PACT -- the Philadelphia Association for Capital and Technology -- had its yearly black-tie show at the Kimmel Center on Monday night and reminded us that, if Philly’s biotech and software start-up scene isn’t as big as it should be, it still attracts big money, and some promising outfits are growing fast.
“We need a better story. A business-growth story,” emcee Dean Miller, PACT’s CEO, told the Perelman Theater crowd. For the next hour, his members helped tell that story. From 500 applicants, winners tapped by judges led by local investment bank Fairmount Partners’ Charles Robins included:
For most start-ups, success is a “good exit” at a lucrative price. For 2018, Paris-based consulting giant Capgemini’s $500 million purchase of Wayne-based LiquidHub topped PACT’s list.
“It’s very humbling,” said cofounder Jonathan Brassington, a Guyanese immigrant who was LiquidHub’s front man as the customer-engagement outsourcing firm signed Glaxo, Subaru and Vanguard before going international over the last 15 years.
He thanked NewSpring Capital of Radnor and Philly’s Morgan Lewis law firm for growing the firm -- as well as the founders’ long-suffering spouses and “life partners.”“We get so caught up -- we lose sight of what’s important.”
Brassington is now part of a busy global organization with a Philadelphia base: He is managing director at Capgemini Invent, a 3,000-employee U.S.-India-Europe business that includes the former LiquidHub plus some software and creative-design agencies (including Harold Hambrose’ former Electronic Ink in Center City).
Chris McNabb, of Dell Boomi, the Berwyn-based cloud enterprise integration platform (it combines Salesforce and Gmail into enterprise software like SAP and puts them into, for example, secure apps on your company smartphone), showed how growth doesn’t end when a start-up sells out: Boomi’s workforce has expanded tenfold to 300 people, half in Berwyn (including the whole engineering team), since Dell Computer bought it in 2010.
“I don’t sell anything, I don’t code anything, and I don’t support anything. I’m one of the least important people," said McNabb. Plus, he thanked his wife of 32 years, Mary Jane, for doing more than her share for the family.
McNabb took over Boomi after the Dell deal when co-founder Rick Nucci left to start Guru. “We are making progress against the perception that if you’re talented and you graduate with an IT degree, the only option is Silicon Valley or N.Y. or Boston," McNabb told me, citing great pharma companies, plus "Comcast, Vanguard, Siemens, Ellucian. ... And that start-up culture.”
He’s working with suburban bosses at Ametek and Lockheed, among others, to brainstorm faster ways to get in and out of Philadelphia -- including enhancements to Septa, and alternatives.
BioTelemetry -- This is a turnaround story: Joseph H. Capper took over the Malvern-based wireless heart monitor maker, back in 2010, when it was CardioNet, based in Conshohocken, with its stock sagging amid the deep recession.
Its innovative hardware wasn’t enough: The company had hired hundreds of salespeople based on expected sales at inflated prices, that insurers refused to pay, as analyst Greg Chodaczek (then at Boenning & Scattergood, now at Gilmartin Group) warned at the time.
The board hired Capper, ex-boss at Home Diagnostics Inc., to fix the jam. “It was not so fun,” Capper recounted at the Kimmel. But his team cut salespeople, repriced to acknowledge reality, and executed. , and executed. "in highly disciplined fashion.”
Allevi -- In 2011, Ricky Solorzano, a Nicaraguan immigrant, was attending community college in Miami when Penn’s engineering school accepted his transfer application. He quickly found like-minded students tinkering with 3-D printers and human tissue.
Graduating in 2013, Solorzano and his partners moved “BioBots” works to Evan Malone’s NextFab “makerspace” studios in South Philly, then as Allevi to Pennovation in Grays Ferry, where they improved designs for a milk-crate-sized 3-D printer that could assemble human flesh molecules at a fraction of the cost of the standard room-sized machines.
Penn and Drexel were among the first customers. Researchers have had scientific papers using Allevi tissue accepted in “50 publications.”
That went to Howard Ross, a cofounder with Ira Lubert and Seth Lehr of University City-based LLR Partners 20 years ago. LLR Partners ranks with Radnor-based NewSpring Partners (whose chief, Mike DiPiano, is a past Legacy winner) among Philadelphia-based firms that have made money for big clients (LLR’s include SERS and PSERS, the main Pennsylvania public-worker pension funds) by turning around private firms and selling at a profit.
LLR now is a Philadelphia institution, with blue-chip clients and a staff of more than 50. But it was a big step for Ross, a career accountant, to leave Arthur Anderson for this experiment 20 years ago, he told the crowd.
He credited Jim Ksansnak former CFO at Aramark who helped lead reorganizations at the former Advanta and Tasty Baking Co., and told Ksasnak he wasn’t suited to working for a big company,, and his wife, Susan, “who rescued me from polyester suits at age 24," and regularly beats him at golffor helping Ross find the courage to “make the leap” to a then-new private-equity firm.
Ross also credited Pennsylvania venture capital pioneer Fred Beste and Morgan Lewis start-up lawyer Steve Goodman, who both died in the last 14 months, for serving as “the heart and soul” of Philadelphia investing in the past generation.
Ross was recruited by Ira Lubert, the hotel and commercial real estate investor, political donor, former Valley Forge Casino owner and Penn State board president who recruited Ross for his burgeoning private-equity kingdom after quitting Safeguard Scientifics in the late 1990s. “So many people told me the person I wanted to talk to was Howard Ross,” said Lubert in his video. “He said he was with Arthur Andersen for 26 years, and 'I’m going to be your partner for at least 26 years," and so far he’s made good.
Ross “has been our trusted adviser,” said Five Below (and Zany Brainy) cofounder David Schlessinger in one of several taped tributes. “We don’t know if he ever slept.”
Micro Interventional Devices builds lightweight “soft tissue anchors” for catheter punctures, enabling surgeons to treat patients without conventional surgery. Founder Michael Whitman credited the firm’s founders at Penn, its Duane Morris lawyers, and backers including state-backed Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Glen R. Bressner’s Originate Partners.
Tmunity: The T-cell cancer-fighting developer has built a process that can move ideas to clinical trials in as little as one year, cofounder Carl June said in a recorded statement. The firm raised over $100 million last year from U.S. and Chinese investors.
Frontline Education in Malvern has recruited veterans of the former SunGard Data Services and others to develop digital “human capital management” and special-education systems for “80,000 school districts nationwide," says CEO Tim Clifford.
AppBus calls itself “the only digital business platform that fast-tracks integration to generate end-to-end process automation."
DrayNow , the intermodal (ports, rails, containers) shipping software maker, took this honor. CEO Mike Albert, a Penske Logistics veteran, says trucking has been one of the last industries to add digital services; he’s staffing up fast. “We find the shortest distance between shipper and carriers,” Albert told the crowd, and He thanked Osage, Genacast and Comcast for financing his firm.