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This summer, the Pennovation Center opens sought-after wet lab space for small startups

For a small startup ready to research or develop chemical or biological innovations, finding lab space can be a challenge. Dry labs, which host technological or computer studies, or studies in fields like psychology, aren’t hard to outfit and rent. But wet labs -- featuring the equipment and safety measures needed to work with chemical and biological materials -- are another story.

This summer, labs at the soon-to-open Pennovation Center will help to change that for a select group of local companies.

About a year and a half ago, we covered the groundbreaking at University of Pennsylvania’s new 23-acre Pennovations Works campus on the south bank of the Schuylkill River: the three-story, 58,000-square-foot Pennovation Center at 34th Street and Gray’s Ferry Avenue will be the centerpiece.

The Center is slated to open this August. Its second floor will feature wet lab space available for lease to local startups.

"Wet labs are pretty unusual commodities" for this market, explains Paul Sehnert, director of development for Pennovation Works. "They’re usually built on a customized basis for companies under a long-term lease… If you're a startup company, it’s really a top dilemma. You need a space to work out of, but you can’t sign a lease and find a lab without making a long-term [financial] commitment."

The Pennovation Center hopes to remedy this with a 32-person lab available for customized leases (some as short as six months) for startups and inventors. These will come with all the typical wet lab gear: benches with view hoods, glass wash and sterilization centers, centrifuges, microscopy, and cell tissue culture and bioinstrumentation suites, in addition to safety measures like security systems, emergency eye wash and air change stations.

Senhert says the initial demand for the space is "robust" -- Penn is working now to "curate" which companies will be the best fit.

"Given that these are young companies, the more you can provide…this kind of sharing of basic services, that keeps the price more affordable and the [rental] terms shorter," says Anne Papageorge, Pennovation vice president of facilities and real estate development.

The Center will also provide programming, networking and training opportunities as a part of the package. This summer, they’re working on negotiating and executing license agreements for participating companies; the labs will be ready for occupancy in August.

The site offers two other lab spaces, adds Papageorge: a dry lab, and a currently empty lab building that Pennovation Works is holding with the intention of letting qualifying companies continue their work onsite in the future with a more customized, longer-term lease. The team hopes that as interest in the Center grows along with its companies, startups could "graduate" out of the shorter-term labs and into larger space. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Paul Sehnert and Anne Papageorge, Pennovation Works

 

What's on tap at The Oval for summer 2016?

For the fourth straight year, Eakins Oval will become The Oval, bringing a little summer fun to the Parkway. Running July 15 through August 21, this year's installation will also feature special events related to the Democratic National Convention.

"It’s a wonderful time in Philly," says Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell. "We’re having this renaissance of things to do outside in the summer. It’s really becoming something [Philly is] known for."

The eight acres of the Oval feature lots of lawn, shady trees and a new 25,000-square-foot ground mural from the Mural Arts Program (Ott Lovell says the artist will be announced soon). The beer garden is also returning, and will have Sunday hours for the first time. A rotating food truck line-up will be on hand offering plenty of dining options. Last year’s popular themed days are returning, too, with Wellness Wednesdays, Arts & Culture Thursdays, Food & Flicks Fridays, Game Day on Saturdays, and Family Fun Sundays. (Click here for the full line-up.)

The annual pop-up park is a partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philly Parks & Rec, with support from PNC Bank, Warby Parker and Park Towne Place.

The site will host a wide range of summer programming, including games, live music, movie nights, workshops, performances and Saturday Quizzo. Offerings in honor of the DNC (July 24-29) will include special beer garden hours -- Sunday, July 24 from noon to 5 p.m. and July 25 - 29 from 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. (featuring Ales of the Revolution from Yards Brewing) -- and an "All-Presidents" Political Quizzo night, 7 p.m. July 25 with Johnny Goodtimes.

Ott Lovell says the park attracts a diverse mix of people from across the city, as well as plenty of travelers.

"I was stunned at how many tourists came through," she recalls. "They’re not from here, so they don’t know the Oval as anything but this beautiful park. They don’t realize that in December it’s actually a giant parking lot."

Over the last few years, Oval participants have pushed for expanding the park’s dates of operation, but it stays the same year to year due to the Welcome America and Made in America festivals.

That doesn’t mean Parks & Rec doesn’t have its eye on how to utilize the space year-round.

"I think longterm we need to start thinking about the future of the Oval," adds Ott Lovell. "Do we continue to pop it up every year [or] do we continue to think about longer-term investment? What’s a more permanent way that we can activate the Oval year-round?"

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Kathryn Ott Lovell, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation


Telesis Therapeutics takes the long view on drug development

In Greek, "telesis" means "planned progress." Or as Maurice Hampton puts it, "'progress consciously planned and produced through intelligently directed effort.' Which characterizes how we get our work done at Telesis Therapeutics." 

Hampton is founder of the startup which is based at the University City Science Center's Port Incubator. The early-stage life sciences company is working to develop and license its first acquisition, "TTL-315," a promising cancer drug discovered at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research.

"What I figured out is that molecules don't start out in [clinical trials.]," says Hampton. "They start out in the lab."

But the journey from lab to saving lives is a long, risky and expensive one. Telesis' role, he explains, is to identify, develop, de-risk and ultimately license the drug to a big pharmaceutical company that will conduct later-stage clinical trials, obtain FDA approval, take the medicine to market, and into the hands of patients in need. It's a process that takes years and millions of dollars, accelerated and made less risky by the work of the team at Telesis.

TTL-315 was developed to treat solid tumors such as pancreatic and triple negative breast cancers.

"Telesis Therapeutics preclinical, bench and animal, data for TTL-315 was published this past February 2016 in Oncotarget, a peer-reviewed medical journal focused on oncology," explains Hampton. "Preclinical efficacy results were positive: It worked! Preclinical toxicology reports were also positive -- a good sign -- and bode well for TTL-315's safety profile, a critical consideration in drug development."

The young company is pursuing a National Cancer Institute SBIR grant application and planning outreach to big pharma companies and other local funding sources to secure the necessary dollars to continue the preclinical research program. 

Hampton is ideally suited to the task: A serial entrepreneur, he has an MS and MBA, two years of medical school and years of international and domestic experience working at big pharma on blockbuster drugs including Prilosec  and the biologic Enbrel.

The lifesaving potential of TTL-315 is huge. The drug is initially aimed at pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.  Eventually it could treat triple negative breast cancer,  lung and liver cancers. The potential payoff also could be huge. Current forecasts for the drug, at the time of launch, are estimated to be under $100 million in year one, growing to over $2 billion by the sixth year.

With the drug still in its infancy, Hampton takes the long view.

"At Telesis Therapeutics, we realize that this is not a sprint, it is an endurance run," he insists.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
 

Knight Cities Challenge funds the development of 20 new Philly cooperatives

"There are many different expressions of cooperation and mutual aid in Philadelphia, among very diverse groups of people," explains Caitlin Quigley of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA). Now, thanks to a $146,000 award from the national Knight Cities Challenge (check out our peek at the four Philly winners here), the organization hopes to expand interest in co-ops citywide.

PACA’s Knight-funded 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses initiative aims to gather learning groups of six to 12 people from a variety of Philly neighborhoods. The organization will help guide the book clubs through a tailored process to master the building blocks of building a cooperatively-run business of any type, based on the community’s interests and needs.

So what exactly is a "co-op"?

A cooperative grocery store (like Philly’s Weavers Way or Mariposa), for example, "is a business you own with your neighbors," explains Quigley. "You make decisions about the products that are on the shelves, how the co-op should treat its workers; how the co-op should decide how to be in the community.”

The latter includes things like representation at events, education and outreach, and making donations.

"You and your fellow co-owners can decide how you want that business to serve you," she adds.

And while grocery stores might be the most prominent local example, PACA is a consortium of all kinds of co-ops across many industries. These range from banks to housing to community gardens, green space, or land trusts, or child-care or artist co-ops.

