RoseAnn B. Rosenthal has been at the helm of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania — one of country’s leading tech-focused economic development institutions — since 1996. That’s an impressive stint, and the leader’s got tons to show for it. Under Rosenthal’s guidance, the organization’s profile as a catalyst for local tech development has risen, and so too has the region’s position as an emerging entrepreneurial hub. Most recently, Rosenthal helped create and launch the Health Care Innovation Collaborative, a model that funds digital enterprises in Philly’s strongest industry. Ben Franklin already has over 200 tech companies in its current portfolio, and with Rosenthal’s lead, the organization is taking even more in through bold, new initiatives like ImpactPHL Ventures and a Fintech Accelerator. As the region readies for more growth, Rosenthal tells us the ventures she has her eyes on and what an entrepreneur must do to get her attention. And because she has over 45 years of experience in a competitive, continually changing industry, she’s got some real lessons on work-life balance, being a woman in charge, and staying grounded.
I grew up in … South Philly, in the neighborhood that is now “Greater Central Philadelphia.” Who knew?
I currently live in … Northeast Philly. I’m wondering when the boundaries of Greater Central Philly will expand to include that area of town!
Something my parents taught me that I still follow today is … maintain your integrity.
My more than 45 years of experience in business investment, regional planning and economic development mean … I’ve have seen the region go through many changes and challenges. As a result, I’ve gained an appreciation both for the need to maintain a consistent focus on regional goals over an extended period to foster change, and for the willingness of so many to help drive that change.
I joined BFTP in the 90s when … its prior CEO took a position in D.C., and a valued friend and coach to me and to so many of our region’s life sciences entrepreneurs, the late Brenda Gavin, urged me to compete for the position and take on a new challenge.
At BFTP we say we’re more than venture capitalists because …we are! Our team fundamentally believes in our mission of growing our region; and, while we invest critical, hard-to-get seed capital, the investment is the start of a relationship that focuses on what that entrepreneur needs to succeed. The relationships last well longer than the terms of investments.
On the weekends you can find me … with my family, ideally having fun with my two granddaughters, Arielle Sofia, 4, and Ilana Naomi, 8 months.
The biggest trends in tech that have affected us here at BFTP include … the increasing variety of innovations and the fast pace at which they are being introduced.
The biggest tech trends we’re currently preparing for … are those that, when married to their ability to address social issues, will have the most lasting social impact. We see this with innovations in digital and predictive health and the recent, tremendous announcements in the region around cell and gene therapies. We recently launched ImpactPHL Ventures to invest in companies that are intentional about their commitment to growing a successful business that creates positive societal impact.
We launched ImpactPHL last year because … the region needs to showcase its vibrant and growing culture committed to doing well by doing good. We’re rich in having grass roots organizations, entrepreneurs, educational institutions, corporations, intermediaries, and now emerging investors, who are looking for ways to engage. ImpactPHL offers a front door and concrete actions to build on our region’s assets to attract capital and talent. Our region has a unique claim to this approach to solving problems and doing business…it was Ben Franklin, after all, who said “do well by doing good.” It’s in our DNA!
My leadership style is best described as … Listen, consult, assess, act.
A skill I’m still honing is … patience.
Something I’m really good at is … connecting the dots.
Entrepreneurs I’m most impressed by tend to … demonstrate the ability to overcome repeated and varied challenges. Often the ability to overcome a life challenge transfers to behaviors that enable entrepreneurs to overcome the inevitable setbacks.
Women-owned and operated tech enterprises are … growing in quantity and quality, and competing aggressively.
Women in business still need … to feel comfortable owning their successes and taking risks. Judee von Seldeneck, founder and Chairman of Diversified Search, has been a role model for many women in our community, including me.
An embarrassing moment from my career is … having had to conduct a meeting after being thoroughly soaked crossing an aircraft carrier in a downpour, in heels.
Philly’s entrepreneurial ecosystem’s biggest strength is … its assets — diversity and energy.
Philly’s entrepreneurial ecosystem’s biggest weakness is … its lack of resources to scale so many fantastic, existing, efforts and execute many solid, new concepts. We need to invest in our ecosystem: it’s the glue that facilitates and fosters connections and partnerships around new approaches.
Mayor Kenney’s support for the tech community … is welcome and important in sending the message that Philadelphia welcomes innovation and innovators.
I never have enough time to … do everything I’d like to and read everything I want to. My recent reading list varies. I’ve read all the Game of Thrones books, and I’ve also plunged into the history of the Middle Ages. Fantastic lessons and perspectives about the challenges that faced women in power then that make our challenges pale in comparison.
Entrepreneurs who fail … should not beat themselves up and should look ahead.
My best advice for those seeking funding for their tech initiatives is … be persistent, be clear, and be receptive to input.
A typical day for me is … catching up with my family on the drives, then getting down to work with my team and partners to find a way forward, on a variety of topics and issues.
A practice I live by is … complete the task, but don’t forget to tend to the relationship. Be deliberate and prompt in citing those who help. It always matters more than you think.
A hobby I dabble in nowadays is … I love to cook new foods and have built a library of cookbooks of every cuisine. When time permits, and always for holidays, I pick a book and plan a menu from its recipes. I never know how it all will turn out, and folks never know what will be on their plates, and I don’t tell them!
A random fun fact about me is … I’ve hot-lapped Pocono Raceway. I just might do it again… maybe.
A difficult time in my career was when … I had to figure out a work-life balance during some pivotal changes in my life as well as my family’s. One of the hardest was when I had just arrived at Ben Franklin. My son was off to a new school out of town, and my mother had passed suddenly. Figuring out how I could be there for my family and team while going through my own loss was difficult, but it showed me just how strong and important my family and friends are.
My top three personal priorities are …family, faith, friends.
Women in the VC world … are adding fresh perspectives to the market.
The latest stories about sexual harassment in tech make me feel … disappointed and frustrated because … especially as innovators, we should be open to different ways of thinking. We should have moved past that behavior.
Something BFTP is trying to improve to better assist our client partners is … adding more and more value for our clients to help them achieve their vision by streamlining our own processes and practices. We’re “Capital, Council and Connections”!
What keeps me going is … the belief that we can make a difference; the privilege of seeing the fantastic innovations and energy coming from so many individuals every day; and, the constant opportunity to work with a great team to solve new challenges and find new ways to accomplish our mission.
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