Year in Review 2019


183,000                # square feet leased at the Pennovation Works site
65,000                 # square feet available to lease in new Lab Building, 
                               anticipated for completion in 2020
400+                    # people working daily within this innovation ecosystem
99                        % office and lab space leased at the Pennovation Center
79                        % dedicated space leased in the Office Building
70+                     # companies in the Works, including at the Pennovation Center
137                      # programs held at the Pennovation Center this year 
5000+                # people who attended events held at the Works
31,101                 # complimentary, on-demand shuttle rides made to the site
49                       # new Septa bus route that stops near site
100                     # puppies joined the Penn Vet Working Dog Center training program
18                       # resident JPOD @ Philadelphia companies  
15                       # local food trucks serving on site, rotating weekly

In 2019, Pennovation Works established itself as one of Philadelphia’s preeminent innovation ecosystems. Backed by the University of Pennsylvania, the 23-acre site hums with energy, driving innovative academic research toward commercial solutions in a variety of industries. Growing numbers of startups made up of researchers, entrepreneurs, and business experts work to find answers to some of the most pressing questions of our time, in fields including healthcare, biotechnology, robotics, and artificial intelligence, among others.

Members of the Pennovation community enjoy shared equipment and best-in-class facilities, affordable offices, wet labs, Inventor Garages, and coworking desks, access to capital resources, top talent, and global networks, industry expertise, interdisciplinary collaboration, robust resources, and invaluable programming.

We take a look back at the stats, stories, and snapshots that shaped another exceptional year in this ecosystem of innovation, where ideas go to work.




Everyone wants to see what “Pennovation” is all about: governmental and economic development planners, regional urban developers, campus architects and landscape designers, international business delegations, and Penn students and alumni, have requested tours of the Works site, and specifically the Pennovation Center. In 2019, tour guides saw an increased interest in the site and in programming, by both U.S. and international parties.


  • January: A group from Penn’s new Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology, which aims to turn the University into one of the premier energy research and technology centers in the nation, toured to explore its many opportunities for student-led innovation.

  • February: The Innovation Design Thinking team from the New Technology division of Church & Dwight, manufacturers of household and personal care products, toured to learn more about ways the Center is supporting innovative thinking in new businesses.
  • March: A delegation from Enterprise Ireland, an organization responsible for the growth of Irish enterprises, toured the Works campus in collaboration with Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development.
  • April: Masters students from the Penn Lauder Institute toured as part of their course, “Philadelphia: Multicultural Ecosystems of Startups” to learn about early-stage companies on site and how the Pennovation Center supports the Philadelphia entrepreneurial market.
  • May: Students and faculty from the Temple University Blackstone LaunchPad entrepreneurship group came to the Pennovation Center to learn about opportunities supporting startups across Philadelphia  – which led to applications for the Pennovation Accelerator and broader promotion of Center programs.
  • June: The Pennovation Center was an official stop on the BIO Conference "Cellicon Valley" Ecosystem Tour, where a group of 50+ attendees had the opportunity to learn about the vision and mission of Pennovation Works.
  • September: High school students participating in the Franklin Institute’s youth STEM program toured the Center to inspire their interest in tech, engineering, and life sciences.
  • Fifty professionals across the healthcare industry from all over the world came to the Pennovation Center as part of the Penn Master of Healthcare Innovation 1-week program. They heard presentations from Penn Center for Innovation Ventures (PCIV) and JPOD @ Philadelphia about the ways in which Penn and Johnson & Johnson are supporting the commercialization of healthcare startups.
  • Design students from the acclaimed Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) visited the Pennovation Center to learn about the architecture and design of the building. The Center’s award-winning façade was designed by architect Hollwich Kushner, and has been recognized throughout the international architecture community.
  • October: First-year students in PENNCAP, the Penn College Achievement Program, toured the Center to learn about startups and research coming out of Penn and Philadelphia, as well as internship opportunities and ways to get involved.
  • November: A group of students from the Wharton Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Club toured and met some of the Center’s founding members, learning about entrepreneurship opportunities for undergraduates at the University.