The 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses project, operating on a year-long grant cycle from April 2016 to April 2017, will continue outreach this summer, with the goal of organizing project participants by September. Each group will meet twice a month for six months, with guidance from PACA staffers and volunteers, and a comprehensive curriculum of suggested learning materials, from books and comics to field trips and podcasts.

Author Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, whose book Collective Courage is a major inspiration for the project, is collaborating with PACA on the study guide.

In March of next year, participating groups will convene at a large event that will include cooperative business pitches. Beyond that, PACA hopes to support interested groups in more intensive business planning, such as drafting articles of incorporation and writing bylaws.

"Not all of the groups that do the book clubs are going to necessarily decide to move onto this phase," says Quigley, but that’s ok. "Even if it doesn’t happen right now…They have a new set of tools and perspectives that they can bring to anything they do in their communities from then on." Ultimately, it’s about building "a strong movement around a just and inclusive economy, with all of these different sectors of cooperatives and their members."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Caitlin Quigley, Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance

Meet Broad Street Ministry's new executive director

Last summer, we featured Broad Street Ministry (BSM), a powerful local organization offering an ever-expanding range of services and resources for thousands of Philadelphians experiencing homelessness, poverty, housing or food insecurity. This month, BSM is installing a dynamic and dedicated new leader: Michael J. Dahl.

"I had a desire to start working with the most vulnerable in our community at the grassroots level," says Dahl of what prompted him to make this career shift (he’s former senior vice president of Pew Charitable Trusts, overseeing the Philadelphia program). "It became a personal matter -- where do I think I could have the most impact at this point in my life, in my career? I was looking around for what the next chapter could be."

He was impressed by BSM’s model and services. He went and volunteered, and participating himself is what confirmed his desire to get involved.

A Stanford alum, Dahl is taking over for BSM founder Rev. Bill Golderer, who left the organization last November to seek a seat in U.S. Congress (Golderer will remain on the BSM Board of Directors through the transition).

Before his 15 years with Pew -- which encompassed planning, public policy, fundraising, evaluation, research, finance and legal affairs -- Dahl had a hand in two successful business startups spanning strategic advisory, and insurance and financial services software. He was also an economic, tax and policy advisor to Senator Bill Bradley.

Dahl argues that it’s become far too easy for us as a society to "dehumanize" entire populations. He appreciates BSM’s rigorous approach not only to programming (including offerings as diverse as art classes and mail service for people without homes), but to evaluating and strengthening its approach.

"I come from the model that if ain’t broke, fix it," he says of applying ongoing, measurement-based improvements. "How can we do a better job of helping these people, people who are facing hunger or housing insecurity? Can we help them find their way to reclaim their lives and become more productive citizens?"

Dahl especially appreciates the existing Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative, "but I think the real upside is once you gain the trust, what are the fleet of services and supports that can be provided that truly let these people move back into society?" He’s also a fan of BSM's inclusivity as a faith-based organization that’s "open to all faiths, and people of no faith."

Dahl will officially start as BSM’s new executive director on June 13.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michael J. Dahl, Broad Street Ministry 

KIND Institute preps for a summer of arts and community in Point Breeze

The KIND Institute -- a young arts and community center in Point Breeze -- isn’t just providing an outlet for arts education when cash-poor schools cut programs, but putting a new lens on arts education itself.

"There’s a lot of misinformation about arts education and its value in society today," says Min Kim, who manages the KIND Institute’s blog and helps out with the nonprofit’s operations. "It’s called a dead end; there’s no way to make money off of it."

But in reality, he insists, there are a lot of strong careers to be had in "the living arts." Towards that end, KIND offers classes targeting kids ages five to twelve (though the model is inclusive) in pursuits ranging from watercolor, sculpture, and graphic design to computer-building, languages, and music. New sessions will kick off this summer.

KIND co-founders Maria Pandolfi (an award-winning educator who’s been teaching art in the School District of Philadelphia for 22 years) and Ronald Kustrup (an internationally exhibiting artist) spearhead the program, which formally launched in August 2013 and now occupies a building at 1242 Point Breeze Avenue. This summer, locals will be able to meet them and learn more about KIND’s professional studios, gallery and classroom spaces: the co-founders will open the doors every weekday from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. July 5 through August 26.

