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To grow startups, a Philadelphia institution looks west

The University City Science Center is looking west, way beyond 40th Street, all the way to Pittsburgh. Their Phase 1 Ventures (P1V) program was founded in 2015 as a regional initiative. Now it is expanding across the state with partnerships at Penn State Hershey, the main campus in State College, and most recently, the University of Pittsburgh.

P1V is the Science Center’s startup accelerator for launching companies around long-horizon but high-potential technologies; target sectors include healthcare, materials and energy. Entrepreneurs are either matched to a technology at one of P1V’s participating universities or enrolled as part of a previously formed company that has not yet raised financing. They take on a short-term formal role as the business lead — typically 12-18 months. If the company is successful in securing funding, that triggers a re-evaluation of the entrepreneur’s role moving forward and, by mutual consent, they may move into a permanent position.

“Phase 1 Ventures is making the geographic gap between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh just a little bit less of a divide for commercialization in Pennsylvania,” explains Science Center President and CEO Stephen S. Tang. “Partnerships like the one that the Science Center and Pitt are forging mean that inventors and entrepreneurs can access the resources they need to create great new companies — regardless of where they are.”

APO Technologies, the first Pitt/Science Center project, is a startup “developing a technology that facilitates extremely accurate prostheses fittings, thereby reducing physical discomfort and wear-and-tear, as well as the need for recurring re-fitting visits,” explains Peter Melley, the Science Center’s Director of New Ventures. “By making a better fit from the beginning, it requires fewer adjustments moving forward and leads to better outcomes for users.”

The technology was developed by Goeran Fiedler, assistant professor in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and former Pitt faculty member Jonathan Akins, now at Widener University.

“The intellectual property originated from and is managed at Pitt, but work is also being done at Widener,” says Melley. “They are at the prototype stage and have a first- and second-phase model. They have retained a business lead (thanks to a connection made through the P1V program) and are in the process of pursuing grant funding opportunities from both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as others.”

“We had been looking to engage with Pittsburgh in general, and Pitt in particular, for the past few years,” he adds. “Given the level of NIH funding and activity in Pittsburgh, it was a natural fit with our work here in Greater Philadelphia. We receive limited, targeted funding support from the Commonwealth, and we jump at opportunities to leverage those resources and work with other organizations across the state.”

“While the Greater Philadelphia region has a core strength in this area, promising technologies are also being developed outside the region,” says Melley. “We see opportunities to connect the work and the assets we have here to technologies and people beyond our region, and will continue to do so as appropriate.”

Indeed, some of the 19 companies in P1V’s portfolio “have teams [with] key members in Austin, Boston and Indianapolis, so far,” he adds. “We will look to wherever to find the right pieces to accelerate the technologies in our portfolio. It’s not a zero-sum game. We want to be one-plus-one-equals-five across the board.”

ELISE VIDER is news editor of Keystone Edge.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center, Keystone Edge and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at Quorum, the Science Center’s clubhouse for entrepreneurs at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

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