets,” said EPAM CEO Arkadiy Dobkin. “With our participation in the GO Philly Fund, we hope to reach regional startups in their earliest stages, working together with Ben Franklin to help them become the next wave of innovators and disruptors.”

Companies: Ben Franklin Technology Partners / EPAM

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