Funding for the space and programs is a currently a mix of donations, grants, space rentals, ticketed events and commissions on resident artists' sales through the gallery. KIND holds monthly exhibitions and music performances with themes like women’s empowerment, sustainable living and compassion for animals.

Coming soon is a re-launch of the KIND website, integrating a platform for resident artists’ work and the organization’s blog, which will continue to feature artist profiles.

"Our focus here is the local community and helping local artists showcase their work," says Kim. "When you buy the art it becomes more than just a piece to hang on your wall -- you get a real story of the person who crafted it."

So why Point Breeze?

"We see it as representational of a lot of neighborhoods in Philadelphia right now," he explains. "It’s changing, there’s a lot of growth, and there are a lot of people who are scared of changes that are coming to Point Breeze. [The KIND mission is] to make people understand that we are a community regardless of how the community is shifting, and really just make sure we’re keeping people unified."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Min Kim, KIND Institute 


Philadelphia Public History Truck brings 'a houseless museum' to Asian Arts Initiative

How do you get local history out of the museum and into the neighborhood? For about three years, Erin Bernard -- founder of the Philadelphia Public History Truck (PPHT) -- has been exploring the answers: "I had this intention to create projects with people in Philadelphia neighborhoods, as opposed to for them at a museum," she says. 

A traveling oral history and research repository, block party instigator, and capsule of local culture, PPHT and its newest off-road installation are coming soon to the Pearl Street storefront at Asian Arts Initiative (our former On the Ground Home). 

The Temple grad first got the idea for PPHT -- which Bernard calls a culmination of her degrees in journalism and history, her work in nonprofit public relations, and a lot of strolling past food trucks -- back in spring 2013. She approached community groups with her plan. The East Kensington Neighbors Association (EKNA) proved an enthusiastic early partner; former EKNA president Jeff Carpineta even donated a truck.

PPHT is now on the cusp of completing its third year-long neighborhood cycle -- Kensington, then North Philadelphia, and most recently Chinatown North/Callowhill. Its next project in the Fairhill neighborhood (in partnership with Taller Puertorriqueño) is now getting started.

Each of the truck’s "exhibit cycles" has nine parts, beginning with a neighborhood association partnership, growing into oral history interviews, a storytelling and "neighborhood object"-themed block party, archival research, community art happenings, a temporary exhibit in a neighborhood building, and then a compression of the exhibit back into the truck, to bring the stories to other neighborhoods.

At Asian Arts June 3 through 25, PPHT’s will present, "A Houseless Museum: Home and Displacement Around the Vine Street Expressway." Bernard volunteered at the nearby Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission and part of the History Truck’s mission in that neighborhood became researching how to best serve "a transient community."

The exhibit, which features stories from the neighborhood’s homeless community, will have a cabinet with supplies like socks, t-shirts and dry shampoo for those who need them. There will also be a TV installation playing the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation-provided documentary "Save Chinatown," detailing the demolition wrought by construction of the Vine Street Expressway. There will be artwork by Pew fellow and Chinatown North resident Leroy Johnson, and "archival reproductions and text, and space for people to explore actual historical documents," says Bernard.

The show also incorporates work from Bernard’s graduate students in the Museum Exhibition Planning and Design program at University of the Arts, as well as local high school students they mentored.

"I’ve found working in this neighborhood extremely difficult, compared to the work in Kensington and North Philadelphia," explains Bernard of her stint in Callowhill/Chinatown North. "It’s a very transitional community…That’s part of the story."

Not all of the neighborhood’s community groups agree on the way forward when it comes to development, including projects like the Reading Viaduct rail park project.

"There are a lot of serious issues of contention as to who owns the space," she explains. "I think that’s part of the reason it’s been challenging to have a history truck here, but it’s always good to learn something new."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Erin Bernard, the Philadelphia Public History Truck


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

Long-horizon tech startups get a much-needed boost

Entrepreneurs interested in "long -horizon" technologies -- those that require significant development and/or regulatory approvals in sectors such as healthcare, materials or energy -- have a new option for obtaining funding, expertise and other resources.
 
