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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

 

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.
 

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 

Microsoft Innovation Center comes to University City


The Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC), a hub for entrepreneurial activity and community engagement, will open this summer on the ground floor of the University City Science Center’s headquarters at 3711 Market Street. 
 
According to Science Center spokesperson Kristen Fitch, "the MIC will be a place where entrepreneurs, students and community members can convene to use Microsoft tools and technology, get training and advice from Microsoft tech evangelists, sign up for complimentary BizSpark and DreamSpark software packages, and participate in programming to help them advance their ideas and ventures."
 
Bringing the MIC to University City is a big win, she adds.

"The MIC complements and reinforces our focus on making uCity Square a neighborhood that supports innovation, entrepreneurship, access and inclusion. The MIC will complement Quorum programming as it helps bridge the current gaps for startups on their journey to success, such as the lack of access to funding, knowledge and expertise; access to affordable technology; business planning; and exposure to potential markets and customers."
 
A key part of the MIC’s mission will be engaging underrepresented groups with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities and careers.

"We plan to seek input from neighborhood and community partners to develop programs and workshops that can help their constituents leverage Microsoft technology and Science Center experience to support their entrepreneurial ambitions," says Fitch.
 
Possibilities include a partnership with the Center's FirstHand program (which engages middle and high school students from underserved schools), technology skills training with Microsoft’s YouthSpark hub, technology camps, and software grants to nonprofits that focus on STEM and computer science literacy.
 
The MIC, a collaboration between Microsoft Corp., SeventySix Capital, the Science Center and Wexford Science & Technology, is only the third such hub in the U.S.; other locations are in Atlanta and Miami.
 
The space will open in time for the Democratic National Convention in July and "serve as a hotbed of Microsoft activity during the convention, with a number of programs and events that explore the intersection of technology and civic engagement," promises the Science Center.
  
"Bringing Microsoft to Philadelphia and uCity Square is a game changer on many levels," said Science Center President & CEO Stephen S. Tang in a statement. "Not only have we attracted a large tech company to our city, but the MIC also offers a means to engage our neighborhood, innovation and entrepreneurial communities, and give them access to Microsoft technology and training."

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.
 

KIZ tax credits expand east to booming Old City startup scene


Old City just got a major boost with the expansion of the University City Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) across the Schuylkill River and all the way to Front Street -- that means some major new tax credits for the neighborhood’s burgeoning tech sector.

Old City-based Arcweb Technologies hosted the March 23 announcement, with featured remarks from University City Science Center President and CEO Stephen S. Tang, Arcweb CEO Chris Cera, and Mayor Jim Kenney.

If you go into a coffee shop near North 3rd Street in Old City -- or as it’s affectionately known, "N3rd Street" -- and "grab somebody that’s sitting there, most likely they’re a technology worker," said Cera. "I don’t think that’s found anywhere else in Philadelphia."

And he went further than that: "My 10-year outlook…is that this is going to be the tech center of Philadelphia, here in Old City."

Expanding that University City KIZ should contribute to that growth, which Tang called "a pivotal moment in our city’s transformation from a manufacturing economy to an innovation economy."

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell instituted the KIZ program "to spur entrepreneurial activity," Tang explained. There are 29 KIZs across the state and three within the City of Philadelphia: the large BioLaunch 611+ zone that spreads north of Lancaster and Girard Avenues and I-95; the Navy Yard KIZ, and the newly expanded University City KIZ.

A KIZ is a special district that offers tax incentives to eligible for-profit companies in the life sciences and technology sectors. The program offers a statewide pool of $25 million toward the credits. An approved KIZ company (applications must be submitted by September 15 of each year) can claim a tax credit equal to 50 percent of its increase in gross revenues in the most recent taxable year over the revenue from the preceding year, earned within the KIZ. This tax credit is capped at $100,000, and for companies whose credit exceeds their tax liability, the credit is saleable for up to $0.90 on the dollar.

In the last decade, 48 early-stage tech and life science companies in the University City KIZ have received almost $8 million in tax credits, with 21 companies nabbing close to $2 million just last year. Now this benefit will extend all the way across the heart of Center City and into Old City.

