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Penn celebrates opening of new innovation hub

October 29, 2016 GMT

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann and Comcast’s David L. Cohen, chair of Penn’s Board of Trustees, welcomed more than 1,200 attendees to the grand opening ceremony of the Pennovation Center.

The festivities on Friday marked the official launch of the new three-story, 58,000-square-foot center. The center opened in September as Penn’s new hub for innovation and new business ventures at 3401 Grays Ferry Ave.

“The Pennovation Center is an iconic new landmark for Penn’s innovation ecosystem and a dynamic place to facilitate and accelerate entrepreneurial activities,” Gutmann said in a release.

“With the Center as an incubator, Penn is bringing together the university’s eminent researchers and scientists and our extraordinary students with the private sector to spur on creative exploration, entrepreneurship, and new alliances.

“The Pennovation Center truly is where ideas go to work,” she continued. “This dynamic community has the power to translate new ideas and research into products, into ventures, into services that will have real impact and the ability to change our world.”

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The Pennovation Center’s design by New York-based architects Hollwich Kushner has transformed the former industrial warehouse’s northern façade radically reconstructing the entrance with angular juxtaposing panes of glass, a reflection of the robust research, creativity and entrepreneurial activity taking place inside. The glass façade also offers views of the Schuylkill River, Penn’s campus and the Center City skyline.

“Research and exploration are at the heart of innovation at Penn,” said Dawn Bonnell, vice provost for research. “Anchored by Penn Engineering Research and Collaboration Hub, the Pennovation Center, with both wet and dry labs, shared lab-support equipment, meeting rooms, co-working spaces and startup inventor garages, is creating a new model for advancing knowledge, through research collaboration and entrepreneurialism in areas such as medicine, informatics, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology and energy science.”

The center has already attracted 20 different companies and more than 100 individuals occupying its labs, inventor garages, and office space; including IT biotechnology startups having spun out of Penn, Liquid Biotech USA, Blue Pen Biomarkers and CytoVas; robotics start up COSY; Fortune 500 companies such as Hershey and Qualcomm, and a host of technologists, researchers and venture capitalists inside its co-working space managed by Benjamin’s Desk.

Penn’s technology transfer organization, the Penn Center for Innovation, has located PCI Ventures, its business incubator inside the building for providing start up services to support the growth of new companies that emerge from ideas generated in the building.

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The third floor houses PERCH, Penn Engineering Research and Collaboration Hub, designed to accelerate the university’s lab-to-market technology transfer pipeline in robotics, the “internet of things,” embedded systems, and other emerging areas of interdisciplinary engineering focused on applications of immediate social and technical value.

Completion of the Pennovation Center, and the first phase of the 23-acre Pennovation Works site improvements, are part of a $37.5 million investment by Penn aimed at supporting a more dynamic culture of innovation by aligning individual entrepreneurs and startups from the University with the private sector.

“The Pennovation Center design represents a collective effort and significant, highly visible leap forward in the larger vision of planning the entire Pennovation Works,” said Anne Papageorge, vice president for facilities and real estate services. “Its architecture, landscape, signage and programming reflects the innovative, collaborative ventures taking place within.”

The creative design team, which collaborated with Penn on the project includes Hollwich Kushner, design architect; KSS Architects, architect of record; landscape architects Land Collective; and consultants Bruce Mau Design.

A highlight of the grand opening celebration brought Gutmann to the main stage in discussion with Penn alums Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, co-founders and co-CEOs of Warby Parker.

The presentation culminated in the ribbon cutting, and at the pivotal moment, the ground-based quadruped robot, “Minitaur,” the first product of Ghost Robotics, a PERCH spin-off company, ambled on stage to deliver a pair of 18-inch, 3-D fabricated scissors to Gutmann.