The University City Science Center's Phase 1 Ventures Program (P1V)  has emerged from stealth mode to widen its net and offer support to startups so new they might not even yet have names.
 
"Phase 1 Ventures serves the space in between our QED program (which provides resources to promising projects that are being developed within the academic setting) and our Port Business Incubators (which provide resources to startup companies that have already raised financing)," explains Science Center spokesperson Kristen Fitch. "P1V helps to 'road test' commercially relevant technologies outside the academic setting and to give them a chance to build management and raise funding."
 
Since P1V was soft-launched as a pilot in mid-2015, the program has supported these ventures, with several more expected to begin this year.
 
  • BioSignal Analytics uses machine-learning techniques to interpret medical signals such as electrical brain signals. The technology is from Temple University
  • LytPhage is developing a biotechnology that it hopes will replace chemical antibiotics in the fight against resistant bacteria. The technology is also from Temple.
  • PolyCore Therapeutics is developing a new drug to manage the side effects of treating Parkinson's and other neurological diseases. The technology is from Drexel University and Rutgers University. 
  • SDMI Inc., a startup formed by Dr. Chao Zhou from Lehigh University and Robert Michel, is developing a technology that will improve the speed and quality of eye exams.
  • A team including Dr. Oscar Perez from Temple University and Science Center Entrepreneur-in-Residence Matt Handel is working on a treatment for psoriasis.
  • A team including Dr. Joseph Freeman from Rutgers University and Science Center Entrepreneur-in-Residence Russell Secter is working on a technology for improving bone healing. 
  • A team including Drs. Michael Zdilla and Stephanie Wunder from Temple University and Science Center Entrepreneur-in-Residence Grant Chapman is working on a technology to improve the performance of lithium ion batteries.
P1V initially provides up to $25,000 and a semi-customized package of resources including facilities, funding, management expertise, and professional services in areas such as intellectual property, regulations, reimbursement, market evaluation, grant preparation and financial management.
 
Once successful in securing non-dilutive financing (capital that does not affect its ownership), participants become eligible for Phase 1 financing from P1V -- typically $150,000. Phase 2, typically $300,000, will be available to teams that subsequently secure follow-on financing.
 
According to Fitch, PolyCore has become the first company to transition to Phase 1 and will receive up to $250,000 to further its development of pharmaceutical treatment for Parkinson’s symptoms. The company secured funding for its project -- through its collaboration with Drexel University -- from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation
 
"There are plenty of options for the growing software and digital sector, but not enough opportunities for long-horizon technologies," said Science Center President Steven Tang in a statement. "These are the technologies that have historically been the cornerstone of our region’s economy."

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
 

On the Ground: What does a longtime local print paper mean to Southwest Philadelphia?

Soon Flying Kite will be landing in the Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Kingsessing for our On the Ground program, and we’re starting things off by connecting with a publication that’s been on the ground there for a long time: since 1946, to be exact.

The Southwest Globe Times was the inaugural publication of Joseph Bartash's Bartash Printing (a company legacy that continues in Southwest Philly today thanks to Bartash’s son-in-law Sidney Simon and Simon’s son Michael).

From the beginning, the Globe Times focused determinedly on disseminating good news throughout the community. It hit a peak circulation of about 30,000 homes in the 1950s. Bartash, who went on to publish several other community papers, retained the Globe Times for the longest. He ceased publishing it in 2002 and died in 2007 at the age of 93.

"There was a two-year hiatus while various people in the community tried to start it up again," says Ted Behr, a Southwest Community Development Corporation volunteer who manages the Globe Times’s new incarnation. In 2004, Bartash agreed to sell the name to the CDC on the merits of "their unique characteristics as a nonprofit working within the community for its general well-being."

The paper re-appeared in 2005; to this day, Bartash is listed on the masthead as publisher emeritus. The Globe comes out in print and online on the first and third Friday of every month.