(For a look at one University City company reaping the KIZ benefit, check out our profile of Graphene Frontiers, working towards big changes in medical diagnostics.)

"As a result of these tax credits, startups are retaining jobs, hiring new employees and developing new products," said Tang. "Not only are KIZ tax credits being invested in our local economy, but they’re also strengthening Philadelphia’s innovation ecosystem."

"It’s very exciting to see what’s happening in Old City," added Mayor Kenney. "The expansion of this [KIZ] will help propel that even faster and further than it has in other parts of the city."

Arcweb is just one company standing to benefit from the change.

"I didn’t want to have a tax credit make me move across town, from people and a place that we call home," said Cera. "I’m glad that we chose to stay and invest here."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: University City KIZ expansion launch speakers

Sixth annual State of University City celebrates 75,000 new jobs

On November 18, University City District (UCD) hosted its sixth annual State of University City event at World Café Live. The headline of the night was the 75,000 jobs created within this 2.4-square-mile neighborhood, home to some of Philly’s premier education, healthcare and science institutions. According to UCD, the area is on track to add an additional 1,000 jobs in 2016.

Craig Carnaroli, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania and UCD’s board chair, noted that this density of jobs is among the highest of any neighborhood in the country. Speaking at World Café Live, he cited the impact of startup hubs like the Enterprise Center and Drexel’s [email protected], which now hosts 50 technology entrepreneurs from 30 member companies.

Carnaroli also noted the groundbreaking work of companies like Spark Therapeutics, which will soon seek FDA approval for its gene therapy; studies indicate they can achieve restored vision in people blinded by certain retinal diseases. Another University City breakthrough made national news this year when eight-year-old Zion Harvey received the world’s first pediatric double hand transplant from Penn Medicine.

Carnaroli touted "the power of community and institutions coming together in partnerships to produce results."

UCD Executive Director Matt Bergheiser spoke about why 75,000 jobs is a "magic number" for the area. Businesses and institutions are "feeling the growth of the regional economy" with a substantial spike in well-paid jobs, he insisted. According to UCD, between 2008 and 2013, the neighborhood saw a 79 percent increase in middle to high-wage jobs -- wage growth far above the city’s overall average. It’s exciting news, especially paired with a ten percent jump in University City’s population since 2013 and expansions in the restaurant, hospitality, retail and real estate sectors.

Another way to look at the job density in University City, Bergheiser pointed out, is to count 30,000 jobs per square mile. He also emphasized some essential ingredients in the neighborhood's success: entrepreneurial, civic and "opportunity" infrastructure. 

Because innovation needs places for people to come together, entrepreneurial infrastructure flourishes at cutting-edge hubs like the Science Center and Wexford Science + Technology.

Civic infrastructure -- which Bergheiser called "splendor at the ground level" -- includes elements such as new parklets, the Porch at 30th Street, a revamped Market Street Bridge and the upcoming $2.1 million transformation of the 40th Street SEPTA portal, slated to open in 2017.

"Opportunity infrastructure" is paying attention to an equity of opportunities, or "how we connect the talent in our West Philadelphia neighborhood" to meaningful jobs, he explained.

That led naturally to talk of UCD's West Philadelphia Skills Initiative -- many participants are low-income residents who struggle with longterm unemployment or a criminal record that prevents them from getting a foot in the door with job applications. Bergheiser said that 91 percent of Skills Initiative graduates succeed in landing a job, with an average starting wage of $13.60 per hour.

It all adds up to "a new first and lasting impression" for our metropolis, he concluded.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: University City District

Startup Central: Five Questions for BioBots

Movie aficionados may remember when Woody Allen kidnapped the disembodied nose of an evil leader in 1973’s Sleeper

Forty-two years later, BioBots, a startup that moved to the University City Science Center in June, is developing a desktop 3D printer that builds living tissue out of human cells. Yes, noses, and eventually organs for transplant. 

We asked Madeline Winter, BioBots' vice president of operations, five key questions about this ambitious company.

What is your big idea?

