Skip to Main Content Jump to Main Content
Ken Okrepkie of Ben Franklin Technology Partners -- Why NEPA? image
October 10, 2023
Ken Okrepkie of Ben Franklin Technology Partners -- Why NEPA?
Jonathan Davies

“I thought Scranton was a huge city when I came here in ’87. I was just a country boy. Still, I’ve been here ever since – can’t think of a better endorsement for the area.”

Ken Okrepkie made his way to Scranton via Newark Valley, NY, a tiny, one-stoplight village about 20 miles northwest of Binghamton. His was a classic smalltown Americana upbringing – sports in school, fishing in your free time, riding bikes and home before streetlights.

Ken came to The University of Scranton in 1987 to study business. He earned a few degrees and stayed on in the admissions office. And thus began a career in “pitching NEPA to anyone and everyone who would listen.” Over the next 25+ years, Ken collected stints in the nonprofit sector, entrepreneurial tech incubation and business and community development. Today, he serves as the Regional Manager for Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania. In just a matter of a few years, Ken has overseen significant investment in more than 40 acclaimed regional startups.

Somewhere along the way, the avid golfer and fly fisherman, met the woman of his dreams (who doesn’t actually play golf) at a golf tournament. They tied the knot, welcomed two brilliant daughters, and 29 years later they’re still going strong – him still playing lots of golf and her still not.

We met up with Ken at his office in the Scranton Enterprise Center. He’s a man of big ideas, big plans and a bright vision for the future of NEPA. Kind of like us with all our big, important questions, like Why NEPA?


How long have you lived in NEPA?

I’ve lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania for 32 years. Actually, it would be 36 if you count my time as a student at The University of Scranton. I’ve lived in Downtown Scranton. I’ve lived Clarks Summit. And now we’re out in Scott Twp.

What do you love about your town?

What I love about living in Scott Twp. is it’s got that perfect balance of country living and easy access to the city and where I work. Scott Twp. has a lot of rolling hills and you get these beautiful sunrises and sunsets. You’ve got a community that’s really proud of its school district. You’ve got larger yards and great neighbors, but they’re not right on top of you. There are deer and other wildlife running through the yards. It’s just this beautiful, country-living setting, but when I get up in the morning to go to work it’s 12 miles and about 15 minutes every day. I love that. It’s far enough away that you can kind of decompress on the way home, but you’re also not spending a half hour to an hour one way on the commute. Between the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, the fresh air, the community and the short drive to work, it really is the perfect balance.

What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?

My favorite restaurant in Northeastern PA has to be The Windsor. If you come to NEPA and you happen to like chicken wings and pizza, you’ve literally fallen into heaven (laughs). And I would rank The Windsor’s chicken wings as the best in all of Northeastern Pennsylvania. I’m sure many people will challenge that statement, but I stand by it. Now, if you wanted more of an elegant or fine dining experience, you got places like Casa Bella and Russell’s within close proximity. So, I think there are a lot of great restaurants in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but I kind of go back to the grass roots.

What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?

For me, it’s a tie between fly fishing and golfing. From a fly fishing perspective, if you’re looking for me on weekend mornings from March until May, I’m either going to be on the Lackawanna River, or the South Branch of Tunkhannock Creek. These streams hold fish that are averaging 15-20+ inches. And if you catch one of the big browns (trout) in the Lackawanna River, you’ll be landing the type of fish that they hold up on the cover of magazines. These are two great fisheries that I can get to within close proximity to my house. We’ve got incredible trout streams all over. You can go out and spend a few hours on the water and then be home to enjoy the rest of your day. It’s that easy here.

