Ben Franklin gives promising tech startups funding boost

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania announced its latest round of investments Monday. Seven early-stage companies in the Philadelphia suburbs are getting $1.375 million.

The state-backed startup fund is investing in everything from drill rig security systems to dehydrated veggie chips. (You can see the full list here.)

Tom Fitzsimons is the CEO of Kerathin LLC, a medical device startup that launched in May of 2010.

“The main reason that we started the company was that I had a relatively common disease called toenail fungus,” Fitzsimons said.

So he built a better mousetrap — something for taking care of his own nails that his doctor told him was a great idea.

Other doctors soon said the same. Fitzsimons then started building prototypes; after testing the market, he decided to seek funding.

The company would focus on making tools for the care of diabetic foot disorders.

And that’s where Ben Franklin came in.

“[They were] enormously helpful in getting us over that first initial barrier, which was going from something that looked like it was made in a garage to something that you could show to a prospective customer,” Fitzsimons said.

That was in May of 2011. Now, Ben Franklin is coming back for more, this time with a $200,000 investment.

The Chester-based Kerathin is one of 30 early-stage companies Ben Franklin invested in during the 2012 fiscal year. According to a spokesman, Ben Franklin pumped a total of $4.7 million into local startups.

“If a company makes it through our fairly comprehensive and rigorous diligence process, it’s a company that we’re excited about,” said Terry Hicks, BFTP/SEP’s vice president of investments.

The organization uses tax dollars to fund early-stage tech ventures in everything from food processing to drug discovery.

The goal now, Hicks says, is making sure companies like Kerathin become good investments.

“We don’t make grants here, we make investments,” Hicks said. “We’re not going to invest in a company if we anticipate up front that we’re not going to get our money back.”

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