At BioBots, we create 3D bioprinters and bioinks. Imagine an ordinary 3D printer, but instead of printing plastic, our 3D bioprinters create living tissue. No, this is not science fiction -- currently our devices are used for research and pre-clinical screening such as drug testing. You can use our devices to build 3D living tissue models using human cells that are better able to recapitulate the function of the body. These models can be used to develop compounds for clinical settings and catch false positives before they get to clinical trials. Our long-term goal is to print custom replacement organs from a patient's own cells and eliminate the organ donor waiting list.

What is your origin tale?

Our co-founder and CTO Ricardo Solorzano created the prototype in his dorm room after being frustrated by the high cost of equipment for the University of Pennsylvania lab where he worked. Ricardo entered the prototype in an investor competition with Danny Cabrera, then a Penn senior. They ended up winning first place, pumping the prize money back into further development of the device and deciding to spend the summer seeing what they could build before starting grad school. Danny took on the role of CEO and they were accepted to the DreamIt Health Accelerator

What is your timeline?

We launched our beta program in January and quickly sold our first 50 printers to some of the best researchers around the world. When we started designing the next generation device, we reached out to our amazing community of customers for feedback on how to refine the design. We took all of their comments and used that data to design the BioBot 1, which is more precise and is able to print multiple materials at the same time. We start shipping the first BioBot 1 bioprinters this month to our growing list of customers. We aim to have a BioBots 3D bioprinter on every lab bench in the world. 

Why does the marketplace need your company?

While biofabrication has been around for a while, the other 3D bioprinters on the market are expensive (costing up to half a million dollars), large and difficult to operate. It was for these reasons that only a small number of institutions had the resources and abilities to use them. We set out to democratize that technology by developing the most sophisticated desktop 3D bioprinter on the market. By reducing the price of entry, we are able to get our devices into the hands of more researchers who are accomplishing amazing strides in their research using our devices and biomaterials. 
 
What is your elevator speech?

Our goal at BioBots has always been to create standards and modular systems that can engineer biology to cure disease, eliminate the organ waiting list, reverse climate change and push humans to live on other planets. Our devices will help to advance research, develop drugs and push the human race forward.
 
Source: Madeline Winter, BioBots
Writer: Elise Vider

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.
 

Penn lab promises a new frontier in cardiac repair

For patients who suffer heart attacks, the resulting damage to the organ can eventually lead to heart failure. Now a University of Pennsylvania lab is investigating the use of injectable biomaterials that show promise as a new frontier in cardiac repair.
 
Speaking at the University City Science Center’s Quorum, Dr. Jason Burdick, a Penn bioengineering professor, described how "hydrogels" have delivered promising results that "might be the difference between going on to heart failure or not." (Bioengineering encompasses concepts from biology and engineering; many areas of the field focus on biomedical applications.) 
 
The Burdick Polymeric Biomaterials Lab at Penn was established 10 years ago and immediately began work on hydrogels. The study of cardiac repair began around seven years ago. The aim is to create substances that go directly into the heart tissue to preserve the heart wall thickness and the overall shape of the heart, frequently damaged by heart attack or "myocardial infarction."
 
"Injectability is an interesting engineering problem," explains Burdick. The challenge is to get the gelatinous gloop to flow through syringes and catheters, solidify and stay stable in the heart tissue.
 
Burdick and his team are making progress using a class of hydrogels based on the molecule hyaluronic acid, already widely used in cosmetic and musculoskeletal procedures. A few small clinical studies are already underway.
 
"The next step is really defining the right formulation that we are interested in pursuing, so that we can finalize pre-clinical large animal trials," he says. "This involves selection of the appropriate method for delivery of the hydrogels to the heart. Hopefully we will move towards a Phase I clinical trial in just a few years."
 
Burdick is careful to credit clinical collaborators at Penn and other schools, notably Robert Gorman, a Penn professor of cardiovascular surgery. The two have founded a startup called Myostratum that is focused on the translation of hydrogel therapies.
 
"I believe this is an exciting area that has a lot of potential to develop new therapies for patients that have myocardial infarction," adds Burdick. "Many people are affected by heart disease and the development of therapies that can improve clinical outcomes is very important."
 
Source: Dr. Jason Burdick, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania
Writer: Elise Vider

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.
 