Pennovation Works has developed a presence at a number of industry events and tradeshows over the past few years.  This has led to funding prospects for Innovators, events being held on site, interest in leasing space, attention from journalists, press coverage and new partnerships.


  • In November, the Pennovation Center celebrated a year of JPOD@Philadelphia as well as a year of partnership between Penn and Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS. JPOD is a business and technology incubator housed at the Pennovation Center, which connects regional startups and entrepreneurs with the extended JLABS innovation network. Nearly 100 entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and members of the Penn community came together to hear stories, advice, and milestones reached by its inaugural cohort.  Year one highlights include 18 resident companies, with over $28M in cohort funding, and strategic programming consisting of office hours, expert speakers, networking events, and JPal connections.
  • The Hershey Company, an inaugural corporate sponsor of the Pennovation Center, renewed their commitment for another year, with anticipated engagement to include programming, mentoring and office hours around their Innovation Lab located on site.     
  • The Penn Center for Innovation (PCI), hosted over 300 investors, corporate partners and Penn alumni for Innovation @ Penn: Programs and Partnerships as part of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Investor Conference in San Francisco, highlighting Pennnovation companies.
  • In March, Pennovation innovators Dorothy and Avisi had the opportunity to attend South by Southwest (SXSW) and attend pitch events and product showcases alongside PCIV. Avisi was named a  2019 Interactive Innovation Awards Finalists in Health, Med, & Bio Tech.
  • Last Spring, Pennovation hosted different activities during each day of Philly Tech Week, including panels featuring Penn’s robotics lab, a teen music and tech festival, and an expert panel offering unique perspectives on how critical wireless connectivity is for Philadelphia today and in the future. The expanded programming and networking opportunities resulted in over 300 new visitors throughout the week.
  • In June, Penn’s presence and participation in the annual BIO Conference, which attracted thousands of professionals and was located this year in Philadelphia, was led by PCI and highlighted connections to university research, companies with Penn ties, and developments at Pennovation Works.  Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s announcement here of the QuickFireChallenge winner awarded to Pennovation company, ChipDiagnostics, shed more light on the transformative work being done on site. 
  • As part of the B.Phl Innovation Festival in October, Pennovation hosted a panel and interactive gallery exhibition with local greentech companies based at Pennovation Works. 
  • The Pennovation Center hosted Amazon Web Services’ Startup Day in Philadelphia. Designed for entrepreneurs ready to take an idea and turn it into a company, the event was created for women, LGBTQ+, and early stage entrepreneurs of color.  



Pennovation Works is home to a diverse group of inventors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. Ideally, start-ups will grow from modest beginnings at a coworking desk or lab bench in the Center, to an Inventor Garage, and onto an individualized lab or office space in the larger site. For Pennovation’s companies, often development takes the shape of recognition by industry awards and publications, the securing of financing, or participation in technology competitions and accelerator programs.