"We characterize ourselves as the good news newspaper because we try to only publish the positive activities of people," explains Behr. Southwest Philly "has more than its share of negative [news]. We counterbalance that with stories about people and groups doing things to improve the quality of life here."

Behr is a North Jersey native who moved to Wayne in 1971 after an international career in the pharmaceutical business that also included 16 years of teaching business courses at Eastern University and Beijing University.

He’s a member of Wayne Presbyterian Church and its non-profit community service arm CityLights, which partners with groups in Southwest Philadelphia, and that’s how he began working with Southwest CDC.

"I see my work with the paper as a calling," he says. Globe Times stories typically focus on figures like effective block captains, "outstanding teachers," and neighborhood leaders.

Block captains are integral to the paper’s circulation: For the last four years, they’ve volunteered for door-to-door delivery of about half the paper’s print copies. Other copies are picked up by the public at locations like the ShopRite grocery store in Eastwick -- it's the paper’s largest distribution point, with over 700 copies departing the rack there.

Even in 2016, a hyperlocal print paper is important, argues Behr. When the newspaper re-launched a decade ago, fewer than 15 percent of Southwest Philly homes had internet access. Today, he estimates that percentage has doubled, but there’s still a massive digital divide for many residents.

Southwest CDC is currently working with the 12th Police District and the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee to increase circulation and delivery of the paper. The publication is partly supported by ads from local businesses, but still operates at a loss of about 20 percent a year, a gap that donors at Wayne Presbyterian fill.

"We like to feel that our readers take ownership of ideas behind the paper," says Behr. "There are good people working in Southwest Philadelphia to make the community better. Dedicated public servants; dedicated people from block to block. We feel that’s what life is all about… We believe that our young people and our elderly people need a positive vision for the future."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ted Behr, the Southwest Globe Times


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Keep Philadelphia Beautiful litter convenings continue to draw a crowd

Late last year, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) launched a series of what Executive Director Michelle Feldman calls "Litter Convenings." They offer a platform for city agencies and residents to come together to tackle the problems of trash and littering in integrated and transparent ways.

The first session took place in October 2015; consortium members included the Commerce Department, the Streets Department, the Philadelphia Association of CDCs and the Philly chapter of the Local Initiative Support Coalition (LISC). There was a follow-up session in January, and on May 11, KPB organized a panel discussion featuring leaders from the Streets Department’s Philly SWEEP, the City’s Community Life Improvement Programs (CLIP), the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee (PMBC) and Philly 311.

Attendees represented groups and agencies such as the Office of Sustainability, the Village of Arts and Humanities, the Friends of Pennypack Park, the Commerce Department, South of South Neighborhood Association, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), LISC, the North 22nd Street Business Association, and Councilman William Greenlee’s office. Feldman framed the discussion as a chance to be "proactive rather than reactive" to issues of illegal dumping and trash in Philly.

The lively conversation on the 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building included an update on the City’s growing success in removing unlicensed clothing donation bins, which often become a magnet for illegal dumping. These bins can gain permits for placement on commercially zoned private property, but not on public right-of-ways like sidewalks and street corners, where they routinely reside. After a call to 311, L&I may note and tag the offending bins, but it’s the Streets Department that performs the removal.

Participants also discussed efforts to make Philly 311 -- the city’s non-emergency reporting line for civic issues like graffiti, overgrown vacant lots, illegal dumping and litter -- more accessible to the public through a mobile application and better integration of services with agencies who handle 311 tips.

Misunderstandings can arise when Philly 311 reports a case as closed when the issue has not visibly been resolved. This is because the agency can’t report publicly on outcomes like fines, and other agencies (from PWD to the Streets Department) open their own case file on the issue once they receive it, separate from the Philly 311 report.

Updates from CLIP included graffiti removal efforts and a community service program that employs non-violent ex-offenders on city cleanups. PMBC reported on its active work with up to 800 block captains from across the city. The organization provides supplies for cleanups and sponsors clean block contests with prizes ranging from $300 to $1,000 dollars to be used for further beautification of the block.

