David Bonsick, the new president and CEO of TechQuest PA, sees startups and health care technologies as two of the critical areas for Central Pennsylvania's tech industry over the next several years.
TechQuest's board chose Bonsick May 12 to succeed Kelly Lewis as the tech trade group's leader. Lewis, a former state representative, had been at the helm for six years and went to lead a startup health information exchange company.
Bonsick, a Scranton native, has been involved with TechQuest for about a decade and is the former state executive for telecom company CenturyLink Inc., which has offices in Cumberland County for its New Jersey and Pennsylvania region. He also worked for its predecessor companies, Embarq and Sprint.
However, he started his career in the Harrisburg office of former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. Bonsick then worked for nearly 10 years at the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association in state and federal government affairs, as well as in rural economic development.
He also worked in the state Department of Community and Economic Development in the administrations of former Govs. Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker, where he ran the Pennsylvania Technology Investment Authority.
"Which was a great segue into, and a great opportunity to expand my horizons into, the tech community," Bonsick said. "I think that experience will serve me very well here understanding some of the needs of especially the smaller technology companies and startups developing in Central Pennsylvania and around the state."
Bonsick lives in Mechanicsburg with his wife and two children. He recently spoke to the Business Journal about technology issues and TechQuest's transition.
Q: TechQuest has grown. Where does the organization go from here?
A: The economy, obviously, since 2008 has hit every sector pretty hard, including technology. This organization has been able to serve as a mechanism to assist some of our companies to weather that economy. … We're starting to see that turnaround in the technology sector. Companies are starting to spend capital. … We're well positioned to take some of those initiatives that have been put together over the last four or five years and really expand upon them and engage our members for additional growth opportunities. … It's not about me. It's not about TechQuest as the brand name. It's about driving membership value. … I need to get out and address our members to see what do they want from TechQuest. What do they need from TechQuest? How can we better serve them?
What can be done to help startups build their technologies and companies?
That's certainly an area that I see this organization being able to play a greater role in. It's really engagement. It's engaging companies and connecting them with not just business development opportunities, but venture capital. It's connecting them to government so they understand how they can work with government and utilize government, through economic development funding or some other program. But it's really connecting those companies with the resources they need to grow and develop. … There's great intellectual property out there. That transfer of IP into the business world and building that business from scratch is really going to be important. … It's one thing to have the intellectual property and have an idea and create a product. It's another thing to run a business. … (There's) a need to identify executives in the technology industry who can come in and help these businesses grow and develop. Not everybody who has the idea is always a good businessperson. So we need the resources to help them once they develop that product or service to be able to grow that business.
What is the top legislative priority for the technology industry?
Senate Bill 8, Mike Folmer's bill that would create the Health Information Partnership Act, which would in effect create the health information exchange idea here in Pennsylvania. There are a number of health information exchanges that are developing throughout the state. And in order to do that effectively in a sustainable fashion, you need to have a series of protocols for those HIEs and how they share information amongst each other. For the most part they're going to be private enterprises, so we need to create a structure for how they interact and interoperate so that consumers who are relying on that exchange of electronic records can know that data is being exchanged securely, that it is not going to harm them in any way. You can't just leave that to the private sector to figure out.
What would you call the most significant trend in communications and technology today?
I think the one you see the most of is just the explosion of data usage. It's probably the one that's most understandable to the everyday consumer. Netflix, downloading movies to mobile devices. The pressure on the bandwidth that telecommunications companies and broadband providers are putting into place is absolutely immense. That's certainly something we've been keenly aware of and our member companies, my former company. How do you stay on top of the data needs of consumers? And that's not just the pipe into your home to provide data to your PC. But how do we stay on top of the bandwidth necessary to provide mobile data. … On the backside of that, in terms of technology development, the access to capital. The economy has hit this industry hard. The venture capital industry is still very active, but it's certainly not as robust as it had been.
What is your favorite piece of technology and your favorite mobile app?
I've gotta say the iPad. We bought my daughter one for Christmas. I've sort of confiscated it because it's just so much fun. There are so many things you can do with it. Just the ability to be anywhere and access your email or videos. My favorite app? I hate to say it, but GolfLogix, which is a GPS app for your mobile devices. Instead of buying a GPS device, you just download it to your mobile phone and you can pretty much pick up any course in the country.