  • In 2019, Strella, the first and only ripeness technology that travels the supply chain to reduce food waste, and Instahub, designer of a “snap on” motion sensor device for light switches that reduces energy consumption, were awarded the University’s President’s Innovation Prize (PIP). The competition, which highlights Penn’s commitment to innovation, grants graduating seniors the resources needed to translate revolutionary ideas into commercial ventures with a positive and potentially global impact. Avisi, another tenant in the Center, was a 2018 PIP winner.
  • After winning the prize, Instahub expanded its operation by moving its headquarters into an Inventor Garage at the Center, while at the same time developing a second motion sensor device that determines energy use and energy waste in a specific room.
  • Lia Diagnostics, creators of the first flushable pregnancy test that is free from plastic, joined the community at the Center in May, and ZeroEyes, a security company powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and led by former Navy SEALs, joined in August.
  • Netronix, Inc. announced its plan for its accelerator group, Netronix Ventures, to become the launchpad for innovative IoT (Internet-to-things) companies in the next decade.
  • Chip Diagnostics, developers of a nanoscale liquid biopsy technique targeting extracellular vesicles and winner of the 2019 JPOD Quickfire Challenge, expanded their footprint by securing space in the Pennovation Office Building, while maintaining their lab in the Center.
  • Cocoa Press, a 2019 Pennovation Accelerator graduate and mentee of Hershey, moved from a Pennovation Center desk to B197 in the Office Building.
  • Opertech Bio received its fourth U.S. patent for its pioneering approach to taste testing, using sensory discrimination technologies in an efficient and robust
  • Allevi, maker of affordable, powerful, desktop 3D bioprinters, expanded to the Office Building while maintaining a lab space and a Startup Garage at the Pennovation Center after raising $1M in a private stock sale in November.
  • Pennovation’s committed healthcare innovators continued to impress with their fundraising efforts in 2019: In May, Verve Therapeutics, researchers developing therapies that safely edit the genomes of adults to confer protection against coronary artery disease, raised $58M in a Series A funding round. Linnaeus Therapuetics, a biopharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of novel, small molecule oncology therapeutics, raised $12M in Series B financing in September, and Verix Health (formerly known as Greppo) closed an $8 million Series A financing round. In December, Limelight Bio raised $75M to continue their research developing gene therapy techniques for inherited diseases.
  • Summer featured the 2019 Pennovation Accelerator Cohort, with nine startup companies chosen from over 60 applications competing for Best Pitch and overall Accelerator Winner. These startups represented a variety of industries – from software to medical devices to consumer products – across both the Penn community and the local Philadelphia entrepreneurial ecosystem.  SimpleBulb won Best Pitch and The OrVac won overall 2019 Pennovation Accelerator Winner prize.



      As innovation hubs and incubators emerge as the smart solution for universities, entrepreneurs, researchers, and students interested in transforming their creative ideas into viable commercial ventures, Pennovation’s community of innovators continued to push world-class research forward in exciting and unpredictable ways.

  • A high-tech aviary on the Pennovation Works campus, created as a joint project between the University’s School of Arts & Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, uses machine learning technology to observe 20 brown-headed cowbirds to answer questions about animals’ social behavior.
  • Researchers from Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences observed fruit flies in an outdoor setting on the Works campus to determine whether microbiome shifts have a significant effect on the genomes of fly populations
  • GRASP Postdoctoral researcher David Saldana continued his research  at Pennovation on algorithms and designs for airborne robots which can work together to complete tasks.
  • The technology of Penn Dental Medicine biochemist Dr. Henry Daniell and the Phyllozyme team was showcased in two new studies on their continued work with developing plant-derived enzymes for various kinds of industrial production.
  • The Penn Vet Working Dog Center welcomed the 100th puppy into its training program for research and detection dogs. The Working Dog Center was founded in 2012 by Penn Vet professor and veterinarian Cynthia Otto, who was named professor of Working Dog Sciences and Sports Medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences and Advanced Medicine at Penn Vet in April.
  • An “Advancing Algorithmic Care” event at the Pennovation Center featured experts from across Penn leading presentations and panel discussions on how artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced algorithms can help improve the patient experience while also reducing the complexity and cost of care.
  • PCI Ventures, a division of Penn Center for Innovation, had a banner year maximizing the potential of Penn’s pioneering research to the benefit of the University and society as a whole, through the creation and stimulus of entrepreneurial endeavors.  



More than 135 events in 2019 at the Pennovation Center and around the Works attracted 5000+ attendees. Presentations, roundtables and panel discussions included visits from venture capital firms, pharmaceutical and robotics industry leaders, and women professionals in technology fields. The Penn LPS Coding Bootcamp moved into its second year of training future coders, and the Center held offerings from JPOD, panel discussions and presentations on healthcare marketing, pitching skills, leadership, and storytelling.