In KPB news, applications for the organization’s 2016 microgrants are due on May 27; they include two $,1500 grants and two $1,000 grants (guidelines available here). And on June 22, KPB will team with Young Involved Philadelphia for a Cleaning + Greening 101 panel at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Keep Philadelphia Beautiful Litter Convening speakers

UE Lifesciences targets breast cancer diagnosis in the developing world

With limited access to screening, staggeringly few breast cancer patients in developing countries are diagnosed at the early stages of the disease, when it is most curable.
 
UE Lifesciences, a University City Science Center company, is working to meet that challenge with a low-cost, portable breast exam device.
 
Mihir Shah founded UELS in 2009 after several friends and family members were diagnosed with breast cancer. In April 2015, the FDA cleared the iBreastExam, a hand-held device that is painless, radiation-free and delivers accurate results in less than five minutes for less than $2 per exam. A few months later, UELS raised $3 million in equity funding. Now the company is using the capital to fabricate the device in Mumbai and scale it across India. Shah hopes to reach one million women there by the end of the year, though "even that would be a drop in the bucket," he says.
 
"iBreastExam is a game-changing technological breakthrough for countries and regions with rising breast cancer levels, most cases detected at late stages, and limited to no access to early detection for most women," explains the company on its website. "iBreastExam harnesses the power of innovative sensor technology, software computing and smartphone revolution, such that a doctor or any health-worker can offer objective and effective breast examinations, with ease and comfort."
 
The portable device is UELS's second invention. Its NoTouch Breast Scan, cleared by the FDA in 2012, is a contact-less and radiation-free screening tool, targeted at certain categories of women, including those at high risk for breast cancer.
 
Science Center spokeswoman Kristen Fitch calls UELS a poster child for the campus. Its core sensor technology was invented at Drexel University. The Science Center supported early prototyping through its QED program. UELS is also a graduate of the Center’s Digital Health Accelerator and continues to work out of the Center.

"They've been very flexible with the use of space, subsidized rent and great introductions to people," enthuses Shah.
 
Besides the equity funding, Shah reports that UELS has raised $1 million-plus in grant funding and $1.5 million in revenue.

"We are just getting started," he says. "We are looking to broaden our innovation portfolio and tap the huge unmet need for highly prevalent cancers in underserved markets. UELS is now a 30-person organization spread over two countries and growing fast."
 
WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
 

Worried about lead? The Academy of Natural Sciences asks 'What's in Our Water?'

Last week, the Academy of Natural Sciences hosted "What’s in Our Water?," a free town square discussion and expert Q&A for Philadelphians wondering about the quality of their drinking water after harmful lead levels in Newark, New Jersey and Flint, Michigan made headlines.

David Velinsky, Academy vice president of the Patrick Center for Environmental Research, led the presentation. He introduced Debra McCarty, commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department; Lynn Thorp, the national campaigns director for Clean Water Action; and Dr. Jerry Fagliano, chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health.

Velinsky touched on the source of Philly’s drinking water: the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, and the history of human use of lead in urban and residential infrastructure and industrial products, from Roman aqueducts to batteries to lead paint and leaded gasoline.

In the 1970s, lead in paint and gasoline accounted for relatively high blood lead levels in the first ever large-scale American survey. According to Fagliano, back then, the average child had a blood lead level of 15 micrograms per deciliter. Now, it’s less than two micrograms per deciliter, thanks to sweeping federal legislation to keep lead out of our homes and fuel.

"Lead is a potent neurotoxin," especially for young people, he explained.

"Water is not the primary source of lead for children," added McCarty: It’s dust and paint from houses built before 1978. There is no lead in any of Philly’s 3,200 miles of water mains. But on the private side, PWD estimates that about 10 percent of Philly homes have lead service lines from the water main to the house. This is likely only in unrenovated homes built before 1950. These homes may also have lead in old plumbing pipes, soldering or fixtures.

PWD works with any concerned client to test, monitor and offer affordable fixes for elevated lead levels that come from private plumbing.

