Pennovation: Spurring Growth and Innovation in Philadelphia
In September 2016, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) officially opened The Pennovation Center, a 58,000 square-foot facility that allows researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs to plant and grow a business. To learn more about this new center and the economic and community development it is spurring in West Philadelphia, we spoke to Anne Papageorge, Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services at Penn, and Paul Sehnert, Director of Penn Real Estate Development.
What is Pennovation and how does it encourage company growth?
Pennovation Works, a 23-acre innovation ecosystem where ideas go to work, was born at the University of Pennsylvania adjacent to its campus a few years ago, with the goal of bridging the gap between tech transfer and the schools where the discoveries were being made.
The first phase of Pennovation Works was the Pennovation Center, a hub which had an official grand opening last fall. Young companies need fertilization to grow, and Pennovation provides several resources that give them that support. Led by Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) Ventures, the space gives them the ability to rent starter labs, expand operations, loan equipment, and participate in valuable networking and educational programming. PCI Ventures identifies and supports Pennovation Center members with training, mentoring, and guidance on the path to commercialization. Benjamin’s Desk, the building operator, manages the co-working experience for individuals and teams.
Since opening, we’ve hosted close to 75 events which brought more than 6,000 people through the Pennovation Center’s doors, including a seminar on implementing Keystone Innovation Zones and events during Philly Tech Week and the Philadelphia Science Festival.
What success have you seen since Pennovation’s inception?
Ahead of expectations for our lab and office lease plan, it’s clear we’re meeting a need for graduates and entrepreneurs, new companies, and more established industries. Take Qualcomm Research Philadelphia, for example. After an engagement that began in 2015 with the company’s acquisition of startup KMel Robotics working out of Pennovation, San-Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. established their Philadelphia Research location presence. Founded by two Penn alumni, KMel developed experimental robotics — essentially small robots with four different propellers each spinning at different speeds. This summer, Qualcomm Philadelphia Research expanded with a move into a new 10,000-square-foot lab onsite, adjoining the Pennovation Center.
Cognitive Operational Systems, Inc. (COSY), a spinoff from Penn’s GRASP Research Laboratory, provides industry solutions in computer vision, perception, and artificial intelligence. COSY combines artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision to enable Internet of Things (IOT) devices to locate themselves and map out indoor spaces. COSY’s SCOUT solution powers automated mapping of inventory by large retailers and warehouses. COSY was the first company to rent an Inventor Garage in the Pennovation Center, while their main office is located in another building on the Pennovation Works campus.
“Pennsylvania is a major robotics hub. Penn has been a great partner in supporting the startup ecosystem of their alumni and faculty. The Pennovation Center is a fruition of this — it’s a place where entrepreneurs, researchers, and stakeholders come together,” said Jonas Cleveland, CEO and Founder at COSY, and Penn alum.
All of the lab and office space at the Pennovation Center was virtually occupied within the first quarter of opening, and we’re already designing a future tenant space. Pennovation Works development plans include newly renovated space in the 24,000-square-foot Office Building coming online and a feasibility study of the 69,000-square-foot main Lab Building underway.
How are you enabling entrepreneurs to live happy?
We strive to define the city as a vibrant community for startups and technology firms, and attract new entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from around the world. We also hope to inspire our smart, talented graduates from Penn and Philadelphia universities to reinvest their education by choosing to live and work here.
Ten years ago, Penn graduates would head to Silicon Valley, but now we offer a real career path so our graduates can start and grow a successful company here, with a lower cost of living than New York or Washington D.C. It’s truly a place for them to work smart and live happy.
Anne Papageorge, Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services
Anne Papageorge is the Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services at the University of Pennsylvania. She joined the University in October 2006 and is responsible for planning; design and construction; facilities operations, maintenance, and utilities; and real estate operations and development.
Paul Sehnert, Director of Penn Real Estate Development
As Director of Penn Real Estate Development, Paul Sehnert manages the development and acquisition processes for a portfolio of real estate assets controlled by Penn. He directs and manages University Real Estate development projects, including initiating and recommending development strategies, negotiating and structuring joint ventures for development, preparing feasibility studies and valuation analysis, and providing asset management, acquisition due diligence, and project management oversight.