  • To kick off the New Year, PCI Ventures hosted Pennovation’s first author event on January 23rd with author Haley Hoffman Smith. She discussed her new book, Her Big Idea: The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs, with entrepreneur, angel investor, and Penn Engineering professor, Vanessa Chan.
  • For the third year running, the Pennovation Center was thrilled to host February’s FemmeHacks, a beginner-friendly, collegiate hackathon for women-identifying individuals in Philly/NY/NJ, sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania's Women in Computer Science.
  • In March, 1776 hosted an engaging Capital Stack Program at the Pennovation Center, where thirteen founders across the 1776 network had the opportunity to engage with investors, learn about different pathways to capital, and gain insights into an investor’s point of view around raising funds.
  • The Pennovation Center hosted Bethany Edwards, the CEO & Co-Founder of LIA Diagnostics, for Startup Grind in April. LIA Diagnostics is revolutionizing over­-the­-counter women’s health products, including LIA, the first biodegradable, flushable pregnancy test.
  • In May Pennovation hosted a Sell Your Science panel where Kate Merton, former East Coast Site Head for JLABS, shared her tips for creating an effective, non-confidential pitch deck. Becoming more effective in communicating a story to Angel investors and VCs, Merton shared, can greatly increase the chances of successful fundraising.
  • At a JPOD Lunch & Learn in June, Charles River labs discussed clinical considerations for start-up and small biotech companies when designing medical device programs.
  • Seven companies participated in the exciting Black Girl Ventures Pitch Competition at the Pennovation Center in July.  Black Girl Ventures works to create access to capital for Black and Brown women founders and support women of color entrepreneurs.
  • At the 1776 Innovators press Stack, three investors from Osage Venture Partners (PHL), Robin Hood Ventures (PHL), and Empowerment Capital (NYC) participated in low-pressure discussions with media partners in the Philadelphia region.
  • In September, at a Pennovation Food for Thought panel, Dr. Otto from the Penn Vet Working Dog Center shared her experiences with the working dogs of 9/11 and the research that it inspired.
  • PCIV sponsored a fall Breakfast Bootcamp with branding agency WhitePenny, focused on positioning, branding, and digital communications.
  • At a Meet Ben event at Pennovation members and the community were invited to learn about the investment process and strategy with Philadelphia investment firm Ben Franklin Technology Partners.
  • PCI Ventures hosted their 7th Annual Showcase at the Pennovation Center. Companies from the PCI Ventures’ portfolio and Pennovation Center members gathered to demonstrate their technologies, and network with guests. PCI Venture partners, Penn faculty members, local investors and industry leaders.
  • In November, Pete Angeline, Strategic Futurist for the Hershey Company, ran A Food for Thought workshop with Hershey’s Digital Innovation Lab, which included an overview of the AR, VR, and robotics projects that Hershey is developing, and demos of some of the technology in the lab.



A master plan of the 23-acre Pennovation Works site envisions a phased approach to development, starting with site improvements and renovation of existing buildings. The space within the Pennovation Center has been customized as needed to accommodate innovators and the JPod, added in 2018. Advancements over the past year included:

  • Construction on the renovation of the 65,000 sf Lab Building began in Fall 2019. Slated for completion in 2020, it will offer wet lab and office/flex space to both those companies new to the Pennovation Works site and those scaling up operations from the adjacent Pennovation Center incubator.
  • At the Center, a proposal for second floor space modifications to include semi-private work zones was evaluated this year, based on feedback from current innovators.  Work is underway on these updates to be completed this Spring.  
  • New spaces were fit out in the Office building, including a pantry kitchen, conference rooms, and a community space.
  • To offer a variety of lunch options to those working at and visiting Pennovation Works, a Food Truck Pilot was launched in summer 2019. Thanks to tasty menus from vendors like Barkley’s BBQ, Dump N Roll, and Pitruco Pizza, the food trucks attracted approximately 100 people each Wednesday, and have become a weekly fixture on site.
  • The new SEPTA Transit Route 49 was rolled out, connecting Grays Ferry to University City and Fairmount neighborhoods, stopping along the way at 30th Street Station. This joins Routes 12 and 64 already in service to the site.    