Startup Central: Five Questions for Noble.MD

Instead of flipping through year-old magazines next time you’re waiting in a doctor’s exam room, imagine using that time (an average of 22 minutes) to enter important medical information on an iPad. Imagine how that could make the average nine-minute doctor/patient encounter more productive for both parties. Real-time information could improve your care, speed your insurance claim and free up your provider to focus more on screening and treatment.
 
Noble.MD, a healthcare IT startup located at the University City Science Center’s Innovation Center @3401, has developed a technology platform that does all that. Their goal is to improve outcomes for patients and create efficiencies for medical providers.
 
We asked Meg Steinmetz, chief program officer at Noble, five key questions about this growing company.
 
What is your big idea?

The average U.S. primary care physician (PCP) has a patient panel of 3,500 patients. With all the requirements and recommendations of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare, it would take the average PCP 21.7 hours per day to provide all recommended risk screening and care. As a result, 50 percent of health risks are never identified and coded, including chronic conditions. 
 
Our team designed a product called Theo to gather information from patients about their health risks on an iPad while they're in the doctor’s exam room. Theo then offers useful information about their health in an interactive manner that is simple and easy to understand. Theo turns the exam-room waiting time into fun, productive time for the patient and provides valuable information to the doctor that is otherwise often missed.
 
What is your origin story?

Our CEO Todd Johnson and his wife Bindi Shah-Johnson -- both trained physicians -- experienced a health crisis with their daughter in the first days of her life. While sitting in an exam room, these two doctors and new parents experienced firsthand how lack of knowledge and communication lead to fear and confusion, which often leads to inaction or poor choices.

Experiencing what average patients go through every day in our incredibly complex health system inspired them to change that for people everywhere.
 
What is your timeline?

Theo is now three years old and in version 2.0. Theo is being used by over 150 physicians in nine states and has interacted with over 50,000 patients in the past year. We are measuring improvement in patient outcomes as a direct result of using Theo. Our next step? Partnering with a major health plan.
 
Why does the marketplace need your company?

With healthcare coverage now available to all Americans, healthcare providers and health plans need a faster, more efficient way to identify patient health risks, manage those risks and get patients engaged in their own care. Theo helps our clients to understand the health risks of their patients in real time and manage them immediately. Our clients range from individual clinicians to accountable care organizations, academic hospitals and health systems.
 
What is your elevator speech?

Doctors and nurses today simply do not have the time to spend with every patient to screen for every health risk, yet under the guidelines of the Affordable Care Act and the Accountable Care Movement, they need to do just that. Theo makes it easy for providers and health plans to learn more about their patients’ health risks and lifestyles, and for patients to learn more about how they can manage their health and better their lives.
 
Source: Meg Steinmetz, Noble.MD

Writer: Elise Vider

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.
 

Keeping Up with the University City Science Center

It should come as no surprise to readers of Flying Kite that a lot of innovation – and news of innovation – comes from the University City Science Center
 
Now Flying Kite and the Science Center have embarked on a new partnership, a way to keep up with the amazing output generated by this dynamic hub for innovation, entrepreneurship and technology commercialization.
 
For the next year as "Writer in Residence," I’ll be filing regular dispatches, offering an in-depth look at the West Philly institution's scientists, entrepreneurs, startups, and established companies, along with the work it does to move technology out of the lab and into the marketplace.
 
Founded in 1963, the Science Center is the oldest and largest urban research park in the United States. In service of its goal -- "to inspire a community of knowledge, spark the spirit of enterprise, and help expand and strengthen the Philadelphia’s region’s technology sector" – the campus offers an array of services including lab and office space, business incubation, support services and programming for entrepreneurs.
 
A few numbers reflect the magnitude of the Science Center’s impact on the region:
  • The Science Center has 17 buildings – and is fast growing – at its 17-acre West Philadelphia campus.
  • 8,000 people come to work at the Science Center every day.
  • More than 350 companies have "graduated" since 1963.
  • 93 graduate companies located in Greater Philadelphia employ 15,000 people.
  • Graduate and current incubator companies generate $9.4 billion in annual regional economic impact.
  • The Science Center’s 31 nonprofit shareholders include many of the region’s leading colleges, universities, hospitals and research institutions.
Over the next year, Flying Kite will report on many aspects of the Science Center’s programs and resources. For now, a quick primer:
  • The Port Business Incubators flexibly accommodate the changing needs of emerging, fast-growth life sciences, physical sciences and digital technology companies. The Global Soft Landing Program fosters international business in the U.S. by helping global companies establish a foothold in local life sciences and IT markets. The Digital Health Accelerator (DHA) supports early-stage digital health companies with funding, office space, professional mentorship and introductions to key stakeholders in the region.
     
