Like gossip spilling through the halls of a high school cafeteria, word is out. At first it was the faint whispers, but it quickly amplified to boisterous chatter. Philadelphia has everything a new business needs to build, scale, and stay.
It’s why my company, ImMAGE Biotherapeutics, has decided to establish a presence in the country’s fifth largest city.
With close proximity to venture capital, strong ties to some of the best academic institutions in the world and a massive talent pool that continues to grow, Philadelphia has always had a noticeable potential, especially in the biotechnology industry.
Although we still have a small team, and operations are headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland for now, establishing a desk at the University City Science Center is an important strategic decision. Here were some of the key determining factors:
Raising Early-Stage Capital
Venture capital -- a.k.a. “runway” -- is critical for startups, and Philadelphia recognizes that. In November of 2014, Philadelphia’s mayor at the time, Hon.Michael Nutter, announced grants for local entrepreneurs through a creative public-private partnership known as StartupPHL. This partnership has raised more than $1 million in seed funding or other angel investments to local startups since its establishment. A deserved hat tip to Josh Kopelman and First Round Capital as well, who initially helped to kick-start the initiative.
In 2015, a study conducted by professional services and investment management company, JLL, found that Philadelphia companies raised $118 million in venture capital between Q3 2013 and Q2 2014. It was also reported that venture capital jumped to $203 million between Q3 2014 and Q2 2015. To top it off, biotechnology led the city’s venture capital funding in 2015 with more than $160 million.
Philadelphia ranked #15 for the total number of early-stage funding deals among all metropolitan areas in 2014. Though the city is not able to directly match-up with San Francisco or New York City, Philadelphia can proudly claim that there is exponential growth from investment.
A Hub for Research and Development
The Greater Philadelphia region is also home to some of the nation’s top research-based institutions -- several that are known for their support of the startup community. My alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, is committed to the commercialization of research with PCI Ventures and the Pennovation Center. The institution helps entrepreneurs convert their ideas and discoveries into new products and businesses to benefit the community. Temple University and Drexel University have expanded lab programs in a concentrated effort to democratize innovation. These resources are determined to bring cross-disciplinary support, space and guidance entrepreneurs.
Strength In Numbers
At these universities, there is a built-in talent pool that continues to grow. Another study conducted by JLL found that Philadelphia’s millennial population has grown the fastest among the 10 largest United States cities ahead of New York, Chicago and Houston. Between 2006 and 2014, Philadelphia has added 120,600 millennials, which contributes to 26.5 percent of the citywide population. Not jumping to conclusions that all these millennials are entrepreneurs -- but this does make it easier to recruit for entry-level and managerial positions in our industry.
ImMAGE Biotherapeutics is committed to finding a better treatment for triple negative breast cancer, and we have a devoted strategic partner in Philadelphia. This is the next logical step for our company’s trajectory. Focused on immunotherapy, we know it’s a long haul before we reach our goal of putting a novel cancer therapy on the market. But, by plugging into the city’s established infrastructure, we’re confident in this decision. Philadelphia’s history of groundbreaking discoveries and world-leading research is in our favor.
We’re poised to make some noise, albeit in a laboratory, and not a cafeteria.