Pennovation Works continues to honor its commitment to open its doors to the public with events and other activities for its neighbors in Philadelphia, as well as targeted programs for members of the Pennovation community, the University, and their families and friends.

  • April: In recognition of Personal Development & Wellness Month with PCIV, JPOD partners featured dedicated programming and wellness walks with Pennovation members. Programming included an introduction to mindfulness-based stress management and an interactive session with Penn Medicine’s Program for Mindfulness.
  • 70 children of University faculty and staff in participated in the national Take Your Son and Daughter to Work day programming at the Pennovation Center. The Penn Vet Working Dog Center gave a live demonstration with their search and rescue dogs out on the plaza, and inside the Pennovation Center gallery, kids were treated to a robot display from the Hershey Company, a microscope demo, and an aerial robot flying demonstration.
  • June: Hosted in partnership with the Grays Ferry community, the Third Annual South Philly Career Fair connected 150+ people to job opportunities with 60+ vendors.
  • Throughout the year, as part of its members-only programming, Pennovation Works members enjoyed seasonal treats like a summer ice cream social and a fall pumpkin painting and Halloween costume contest.
  • September: Music fans came out for a community concert featuring Hard Work Movement as part of the 3rd Annual Pennovation Community Concert
  • October: Over 100 makers and 1,000 visitors came together at Pennovation for the second annual Philadelphia Mini Maker Faire, featuring featuring local do-it-yourself science, art, robots, crafts, tech, music, hands-on-activities, and more.



The spirit of community and collaboration continues to develop at Pennovation Works, led by the people who have created a distinct, dynamic place and make a network thrive.  Here’s a shout out to those who have inspired connections, commercialization, and activity on site over the past year (and longer), engaging others to become part of this Pennovation story.     

The expanding ecosystem of innovators, curated programming, and dynamic spaces, is growing our sense of place into a vibrant environment, where ideas go to work.  The researchers, entrepreneurs, and industry partners are solving real world problems and translating inventiveness into viable ventures. By grouping facilities for innovation, technological development, and artistic production and exhibition, Penn is establishing a multifaceted workshop for harnessing and commercializing the tremendous creative potential in the region. 

To see what’s trending, please follow @PennovationWork on Twitter and @PennovationWorks on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.




Penn Today, November 2019

JPOD @ Philadelphia, 365 days later


Reuters, October 2019

The World’s Most Innovative Universities 2019


Penn Today, September 2019

Fruit flies’ microbiomes shape their evolution


Penn Today, August 2019

GRASP Lab’s high-flying robots


Philadelphia Business Journal, August 2019

Penn spinoff takes on glaucoma with nanotechnology-enabled implant Philly, July 2019

Meet the winning startups from Pennovation’s summer accelerator


Penn Today, July 2019

‘Smart aviary’ poised to break new ground in behavioral research


Philadelphia Business Journal, June 2019

Pennovation Works to enter next phase with $35 million project


Penn Today, June 2019

Chip Diagnostics receives the JPOD @ Philadelphia QuickFire Challenge Award


Good Morning America, May 2019

Woman's foster dog has a part-time job learning to sniff out cancer Philly, May 2019

Leggy bots, flying bots, building bots: Here’s what Penn’s robotics hub is up to


Philadelphia Business Journal, May 2019

Gene-editing startup backed by Google Ventures raises $58M


Penn Today, April 2019

Strella Biotechnology’s biosensors minimize food waste, one apple at a time


CBS Philly, April 2019

3 Cheers: The Science Of The Working Dog Center


Philadelphia Magazine, March 2019

5 Places Where Philly’s Next Generation of Power Works and Meets


University City District, February 2019

Innovation Spotlight: Two Penn Grads and Their Cutting Edge Glaucoma Treatment


Year in Pictures selection or images from 2019