The University City Science Center is strengthening diversity in the science, technology, engineering and math fields one investment at a time. The nonprofit quietly released its 2018-2019 impact report this summer, detailing impressive progress in supporting commercialization, connecting the region’s innovators, and cultivating the STEM talent pipeline.
While much attention has been paid to the incubator’s swanky new office space at 3675 Market Street, not much has been said about the Science Center’s first fully cumulative annual report, which shows particularly strong investment in women, minority, and immigrant-founded startups. Through aggregated data, the 2018-2019 report showed, for the first time, just how strongly the Science Center has invested in historically underfunded groups in business.
The numbers speak volumes.
According to the report, in 2018, the Science Center invested more than $1.8 million in 149 businesses and projects. Of the companies supported, 40 percent have foreign-born founders, 42 percent have female founders, and 48 percent — nearly half of all businesses the Science Center supported in 2018 — have minority founders.
The executive director of Select Greater Philadelphia, Matt Cabrey, said he’s not at all surprised by the stats.
“It doesn’t surprise me because this has really been a part of the history and the mission of the Science Center dating back to 1963 when it was founded. It also doesn’t surprise me because the Science Center, in more recent years, has gotten really good at cultivating relationships with international audiences; it’s definitely an area of importance and investment for them in terms of providing resources,” Cabrey said.
“It’s a really good thing, not just for the Science Center and University City, but also for the region.”
Businesses founded by just about any group other than white males tend to face difficulty generating startup funding.
A 2018 report by Morgan Stanley found women and minority-owned businesses, on average, receive 80 percent less investment than the median investment in businesses overall. The same report found, among the investors polled, that nearly 40 percent of men believe investing in women-owned businesses is not a priority at all. While immigrant-owned businesses tend to start with higher levels of startup capital than non-immigrant-owned businesses, the U.S. Small Business Administration found roughly two-thirds of immigrant-owned businesses are forced to rely on personal or family savings for startup capital, just like their non-foreign born counterparts.
Science Center marketing director Kristen Fitch says the nonprofit is particularly proud to invest in businesses run by groups of entrepreneurs who often face significant barriers in building and growing businesses.
“Our programs are designed to help businesses grow sustainably and hire in the region,” Fitch said. “When we take an unbiased look at the range of opportunities, there is both unmet demand and uncommon strength in diverse communities. There is always more work to be done, but we’re laser-focused on improving diversity and supporting the best ideas.”
The Science Center’s Digital Health Accelerator (DHA), one of the incubator’s most competitive programs, was specifically designed to remove any identifying information about the founding team or the origins of the technology from the selection process. This allows the selection committee to zero in on the ingenuity of the company’s idea and removes the potential for bias in decision making based on demographics. This approach has resulted in success for 20 companies from three DHA cohorts who have collectively raised over $70 million and generated $27 million in revenue, with over half of the founders being women, minority and/or immigrant-founded.
Programs like the DHA make it clear that the Science Center is not investing in diverse business owners because of their race, ethnicity, gender or nationality. They’re investing because their ideas are good.
Here are five companies with diverse founders that are thriving with Science Center support:
Lithero is an ic@3401 company devoted to expediting the process of promotional regulatory compliance materials for the life sciences industry. They have developed a proprietary AI tool that reviews content automatically for compliance, removing the need for lengthy manual reviews of treatment messaging, thereby speeding content delivery. By making marketing processes less manual, the Lithero Artificial Review Assistant (LARA) helps lower costs for pharmaceutical companies. The company’s goal is to save time and money so pharma companies can ultimately lower costs for patients at the pharmacy counter.
The One Health Company is the first precision medicine company for dogs with cancer. The company’s mission is to cure cancer in dogs and people. What One Health learns in dogs, they then translate to people and vice versa. The company participated in the second class of the Science Center’s Digital Health Accelerator. Coinciding with their large seed funding raise last year, Lopes relocated to the west coast but the company maintains a presence in Philadelphia.
Treena Arinzeh participated in the Science Center’s QED program, receiving funding, access to a business advisor, support in developing a business plan and a commercialization pathway for further development of technology created in her laboratory at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Arinzeh’s lab developed a bone graft substitute that can be used to treat skeletal defects that may result due to trauma or disease. She is now in the process of starting a business with mentors that she met in the program.
UE LifeSciences (UELS)
UE LifeSciences was founded in 2009 with technology out of Drexel University, which was supported via the Science Center’s QED program. The company also participated in the first class of the Science Center’s Digital Health Accelerator, and maintains membership at ic@3401. Their product, iBreastExam, is an FDA cleared, no-touch scanning device for non-palpable breast lumps. The product is hand-held and battery-powered, making it readily usable anywhere in the world, and has been used to scan over 200,000 women in 12 countries.
Medical device and pharmaceutical companies spend months gathering intelligence from disparate sources and preparing product registration submissions, oftentimes only to be rejected by health authorities. RegDesk is a medical regulatory company that attempts to solve that problem by tracking regulatory approval processes and changes to deliver valuable insights leveraging local experts. RegDesk is an ic@3401 company, a graduate of the third class of the Science Center’s Digital Health Accelerator, and participant in the first Global Startup Accelerator.