On the golf side, we’ve got so many great public courses, from Stone Hedge in Tunkhannock to Blue Ridge outside of Wilkes-Barre to Jack Frost outside of Hazleton to Mount Airy in the Poconos, there are just so many great golf courses. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned golfer or just learning the game. You’ve got beautiful greens, picturesque shots all over the course, and you’re going to leave happy because, no matter where you play, it’s always bit of a challenge. And that’s what makes it so fun. And obviously, our private courses are just as good as any course across the country. You’ve got Scranton Country Club, Glenmaura, Huntsville and Fox Hill. These are courses that, people who play all over the country, would rank as right up there with some of the best.

What’s next for you?

Right now, it’s more of the same from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners perspective. More local investment. I invest money in technology companies. I can invest up to $100,000 in a round and I can do up to $900,000 over a period of years. You know? It’s all about providing support to that entrepreneurial ecosystem so that we can help entrepreneurs create jobs and help to make the economic development of Northeastern PA as strong as it can be.

In addition to that, there are a number of initiatives that I’m involved in that, I think, could have a significant impact on Northeastern PA and the Commonwealth. Number one would be the Irem Temple Restoration Project in Wilkes-Barre. We’re working with a group of people to bring that building back to life. It’ll eventually be an entertainment venue that brings in local, regional and national bands. It will also be a museum that highlights how our region was a major part of the industrial revolution. So, it will eventually be this great multi-purpose venue that NEPA can be proud of.

The second major project would be industrial hemp. I’m part of a group of people who’ve received a National Science Foundation grant of a million dollars. And the idea is to identify all of the challenges associated with making Pennsylvania the industrial hemp leader in the country. So, whether it’s genetics, plant science, growth technology or harvesting/ processing technologies, we’re trying to identify where the gaps are. Hemp, today, can be used in so many applications from bioplastics and textiles to construction materials. And it’s more sustainable. Our group’s goal is to put Pennsylvania on the map as a global leader in industrial hemp production.

The third big project is built around NASA. There’s an interest to connect NASA to manufacturing companies and entrepreneurs here who have technologies that may be of interest to the investment in our space program. There is a Keystone Space Collaborative that connects Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and the goal is to make sure that Northeastern Pennsylvania gets to be a big part of the representation for Pennsylvania and that it’s not just Pittsburgh and CMU. These are just three big things that are happening now or coming up in the pipeline for me that could have an impact on Northeastern PA and the Commonwealth altogether.

Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?

I came here in 1987 and it seemed that people had started to move into suburbia and out of our urban centers. And I think that was happening all over, not just here. And if you ask where is NEPA headed, I think there’s a group of people, specifically younger people, that want to move back to the urban settings. You know, an environment where you can walk to restaurants, and you can walk to the grocery store. They want to have this environment where they don’t need to get in their cars to do these basic things. And these are communities like Downtown Scranton, Downtown Wilkes-Barre and Downtown Hazleton. So, if that’s what the future might look like, I think there will be continued investment in our downtowns – specifically from a residential perspective.

And once you have that critical mass of residents, the businesses will follow. I think we’ll also continue to see major investment in our business parks. I mean we are literally ground zero for manufacturing and distributing products. In one day, you can get your product to half the population of Canada and one-third of the U.S. population. That’s just incredible. And a lot of people don’t even know that there’s a long list of national brands whose products are manufactured here and distributed to the world from our vast network of business parks.


First of all, it’s a great place to raise a family. It’s a safe environment with a strong education system. Your sons and daughters are going to get a great education whether they decide to go into technical training or a four-year degree. They’ll be prepared for life. It’s also great because we have all four seasons. We have that balance between cities where you can catch a movie or go out to dinner and quiet country living where you can go on a hike or get on the water. We’ve got Ricketts Glen State Park. I’ve talked to people that travel all over the world to go hiking, and they’ve told me that Ricketts Glen is literally as good as anywhere in the world. They were blown away by it and all the waterfalls. It’s absolutely breathtaking, and we have it right here as a resource. You can wake up any day and go out on a 2, 5 or even 10-mile hike and see some of the most beautiful terrain in the country. And you can do it all year round. I think that’s pretty amazing.