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Connecting residents to mentors and talent in the innovation ecosystem.
It’s all about the power of the network. Nick Siciliano, CEO of Invisible Sentinel, began his career as a consultant for his undergraduate mentor’s Science Center-based company, Integral Molecular. Today, the molecular diagnostics company that he founded with partner Ben Pascal in 2006 shares the 9th floor of 3711 Market Street with Integral Molecular, another graduate of the Port business incubator. While Invisible Sentinel was initially attracted to the Science Center because of this early relationship, the company has remained due to the value of the connections and exposure provided by the Science Center. Situated within an ecosystem of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, Invisible Sentinel regards their Science Center location among University City’s pool of talent and mentors as “the epicenter of biotechnology in the Philadelphia region.”
In 2006, Nick Siciliano and Ben Pascal established Invisible Sentinel at the Science Center’s Port business incubator with the vision of designing rapid, easy-to-deploy, and affordable molecular diagnostics technology to detect pathogens that cause illness in hospitals and other clinical settings. Regulatory hurdles and mandatory clinical trials made commercialization in health care settings expensive and time consuming. These time and cost requirements proved to be barriers to enter the clinical marketplace. These setbacks, coupled with the difficulty of raising capital during the downturn of the economy in 2008–2009, led the young entrepreneurs to pivot and seek alternatives to clinical applications.
Throughout these early-stage challenges, the Science Center’s Port business incubator was there to help. Science Center staff facilitated connections to business service providers who assisted the company with establishing its R&D facility at the Port in 2009. While Invisible Sentinel was going through an exploratory process to find other industries to apply their technology, the Science Center provided the exposure that helped attract experienced professionals to advise the company. Many of these relationships continue to this day. Indeed, Invisible Sentinel’s Executive Chairman Paul Touhey is the former CEO of FujiRebio Diagnostics, Inc., and a former member of the Science Center’s Board of Directors. As Siciliano explains, “Icons in the industry make up our executive committee. We would not have the privilege of working with them without the early exposure that the Science Center facilitated.”
A sweeping food safety regulatory change in 2011 offered an opportunity for Invisible Sentinel to pivot their product into food safety. The Food Safety Modernization Act emphasized science-based preventative controls to achieve higher food safety standards. Invisible Sentinel established their products to detect foodborne pathogens and improve the quality of wine and beer in a way that was easy to deploy and simple to interpret. The success of the simple molecular diagnostics tool launched the expansion of Invisible Sentinel’s manufacturing facility for food diagnostics at the Science Center in mid-2012. Invisible Sentinel now works with popular wine and beer manufacturers including Jackson Family Wines, Victory Brewing Company, and Yards Brewing Company. The company’s growing global reach, with new customers in Europe, South America, and Australia and New Zealand, helps strengthen Greater Philadelphia’s export market.
The founders of Invisible Sentinel were able to bring the company from concept to commercialization with the support of the Science Center. By August 2014, the company graduated from the Port and relocated its headquarters and manufacturing facility to a larger custom-built, dedicated space in the same building, where they doubled their number of employees from 2014 to 2015 and are projected to double their company size again in 2016. The Science Center leveraged state funds through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, allowing Invisible Sentinel to triple the size of their manufacturing facilities in support of high-priority manufacturing job growth initiatives.
Invisible Sentinel is dedicated to growing their business in the region, says Chief Business Officer Ben Pascal. “We’re proud to be a Science Center resident and we’ve made a commitment to the City of Philadelphia. The region has been good for us, and we see no need to change a winning formula!”
The six companies that have graduated from the Port and elected to stay at the Science Center include Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, Bio Nano Genomics (since moved to California), Integral Molecular,
Invisible Sentinel, Optofluidics and Pulsar Informatics.