Text by Lauren Hertzler
It’s been an exciting year for the Pennovation Center, which kicked off its grand opening in October 2016.
Since the Pennovation Center’s founding in 2016, one of the many visions of its purpose has been to serve as a stepping stone for Philadelphia startups.
The 58,000-square-foot Pennovation Center has served as an anchor for Pennovation Works in Grays Ferry.
The idea, says Anne Papageorge, vice president for Facilities and Real Estate Services at Penn, is to accommodate the growth of young companies as they move from the Pennovation Center’s co-working area, offices, and labs to even larger spaces outside of the Center, but still on the 23-acre Pennovation Works development site.
One company in particular, COSY, a spinout of Penn’s GRASP lab, has demonstrated that this goal is attainable. The growing startup, which was the first tenant in one of the Pennovation Center’s six inventor garages last year, moved its nearly 20 employees to the third floor of the Office Building at Pennovation Works earlier this month. The 25,000-square-foot Office Building underwent $3.8 million in renovations, which were completed in August.
Ed Datz, Penn’s executive director of real estate, says the Office Building renovations were advanced as a result of the success of the private office space within the Pennovation Center. The newly renovated building, he adds, is already 40 percent leased.
Jonas Cleveland, founder of COSY, moved his growing company out of the Pennovation Center and into a larger space, still at Pennovation Works.
A feasibility study of the 69,000-square-foot Lab Building, also at Pennovation Works, was recently completed. This space will provide additional lab and office space as part of the Pennovation Center’s “graduation strategy,” says Papageorge.
“It also is about having graduating space beyond the Pennovation Center for those that don’t fall into the incubator or new company category, but for people who still want to be in our community,” she explains. “They want to be part of the ecosystem we are creating here.”
These plans provide evidence that the Pennovation Center has thrived in its first year. Overall, Papageorge says, “Performance is ahead of budget, and we are pleased with the progress and evolution.”
From the top down, the Pennovation Center is buzzing. Every day, Datz says, at least 25 to 50 students are working at PERCH, or the Penn Engineering Research and Collaboration Hub, located on the third floor. On the first and second floors, the Penn Center for Innovation Ventures might be holding office hours or hosting events with co-working space operator Benjamin’s Desk, while Pennovation Center members work from their personal co-working spaces, labs, private offices, or shared conference rooms. Events throughout the year have also taken place outside at the Center’s refinished plaza.
The Pennovation Center features co-working and event space, conference rooms, private offices, and wet and dry labs.
Qualcomm, the Fortune 500 company that acquired KMel Robotics, established its Philadelphia research office on site and recently moved into a nearly 10,000-square-foot space connected to the Pennovation Center, while the Hershey Co. maintains its 1,000-square-foot space on the Center’s second floor for its Advanced Technology & Foresight Lab.
Last year at this time, there were about 50 people who worked at the Pennovation Center. “Now there are 250 people and more than 60 companies at the Pennovation Works site,” Datz says.
In addition, Papageorge says, shuttle services have been expanded, and plans are set for PennDOT to improve striping for the safety of the bicycle and pedestrian crossings.
“This year we’ve gone from being a site to now a place—a place of innovation activity,” says Papageorge. “A place where ideas go to work.”