  • The QED Proof-of-Concept Program supports proof-of-concept work in early-stage life science and health technologies with commercial potential. 
     
  • Quorum unites the region’s entrepreneurial and innovation communities through a central gathering space on the Science Center campus.
     
  • FirstHand adds art to the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) to create project-based STEAM programs and workshops that empower individuals and convene communities around creative applications of technology.
     
  • The Innovation Center @3401 is a flexible workspace for startups.
     
  • Blackstone LaunchPad Philadelphia supports student entrepreneurship in the Greater Philadelphia region through a partnership between Philadelphia University, Temple University and the Science Center. 
So watch this space and stay abreast as the Science Center takes Philadelphia innovators "from idea to IPO."

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.
 

Scientist of the Year nominee grapples with rehab robots at GRASP

Dr. Michelle Johnson isn’t a Philadelphia native – she’s been heading up the new Rehabilitation Robotics Lab out of University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP (general robotics, automation, sensing & perception) laboratory for only about two years – so when she heard she’d been nominated for Scientist of the Year in the Philadelphia Geek Awards, she didn’t know what to think.

"Since I’m new to Philadelphia, I didn’t know what it meant," she explains. "I’m like, 'What? Is that a good thing?'"

In Philadelphia, also known as the "eds and meds" capital of the U.S., it definitely is. But in the truest geek fashion, Johnson wasn’t even able to make it to the August 15 ceremony at the Academy of Natural Sciences. She spoke to Flying Kite about her recent work from Singapore, where she and her Penn team were presenting at the International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics, before jaunting to Botswana for some more research.

The Jamaican-born Johnson grew up in New York and received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford with an emphasis in robotics, design and mechatronics. (Don’t know what mechatronics is? It’s a combination of mechanical engineering, computing and electronics to help us discover and develop new manufacturing techniques.)

In 2013, Johnson moved her lab from its original location in the medical college of Wisconsin’s Marquette University to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, taking up a faculty position at Penn.

Johnson acknowledges that her focus -- robots that assist in rehabilitation and treatment for people dealing with things such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and other problems -- is a very narrow slice of a rapidly expanding field, one that has been around only for the last 25 years or so.

Engineers like Johnson and her team at Penn work closely with neuroscientists. Neuroplasticity is the name of the game: the brain’s ability to re-wire and reroute itself after an injury. It's crucial in fields such as prosthetics -- where patients’ brains learn to interact with robotic devices that restore the body’s function -- or to bolster limbs weakened from conditions like MS.

With cutting-edge technologies like EEGs and functional MRIs revealing our neurons’ "structural connectivity," they're working not just to understand the normal brain, but also to piece together what happens when the brain becomes damaged, and develop technology to pair with our bodies in ways that were unimaginable a few decades ago.

Things like Ekso Bionics, which help people with spinal cord injuries to walk again, get a lot of press, but Johnson also points to work like functional electrical stimulation and implanted electrodes as recent major advances in rehab, along with rehabilitative robotic devices that enable injured patients to continue crucial exercise regimens at home for a much longer time than is feasible in hospital settings. Wearable sensors, especially those invisibly embedded in textiles (with myriad applications for remote monitoring of patients), are also part of the next big wave of medical robotics, even if it’s not widely commercialized yet.

Though proud of her recent nomination, Johnson stresses that science is a team sport.

