University of Pennsylvania Establishes Penn Center for Innovation

President Amy Gutmann today announced the launch of the Penn Center for Innovation, a new initiative that will provide the infrastructure, leadership and resources needed to transfer promising Penn inventions, know-how and related assets into the marketplace for the public good.   

“The Penn Center for Innovation will maximize our mission as a research university of putting knowledge into practice for the good of our community and society,” said Penn president Amy Gutmann. “‘Pennovation’—our ability to advance both basic discovery and the society-improving applications those discoveries enable—makes Penn a leader in this vitally important field. The Penn Center for Innovation also will transform our region’s capacity to support an ecosystem of innovative entrepreneurs, companies and workers all making essential contributions to our collective economic future.”

“Congratulations to President Gutmann and the University of Pennsylvania on this exciting announcement,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “The Penn Center for Innovation will be a tremendous addition to Philadelphia’s rapidly expanding innovation ecosystem in which academic institutions, major corporations, city government and a vibrant startup community are combining to make Philadelphia one of the most dynamic cities for innovation and entrepreneurship in the United States.”

The Penn Center for Innovation consolidates and unifies the University’s Center for Technology Transfer with other campus organizations devoted to the commercial advancement of University research and development, allowing for a more streamlined experience for Penn researchers and potential business and industry partners. The Center’s new website provides step-by-step instructions and other personalized resources for individuals ranging all the way from student inventors to venture capitalists.

Maximizing the ability of Penn researchers to partner with the commercial and industrial sector is in service of Penn’s highest goals.

“The University’s strategic vision, Penn Compact 2020, revolves around three major concepts: inclusion, innovation and impact,” said Dawn Bonnell, the University's vice provost for research. “The Penn Center for Innovation is our way of achieving two of these three goals at once, by giving our innovations the best chance to impact the world at large. ”


Most major universities have technology transfer practices that focus predominantly on patenting and licensing,” said John Swartley, Penn’s associate vice provost for research and executive director of the Penn Center for Innovation. “As we have become more involved in advancing technologies into the development sphere, we've also started to engage more and more in complementary activities such as new venture creation and corporate partnering around collaboratively sponsored research projects. What we've decided to do at Penn is to combine all those activities into a single organization, to be a one-stop shop for our faculty, staff and students as well as members of the private sector.”

Swartley has been part of the Center for Technology Transfer’s leadership team since 2007, and oversaw the establishment of the organization’s UPstart Company Formation Program, a groundbreaking new model for University venture creation. UPstart now boasts a portfolio of over 50 companies, including Nelum Sciences, which develops transparent coatings that keep solar panels clean, CytoVas, developing high-throughput diagnostic tests for patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease, Graphene Frontiers, commercial scale production of high quality graphene sheets, and RightCare Solutions, which produces software packages designed to ensure patients are healthy enough to leave the hospital before they are discharged.

To support the launch of the Penn Center for Innovation, senior executives will be joining Swartley’s leadership team, including Laurie Actman as Chief Operating Officer. Actman brings strong qualifications and executive level experience to the Center and Penn. She joins the Penn Center for Innovation from the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation where she served as both deputy and interim director for one of the five national Energy Innovation Hubs established as public-private research partnerships by the Obama administration. 

Some of the Penn Center for Innovation’s programs and activities, particularly those focused on new venture creation, will be housed at the Pennovation Center, a forthcoming building renovation project that will anchor the research park under development at Penn’s South Bank. The Pennovation Center will also act as a business incubator and accelerator that will provide lab space and a nexus for collaboration, creativity and the exchange of ideas for innovators from all disciplines.

Penn’s South Bank has been attracting tenants from the fields of arts, culture and science since 2010, including University research facilities and spin-off companies founded through the UPstart program. Among them are the Penn Dental Research Greenhouse, where Henry Daniell, a professor in the School of Dental Medicine, grows plants genetically engineered to contain vaccines and other medicines, and KMel Robotics, a Penn spin-off company founded by two School of Engineering and Applied Sciences alumni, which designs and builds flying robots. Independent local companies, such as beverage producer Jin+Ja and publisher Edible Philly have also already established a presence at the park.

Other Penn Center for Innovation offices are being established in key locations across campus to where innovations are being developed, such as the Perelman School of Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. This on-the-ground approach is part of the Center’s larger initiative to streamline the client experience for individual researchers who have discoveries or developments that are ripe for commercialization and improve the ability to connect them with potential partners in the private sector.

“The Penn Center for Innovation is the next evolution of the technology transfer process,” Swartley said. “It will be capable of combining patenting, licensing, alliance building, corporate contracting and new venture creation into integrated products and services that are immensely valuable to our partners inside and outside of Penn, and will facilitate moving technologies out of the university laboratories and into the developmental capabilities of the private sector, fostering both job creation and economic development.”

Story Photo