In a deal being touted as endorsement of a technology to make a safer food supply, BioMérieux, a French firm considered a premiere player in diagnosing infectious diseases worldwide, has acquired West Philadelphia-based Invisible Sentinel for $75 million.
Founded in 2006, Invisible Sentinel, headquartered in the University City Science Center, sells Veriflow, a patented technology that provides rapid detection of pathogens and spoilage organisms in food and beverages. More than one million of its tests have been sold since they went on the market in 2014. Those tests are currently in use in well more than 200 breweries and more than 100 wineries, and are also used to identify problems in poultry and the burgeoning protein shakes industry, among other areas.
Several observers said the purchase validated Philadelphia as a nurturing environment for young entrepreneurs.
“This really is the best outcome we could ever hope for,” said Nicholas Siciliano, Invisible Sentinel’s CEO, who cofounded the company with Benjamin Pascal, its chief business officer.
Siciliano said all of Invisible Sentinel’s 40 employees will be retained. The company will operate as a subsidiary of BioMérieux, which had $2.5 billion in sales last year. With $9 million in revenue in 2018, Invisible Sentinel turned profitable in the fourth quarter, Siciliano said.
In seeking a buyer, “the real dream was to continue to run the business and run it with more resources,” said Siciliano, who said raising capital “was always one of the more difficult things” since the company’s launch.
In all, Siciliano said, $24 million has been raised from 70 investors, including Bruce Peacock, a notable life sciences entrepreneur who also is executive chairman of CARMA Therapeutics in Philadelphia, and Paul Touhey, a Centocor veteran.
“It’s a great Philadelphia story,” said Touhey, executive chairman of Invisible Sentinel’s board. “Two young guys who had an idea and they were industrious enough to go around and get some angel investors to believe in the idea they had.”
The last couple years have brought purchase offers from “a lot of the bigger companies in the space,” Siciliano said. But Invisible Sentinel “took a head-down” approach in an effort to build revenue and turn profitable.
Attention turned to finding a suitable acquisition partner this year. Focused on in vitro diagnostics and food testing, BioMérieux says it will add Invisible Sentinel to its Gene-Up system for high-volume customers.
“This acquisition illustrates BioMérieux’s commitment to bring innovative solutions to customers of all sizes to ensure food and beverage quality and contribute to protecting consumer’shealth,” Nicolas Cartier, executive vice president at BioMérieux, said in a statement.
Invisible Sentinel’s success to this point is the result of a community of many, said Siciliano, 40, of Marlton. He cited not only its employees but investors, investment bankers, lawyers, and the University Science Center, which “did a lot of work showcasing our company and our story. That always helps growing capital.”
Touhey became an investor when, he said, the company was about six years old and trying to decide whether it wanted to sell then, let another company take it to commercialization, or get to that point on its own. Touhey had just served 10 years as CEO of Fujirebio Diagnostics Inc. in Malvern, a cancer division that Centocor sold off in 1998.
He was introduced to Siciliano and Pascal by Invisible Sentinel’s general counsel, Jeffrey Libson, of Cooley LLP.
“I immediately felt they were great guys,” said Touhey, who, as an industry veteran, wanted to help them avoid mistakes as they transitioned from R&D to commercialization. “It was great to see guys like Nick and Ben transition themselves from entrepreneurs to true solid business guys. For a guy like me, it’s what gets me up in the morning.”
Touhey heralded BioMérieux as having the resources to “get these [Invisible Sentinel] products in the hands of the food producers and consumers worldwide who need to make sure our food supply is safe,” adding that “a week doesn’t go by where you don’t see a report of E. Coli and listeria.”
The deal also “validates the Philadelphia area as one that is attractive to young entrepreneurs,” Touhey said. “There’s money. There’s infrastructure. There’s advisers that can ... bring some tremendous technology out of the science-project phase and into real-life use.”