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University City Science Center shifts focus ahead of move to new HQ

Business incubation runs deep in the University City Science Center’s veins. President and CEO Stephen Tang would argue it pioneered the modern-day concept — the highest award in the business incubation space is named after Randall Whaley, the Science Center’s former president, for example — but now, a new partnership with the Cambridge Innovation Center, or CIC, is changing the Science Center’s game.

“We are leaving the incubator business, but we will continue in the incubation of businesses,” Tang said.

That means the Science Center will no longer oversee its shared lab and office spaces once it moves to its new, 14-story, 345,000 square-foot building at 3675 Market in the third quarter of 2018. CIC, its anchor tenant, will take on the responsibility instead, allowing the Science Center to double-down on investing in programming and other initiatives that could benefit startups.

“It was a business decision on our part, but also a view toward how we grow and foster entrepreneurship in our ecosystem,” Tang said.

It’s a significant change for the Science Center, which plans to expand its events and programs like its Digital Health Accelerator and Phase 1 Ventures and ramp up its efforts to build a “more powerful pipeline of companies” in the region.

The combination of CIC planting its flag in Philadelphia for the first time and the Science Center’s expansion of its acceleration and commercialization efforts are designed to add fuel to the fire that’s already burning in the region’s startup ecosystem, Tang said, adding success in that arena would make for a stronger Greater Philadelphia economy.

“We have the chance to really accelerate the growth of our ecosystem and our campus to be a destination location for high-growth companies and high-growth industries,” Tang said. “I think that will benefit our region and our city immensely.”

CIC operates coworking spaces in Boston, Cambridge, Mass., Miami, and St. Louis, as well as Rotterdam, Netherlands, that it describes as inclusive, top-of-the-line facilities with office space and wet lab space (in Miami and St. Louis) aimed at growing both startups and innovation districts where they're located.

It also runs its own programs including Venture Cafe, a kind of half-day mini conference that draws up to 400 participants at each location every week. Starting in the fall of 2018, CIC will bring Venture Cafe to the new Science Center’s expanded, two-story Quorum (its own coworking and event space) every Thursday afternoon.

“It is a great time to play an active role in building the Philadelphia innovation community. More importantly, making sure Philadelphia startups have access to a global network will accelerate innovation and economic growth,” Travis Sheridan, president of the CIC Venture Cafe Global Institute, said in a statement. “We believe innovation is a process to improve the human condition and solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. Facilitating a weekly opportunity for hundreds of smart people to connect, learn and serendipitously collide will strengthen the Philadelphia community.”

The partnership between the two will also extend into its community management and development, with the Science Center planning on hiring a new vice president of ecosystem development to be responsible for Quorum and Venture Cafe.

“We’ll try to bring the best of CIC’s template and Venture Cafe’s template with our proven successes both as an events site and a community,” Tang said, adding their relationship is tailored specifically to Philadelphia and unique for CIC. They don’t do this is any other location.”

To him, CIC’s move into the city represents more than just the physical changes unfolding on Market Street, it’s also an outward-facing sign of trust in the city’s innovation economy. Like the Science Center, they’ve invested significant funds in the UCity Square development. The new 3675 Market building is jointly owned by the Science Center and real estate company Wexford Science & Technology and has pre-leased about half of its available space.

“It’s validating because CIC has put money where their mouth is,” he said.

When officials from all three partners, including more than 30 of CIC’s colleagues from Cambridge and Miami, came to Philadelphia Wednesday for an event marking the partnership and unveiling the new details, they asked Tang what he thought the development would wind up looking like. Citing the residential tower at 3601 Market and 3737 Chestnut, the affordability of living in University City compared to Cambridge and the power of a live-work-play local economy, he made a bold prediction.

“I said ‘It’s going to look just like Cambridge,” he said, with a caveat: “Only better.”

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Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing