Corbett details Pennsylvania program to help fund small-business incubators

| Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Don Charlton spent the Great Recession doing something strange: hiring.

A graduate of the second class at AlphaLab, a 5-year-old, 20-week program that helps accelerate the growth of start-ups, Charlton grew his software company from 35 customers to 2,000 in four of the toughest years the U.S. economy has seen in decades. Last year, The Resumator, software that helps companies recruit and hire, was used by the campaigns of both President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, as well as Major League Baseball.

During that span, state funding for the Ben Franklin Technology Partners — the parent of AlphaLab and similar organizations around the state — fell by more than half. Gov. Tom Corbett and leaders in the General Assembly said on Thursday during a visit to AlphaLab that they've found a way to reverse those cuts.

The state will auction $100 million in deferred tax credits for insurance companies early next year. The credits will lower the amount of sales tax insurers pay on policies. They can be claimed five years after purchase.

State Sen. John Blake, a Democrat from the Scranton area who wrote the bill, said he expects the auction will raise about $85 million.

Just over half that will go to Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a small-business incubator within the Department of Community and Economic Development. The remaining 45 percent will go into an investment fund run by venture capitalists, Blake said. Corbett signed the tax credit into law July 10.

The idea, Blake said, is that the money will help entrepreneurs start businesses, hire workers and make money so that by the time insurers claim deferrals, the taxes paid by those businesses will be twice what the state loses from credits.

The Innovate in PA tax credit will help add at least 1,850 direct jobs and 3,500 indirect jobs, Corbett said after touring several projects in AlphaLab's South Side office.

At one station, a brightly colored oval baby seat moved smoothly back and forth and up and down on a sleek, white, modernist base. 4Moms researchers came up with the motion by attaching accelerometers to mothers' backs as they soothed their babies. The meters measured their movement so 4Moms designers could replicate it with a two-axis robot and silent motor inside.

“It moves like you do,” said Henry Thorne, cofounder and chief technology officer of 4Moms.

The 4-year-old company sold 17,000 of the cradles last month. It has 100 employees and is hiring 100, Thorne said.

4Moms' power-folding stroller — which for $850 can charge its battery through smoothly-operating generators in the wheels and have enough juice to charge a cellphone via a plug in the handle — was bought by celebrities including Jennifer Garner and Natalie Portman. It sports four cupholders — two each for driver and passenger — and daytime running lights.

“Where were these when my kids were growing up?” Corbett said.

Mike Wereschagin is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7900 or

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