When an entrepreneur needs help taking an idea to the next level in Pennsylvania, there are few better places to get assistance than in one of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners offices. One of the ways Ben Franklin assists entrepreneurs and business across the commonwealth is through its startup accelerator program, The TechCelerator. The TechCelerator provides entrepreneurs or businesses with business training and mentorship and, in some instances, funding to advance their ideas.
“Small businesses are the jobs engine for our country,” Coach Bob Dornich explained. “We help companies figure out how to get into business and go from a concept, through customer discovery, to a business model, to actually opening the business.” Their portfolio ranges from Tech-based companies to small manufacturers.
Part of Dornich’s work over the last year has been expanding the TechCelerator program to make it more accessible to more Pennsylvanians. Ben Franklin just graduated a TechCelerator@Altoona, has another cohort in session in State College right now, will host a TechCelerator@Johnstown in July, then host another State College class before closing out the year with the TechCelerator@Somerset in the winter.
“I was really inspired by the folks in Altoona, because they were so dedicated to opening their business,” says Dornich. “It was so rewarding to teach them. They hung on every word, did the homework, the research, the customer discovery and came back so inspired from what they had learned. And five out of six of them have opened companies since then. It’s quite remarkable.”
An entrepreneur himself and a former coach, Bob is in the perfect job. He’s owned eight businesses ranging from computer forensics to equipment leasing to retail and foodservice, so he understands a wide range of business models and what it’s like to start up. Bob also has been in the coaching profession for decades. He was a soccer player for the US Air Force as well as a minor division team in Germany. Then he began coaching youth soccer in State college in the 80s and continued coaching throughout the years including the Penn State Club team.
“Ben franklin was actually the second group our computer business got a loan from,” Dornich recalled. “It’s not only their money, but their mentoring and transformation services are what enabled us to be a success. I had a lot of experience with Ben Franklin.”
He tried to retire, but it didn’t take. Now he’s Penn State’s Business Incubator Director and TechCelerator Entrepreneur Coach for Ben Franklin Technology Partners. “I’ve got that entrepreneur sickness,” Bob says. “And this is a dream job for a recovering entrepreneur. I’m having the time of my life.”
When asked what makes him so passionate about his work at this stage in life, he says, “I’ve been so fortunate in my life with my family, my health, my business, and my wealth and so giving other people a chance to succeed—you know it’s a chance to give back, and it gives meaning to my life,”
And true to the values of winning coaches, he credits the Ben Franklin team for his ability to expand to so many locations.
“Jerry Hudson and I did the Altoona TechCelerator together, and we’ll be doing the Johnstown and Somerset ones together too. Bill Hall and John Siggins who are both portfolio managers and work on transformation, Brian Krier, Nate Porter in Market Research, Sherry Davidson in Accounting and Finance, Kate Alward in HR, Scott Johnson our Entrepreneur in Residence, as well as Kathy Matason our CFO and Steve Brawley, our CEO. There’s also our support staff Michelle Cook, Paul Rito, Mike Carbaugh & Joy-Lynn Trauger. In addition we have teams in Erie and Harrisburg that provide essential services to our constituents all over the state. We’re a team,” says Bob. “We couldn’t do this individually. It takes a team, and it’s a great team, and everyone deserves credit.”