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Treff LaPlante

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Ten Great Reasons to Start a Software Company in Central PA

Software start-ups outside Silicon Valley

10. A cautious business climate
This is at the bottom of the list for reason. If your goal is to get folks to understand and possibly early adopt your great new software idea, there may be stronger climates. However, here's the lesser-known corollary: People in this region are more comfortable doing business with other people in this region than they are with some unknown salesperson from a far-away place. If you are honest and trustworthy, you just might win over some loyal clients to your new idea.

9. Universities
We have solid universities here in the region. You might not realize this, but schools such as Shippensburg, Juniata, Harrisburg University, Millersville, Kutztown and of course Penn State (to name only a few) are very approachable and aggressive. Sit down and talk with them about things you need, meet the professors, build relationships. Don't underestimate the value of a friendly professor who has a deep understanding of the Internet protocol suite and is only an instant message away, or the value of an IT professor looking for a practical project to sic his user interface class on.

8. University students
This one gets its own mention. If you are in the software business and you want people who are up on the latest technologies, willing to work twice as hard and willing to work for half as much; well ... it may sound crass, but you want college grads. We've hired folks from most of the universities mentioned above, and we've lucked into some real rock stars.

7. Central Penn Business Journal
I had to sneak this one in there somewhere! In all seriousness, if you aren't introducing your ideas to these folks, you are closing doors on yourself in more ways than one. For example, you possess characteristics that could be of interest to their readers and which they might write about - your product, your experiences or even your knowledge. And you may even get the opportunity to contribute; If you haven't experienced their managing editor tear into your blog posts for grammar, content, legibility, prose, punctuation and things - I still don't know what they are even after seven years of higher education - then you haven't lived.

6. Quality of life
I grew up here, so I can only go by the awards this region wins every year on a national scale. Low cost of living coupled with great quality of life makes Central Pennsylvania one of the nation's best places to live and work.

5. The professional community at large
If you take the time to engage community members, you will find them in general to be very supportive of your endeavors. People around here genuinely want to see your software startup succeed for a variety of reasons. Don't look at folks to always bring you business; but for a critical viewpoint, some sagely advice or perhaps a key introduction, our business community will make things happen for you.

4. Ben Franklin Technology Partners
If you are a startup software company in the region and haven't found your way to Ben Franklin, you are either doing something really right or really wrong. To my knowledge, most of the earliest stage funding, other than founders' funding and possibly friends and family, comes from these folks. They may not fund you right away, but they will tell you exactly what they need to see from you in order to move forward in the process. Then it's up to you to follow instructions.

3. Transformations and Venture Investment Forum
Ben Franklin, mentioned above, does a lot more than just fund companies. In addition to advising and screening large numbers of startups, it provides a suite of professional services aimed to help you succeed. Many of these services are delivered through its Transformations network. Whether you need sound HR advice; someone to help you screen applicants; someone to help you set up your accounting; all the way up to high-end market research, marketing consulting and part-time CFO-type support, Transformations does the job. And when you are ready to raise money, the Venture Investment Forum is standing by to mold your pitch and connect you to that community.

2. DCED-funded programs in general
The Department of Community and Economic Development in Pennsylvania seems fairly strong to me. As described with Ben Franklin above, from your earliest stage of formation through to growth and even foreign expansion, DCED has programs and offices designed to support and assist you, all in the name of building jobs and generating tax revenues. They support all sorts of loosely affiliated organizations you might not even realize: Capital Region Economic Development Corp., the Technology Council of Central Pennsylvania, the Small Business Development Center, the Industrial Resource Center. These organizations all will shepherd you in different ways along your journey. Now if DCED only had the power to reduce the corporate income tax rate.

1. Incubators
I decided to give incubators in Central Pennsylvania top billing in my list. There are two reasons for this: The first is that if you didn't know the other nine reasons above, these folks would fix that for you on Day 1. The incubators in Central Pennsylvania are a hub for all the other activity and support I've described above. It's their job to collect that information and provide it to you so that you can succeed. The second reason incubators receive top billing is because I'm sitting here writing this as a tenant of the Murata Business Center in Carlisle and, well, I guess I know on which side my bread is buttered! Seriously though, if you are a startup and you aren't at Murata or another incubator, you may be dropping the ball.

Treff LaPlante is president and CEO of Carlisle-based WorkXpress.

This was originally posted on the Central Penn Business Journal Gadget Cube.

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Treff LaPlante has been involved with technology for nearly 20 years. At WorkXpress, he passionately drives the vision of making customized enterprise software easy, fast, and affordable.

Prior to joining WorkXpress, Treff was director of operations for eBay's HomesDirect. While there, he created strategic relationships with Fortune 500 companies and national broker networks and began his foray into the development of flexible workflow software technologies. He served on the management team that sold HomesDirect to eBay.

During his time at Vivendi-Universal Interactive, Treff was director of strategy. In addition to M&A activities, Treff broadly applied quantitative management principles to sales, marketing, and product line functions. Treff served as the point person for the management team that sold Cendant Software to Vivendi-Universal. Earlier positions included product management and national sales trainer for Energy Design Systems, an engineering software company. Treff began his professional career as a metals trader for Randall Trading Corp, a commodities firm that specialized in bartering and transporting various metals and coal from the then-dissolving Soviet Union.

Treff received his MBA from Pepperdine University and a BS in chemical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University.