A bustling summer at the Pennovation Center

It was a season full of excitement, to kick off an academic year that will, undoubtedly, see even more fulfillment.

The bustle of a fresh school year won’t overshadow all that was accomplished during the summer. It’s the dog days that allowed entrepreneurs—especially those working at the Pennovation Center—to put their heads down, finally having the time to press forward on some of their biggest plans.

Arianna Armelli, a School of Design alumna, presents her company Dorothy at the Pennovation Accelerator pitch day.

At least that was the case for those involved in the Pennovation Accelerator. In its first year, the summer cohort of companies participated in a six-week program, working with startup experts on market positioning, business and team formation, market strategy, and much, much more. The Accelerator, which was fully subsidized for all recent Penn graduates, concluded with a final pitch day at the end of July.

“We wanted to leverage our internal resources and expertise to deliver what we thought was a really strong program for early stage startups,” says Laurie Actman, chief marketing, communications, and programs officer for the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI). “We wanted to provide a landing pad and next steps for Penn teams who recently graduated, as well as folks who had no connection to Penn.”

maker faire
The Hershey Co., which hosts its Hershey Labs at the Pennovation Center, was featured at the Philadelphia Mini Maker Faire.

Teams that participated in the Accelerator, which was run by PCI, PCI Ventures, 1776, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, included the crews behind Simply Good Jars, which created an affordable, healthy alternative to typical vending machine meals; Dorothy, a platform for average homeowners to assess the risk level of their home prior to a predicted disaster; and Victoria Wright, which provides online and mobile shopping for made-to-measure garments for working women. They’d meet as a group every Monday, spend the week working on assignments, and reconvene on Fridays to present their findings to each other. Mentoring sessions, Actman says, were built into the schedule as well.

“The ideas were different from a lot of the companies we typically work with,” notes Actman, who compared the program, in a sense, to Penn I-Corps. (She added that graduates of the Pennovation Accelerator are eligible for Penn I-Corps, and that she’s working to align the programs more in the future.)

Avisi Technologies, a recent President’s Innovation Prize winner, moved into the Pennovation Center at the beginning of the summer.

A success, in part because of the hiring of Jaime Sweet as the Pennovation Center program manager, Actman says the Accelerator will be offered again next summer, and will build upon feedback from the first cohort. One goal is to continue to “engage and partner with more entrepreneurial centers at Penn,” Actman says, “so that the entire Penn and greater Philadelphia community can better leverage the program as a resource.” 

Of all, Actman says, the Accelerator helped boost the community at the Pennovation Center. 

“We want to create a wider variety of companies who are in the mix down there, and we also want to make the Center a real acceleration resource for companies,” she says. “While we had programs there that weren’t formal accelerators this summer, we want to make sure we are offering the best focused resources we can to get companies further along in their life cycle.”

The Accelerator, Actman adds, contributed to the buzz at the Center, which seems these days to never die down—even during the summer.

“It’s really bustling, it’s just amazing how much it’s grown since it opened,” she says. 

coding class
The Pennovation Center was home to an ongoing School of Arts and Sciences’ “coding boot camp” for continuing education, led specifically by the College of Liberal and Professional Studies.

In addition to being a home-base for Penn laboratories and numerous companies, including Avisi Technologies, a recent President’s Innovation Prize winner, the Pennovation Center this summer featured special talks, concerts, job fairs, meetups, and startup showcases. It hosted an ongoing School of Arts and Sciences’ “coding boot camp” for continuing education, led specifically by the College of Liberal and Professional Studies in partnership with Triology Education Services. There was the daylong Philadelphia Mini Maker Faire, showcasing drones, robots, art, virtual reality, 3D printers, and more. Also, the space served as a classroom for the Steppingstone Scholars program, where it taught courses co-developed with the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Soon enough, JPOD @ Philadelphia, a partnership between Penn and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, which was announced in July, will officially open, too.

The Center serves as the hub at the Pennovation Works’ 23-acre development, where approximately 85 companies and 350 innovators are currently located. It was a summer full of excitement in this innovation ecosystem, to kick off an academic year that will, undoubtedly, see even more ideas “going to work.” 

Stay up-to-date on all things Pennovation, including events, programs, news and more, by visiting its website or following @PennovationCenter on Facebook, @Pennovation on Twitter, and @PennovationCtr on Instagram.