"Oftentimes when you get the accolade, you forget all the students and the support staff that really are critical to this process," she insists. "I want to really make clear that nothing can happen without that team…I want to congratulate my team for working hard and doing good research."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michelle Johnson, Ph.D., Rehabilitation Robotics Lab at Penn

A new indoor wayfinding app works to grow an industry

Once upon a time, we humans were content to sail ships across oceans with nothing but the sun and stars to figure out where we were, but things are a little different today. Chet Dagit, founder and managing director of the Radnor-based RTP Holdings, says that nowadays, satellite GPS can help us locate ourselves on this round earth within three meters of a given spot, but for a lot of industries, even that’s not enough.

"Micro-location solutions" is what RTP has been working on since its genesis three years ago; the company now has one year of operations under its belt. The technology is also called "augmented GPS"  -- it works with the help of a radio tower on the ground. On a large outdoor site such as a golf-course, plugged-in users can locate themselves to within a single meter with the help of a map in the cloud.

This technology is crucial for the modern aviation and maritime industries, says Dagit, but RTP is also helping to develop the next wave of micro-location: GPS that works through a specialized app indoors, helping users navigate their way through large buildings and attractions such as college campuses or museums.

The apps use WiFi and now Bluetooth Beacon for ground references, and RTP’s services to their clients come in two main parts: the positioning of these devices and the actual indoor mapping. They survey buildings to ensure the right number and location of WiFi access points, input those spots to a three-dimensional grid of the space, and then get the building’s floor-plan mapped into the app-accessed cloud.

To imagine an immediate and urgent application, picture calling 911 on your cell phone from inside a huge building and letting the app guide EMTs right to you. Or you can simply figure out what museum exhibit is a two-minute step from where you’re currently standing.

RTP recently held its first public demonstration of its trademarked Lokita Solution system for indoor micro-location mobile apps. It was a big success: Their new beta app, The @UPenn Xperience (now available in the Apple iTunes App store) took first place at the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies (PACT) Wayfinding App Challenge in late June, hosted by PACT and co-sponsored by Penn and Independence Blue Cross.

"The new app helps students and visitors to Penn’s campus navigate and discover the art-filled campus and surrounding city," said RTP in a statement about the win, which came with a $30,000 prize.

"It really makes our solution tangible, so [people] can see it in action," says Dagit of the presentation and the prize. The company put their competition team and demo together in less than a month.

"That really shows our prospective customers how quickly we can get things done, and the quality of our work on a certain timeline," he adds.

"Philly is one of the leading cities in the country for indoor mapping," he continues, expaining that we're second only to Las Vegas in the number of buildings using this type of technology. "I just think we’re progressive with technology, maybe a little bit more early adopters, and we’re all about these great public venues that we have."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chet Dagit: RTP Holdings

ContactMyDoc aims to be the Expedia of healthcare

With the goal of becoming the Expedia of healthcare, ContactMyDoc has developed a platform that allows patients to comparison shop for healthcare services based on cost, quality and proximity. For now, the IT startup -- based in suburban Philadelphia -- is limited to radiology, but other specialties are on the way.

"The impetus for founding ContactMyDoc was to offer price transparency to patients so they could make more informed decisions about where and how to spend their money on healthcare," explains CEO and co-founder Harsh Singh. "ContactMyDoc offers both price and quality transparency directly to the consumer through an easy-to-navigate online platform that looks and feels similar to Expedia. After entering three basic pieces of information, the patient has the ability to easily compare cost and quality data for radiology services of local providers and request an appointment online. With the price of MRI’s varying from $300 to $3,000 for the same exam, the response from consumers who are saving money without sacrificing the quality of their care has been overwhelming."

The platform, which includes a mobile app, SMS messaging, email and automated voice, also helps healthcare providers increase revenue and employers decrease costs. 

Headquartered in Montgomeryville, ContactMyDoc has about 75 clients located across eight states and is expanding aggressively. One early client was Progressive Radiology, which services Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The company has also partnered with two electronic medical record providers for patient notifications and patient engagement. 

Looking ahead, the company is in talks with electronic health and medical record companies as well as large healthcare providers in order to expand into other specialties.

"Over the next year, we will be focusing on areas such as outpatient surgery, colonoscopy and other healthcare specialties where there is a large variation in cost and quality," enthuses Singh.

