When recent Penn Engineering grads Ricardo Solorzano, Danny Cabrera and Sohaib Hashmi sought funding to improve the 3-D printer for biologically-active materials Solorzano had prototyped in his dorm room last year, they turned first to Pennvention the Penn investors' competition. They won $5,000, and plowed it back into the machine. Hashmi then "boiled the ocean" working scholarly contacts to find potential buyers, says Cabrera.

As I write in today's Inquirer: "When cash next ran low, they approached DreamIt Health, the Philadelphia-based venture support program, through Penn Engineering Prof. Elliot Menschik." DreamIt "gave us $50,000, office space, and legal services" from Duane Morris, in exchange for 8 percent of the fledgling firm, Cabrera said." The lawyers "legitimized everything we were doing, incorporated us, and got us thinking about building a business. Instead of, you know, just hacking and selling things. Phase Two will be figuring out how to integrate this into pharma companies, so they can test everything from cosmetics to cancer drugs, without using animals."

Here's how BioBot works, simplfied, Cabrera showed me: "You design a 3-D structure on your computer, which plugs directly into this device. You fill these disposable plastic syringes with goop -- a mixture of biocompatible material and living cells. You use collagen and skin cells, to print skin; or cartilige... You place it in the cylinder, connect it with the needle gauge, cap it with plastic hose.

"And then you press Print, like on your word processor.

"It's connected to feeds -- a pressure source, a regularor, an air compressor. The head moves in all three axes. This plate moves down and pressures the material and creates structure. And these little LEDs mounted here, they concentrate light to catalyze and harden the material." More from my column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer here.