McCarty said those worried about lead in their pipes can simply make sure to run the tap for a few minutes before drinking the water, which flushes out any liquid that might have been sitting in the plumbing lines for more than a few hours. The City also has a program offering zero-interest loans to customers who want to replace private-property lead pipes. PWD has a dedicated webpage for lead inquiries as well as a phone hotline: 215-685-6300.

"Flint is an incredible tragedy in many, many ways," said McCarty as she explained why the same scenario will never happen in Philly. For example, Flint officials changed the source of the water itself, with none of the anti-corrosion treatments residential pipes in Philly have, and did not comply with EPA standards for sampling and reporting lead and copper levels.

"Treatment decisions are always made on the best science," she insisted.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: David Velinsky, the Academy of Natural Sciences; Debra McCarty, the Philadelphia Water Department

UPenn's BioCellection may hold the key to plastics pollution worldwide

As high school seniors in their hometown of Vancouver, Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao had some big questions -- and answers -- for a planet that produces enough plastic every year to circle itself in Saran wrap four times over.

Yao recently graduated from the University of Toronto and Wang is finishing her senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Biology. Together they founded BioCellection. Now their team (which also includes Alexander Simafranca, Eric Friedman and Daniel Chapman) is the first undergraduate team ever to take the $30,000 grand prize at Wharton’s annual Business Plan Competition. And that's only the beginning: They also took home the Wharton Social Impact Prize, the Gloekner Undergraduate Award, the Michelson People’s Choice Award and the Committee Award for Most "Wow Factor." No other single team has ever taken five prizes in the competition.

Wang and Yao began studying riverside soil samples back in high school. They wanted to find out what the ecosystem itself might be doing to survive pollution from plastics. Traditional plastic products are made from fossil fuels, which come from carbon. Humans run on carbon, too -- our source is glucose.

"Could there be bacteria that have evolved with plastic chemicals as their carbon source?" Wang recalls wondering. "The answer is yes…Nature is very much evolving to recover itself. There is a solution in this biology, it just needs to be tapped into. Potentially this could be a large-scale commercial technology used to clean our drinking water."

Wang and Yao focused on how bacteria could be harnessed to break down potentially carcinogenic components of some plastics (like phthalates) that aren’t otherwise biodegradable. Their work won them the 2012 National Commercialization Award at Canada’s Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge and led to a popular 2013 TED talk.

In the labs at Penn, that work grew into BioCellection.

"Instead of tackling derivatives or additives in plastic, we’re [now] tackling the polymer of the plastic itself," explains Wang. "What if we can take this really big problem of the polymer, and try to solve it on a modular basis?"

BioCellection developed a way to engineer bacteria that produce an enzyme which, when combined with problem plastics in a proprietary portable chemical process, can convert that plastic into water and carbon dioxide. This patent-pending technology is still about two years away from the field, but its future application in plastic remediation at landfills, industrial sites, oceans and beaches could be tremendous, with annual revenue projected to reach $100 million by 2020.

A little further down the road in their business model, BioCellection hopes to launch a centralized processing plant that will use this enzyme to convert discarded plastics into a bio-surfactant necessary for textile manufacturing. With the help of collaborator Parley for the Oceans -- which is helping BioCellection connect to brands like Adidas that want to incorporate recycled plastic into their products -- the company hopes to sell this "upcycled" surfactant at $300/kg. It’s an estimated $42 billion market.

The issue of used plastics is a global problem: Because current recycling methods don’t generate enough revenue, over 90 percent of our cast-off plastics (even those going for recycling) end up in landfills, or incinerated, which compounds pollution. 

According to the company, "We can’t expect to change consumer habits overnight or integrate new materials immediately. It’s time to tackle the plastic pollution that currently exists, and that we’re continuing to produce, to save marine wildlife, keep the planet’s food chain intact, and protect human health."

Besides the $54,000 in total prize money from Wharton, BioCellection has earned $90,000 in grants and $240,000 in investment. The company is relocating to the San Jose BioCube in June 2016 for further development.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Miranda Wang, BioCellection 
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