Source: Harsh Singh, ContactMyDoc
Writer: Elise Vider

Homes get smarter, Malvern's Zonoff gets bigger

Malvern's fast-growing Zonoff has expanded into new 35,000-square-foot headquarters. The fresh digs come on the heels of a $31.8 million funding round for the company, which provides a comprehensive software platform for "smart homes."

Zonoff’s software platform enables partners such as electronic device makers, service providers and retailers to deliver new products and services to the consumer mass market to remotely monitor and control thermostats, lights, security systems, etc. The new two-floor space is triple the size of their previous office, and includes a sophisticated demo suite where clients can gain hands-on experience and test smart-home products and services. 

As with all good tech companies, the space also includes open collaborative workspaces, private conference rooms, kitchen and dining areas with cafe tables and local beers on tap, and an employee game room.

"We’ve been very thoughtful in deciding where to invest resources, and we believe that our team is one of our strongest differentiating factors," said Zonoff CEO Mike Harris. "We believe that our new state-of-the-art office and demo center will provide our employees with an environment and culture that will motivate them to deliver on our extremely high standards for innovation and technology development."

The new space also makes it possible for Zonoff to keep hiring. The company has added to its executive team and doubled its workforce in the past year -- they now employ 70 engineers, software developers and sales, marketing and new business personnel. They expect to grow another 50 percent by the end of the year. Zonoff also has remote personnel located in California, Washington State and Germany.
 
Source: Matt Calderone and Sarah Borton, LaunchSquad for Zonoff
Writer: Elise Vider

'Partnering' revolution in biotech comes to Philly along with international conference

When we think of the human element in medicine, we might think of the doctor who interacts with the patient in need of treatment. But thanks to a burgeoning revolution in the biopharmaceutical industry, there are thousands of other face-to-face meetings that need to happen long before any drug even reaches a trial, let alone the market.

In the biotech industry, these connections are called "partnering," and it’s a vital piece of the Biotechnology Industry Organization's (BIO) 2015 BIO International Convention, coming to the Pennsylvania Convention Center June 15-18. The Washington, D.C.-based BIO is the world’s largest trade association for biotech companies, academic institutions and government science centers, and organizers say the convention will draw about 15,000 people from 30 countries (about one third of attendees will come from outside the U.S.).

"The 2015 BIO International Convention is where the global biotech community meets," explains BIO Director of Partnering Sougato Das.

Das calls Partnering "biotech-pharma speed-dating," and this year, it’s happening thanks to BIO’s new propriety software system, One-on-One Partnering, developed by BIO and INOVA.

The BIO convention will be packed with CEOs and other executives from biotech companies all over the world, working to advance everything from medicine and human health to industrial, environmental and agricultural technology, as well as biomanufacturing, genomics, nanotechnology and more. Picture an area the size of a football field, outfitted with hundreds of cubicles for face-to-face meetings. 

That's where the One-on-One platform comes in. Companies or institutions that want to pitch their promising biotech advances can use the software to connect with companies looking to invest in and/or develop and market their innovations. The system allows participants to enter their companies' details, their individual conference schedules, and invitations to the people they need to meet. The software automates the rest, generating a schedule for everyone that maximizes the crucial face-to-face time that powers the modern industry.

During the June conference, organizers estimate that over 29,000 meetings will take place among the 6,000 or so attendees who will participate on the Partnering platform. That means over 1,100 different meetings per hour at the conference’s peak times.  

Why are these meetings important? According to Das, to understand that you have to understand how the biotech and biopharmaceutical industries have changed since the 1950s and 60s. Back then, the massive companies of today like Merck and Pfizer were getting started, employing tens of thousands of in-house scientists and researchers who developed relatively simple drugs with mass-market applications.

Today, what Das dubs the "low-hanging fruit" of new drug development is gone and researchers are working on more complicated molecules, compounds and drugs for more targeted consumer audiences. Instead of discovering and developing new drugs or other biotech innovations in-house, throngs of scientists, researchers, academics, investors and businesses participate in a much broader-based search for the next big breakthrough. But that takes meetings -- lots of meetings.

"There’s more variety out there," says Das. "All they have to do is meet with these people who have these new biotechnology innovations out there and say, show me what you got -- let’s see if it’s a fit for my company."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sougato Das, Biotechnology Industry Organization
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