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Rich Thompson has built things all his life. A serial entrepreneur who started his first business as a teenager, he’s served as CEO of American Italian Pasta Company, the Meow Mix Company, and FreshPet. His latest endeavor, Factory, is something that’s “never been done before,” he says: an operating company with $250 million to invest in young companies that offers more than capital.
Housed in a beautifully renovated 40,000 square foot old Bethlehem Steel building, “building 96” built for World War II steel manufacturing on Bethlehem’s south side, Factory isn’t based on traditional venture capital or private equity models. To entrepreneurs, developing less processed food with “better for you” ingredients “we supply more than just money and a conference room with smart people,” says Thompson. Factory provides those, of course, but other assets as well: financial and human resource management. The experience of Thompson and his partners, Keith Caldwell, Tim Pollack, and Prateek Lal, and Factory’s dedicated staff. And the factory space itself, which includes test and development kitchens, marketing and communications equipment, and an event space for hosting pitch competitions.
The vision for Factory and its surrounding campus is extraordinary. Thompson sees it hosting large community events. Internship employment opportunities for students. And like Bethlehem Steel once thrived at the logistical nexus of New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey, Thompson believes the Lehigh Valley is poised to become another Boulder, Colorado, or Austin, Texas: a hub for growth, partnership, and opportunity, with a focus on millennial interests—like food with fewer processed ingredients. “I’m trying to use the Factory as a seed,” says Thompson, “to start a real movement in the Lehigh Valley.”