Three months after being forced out as CEO of the investment firm Safeguard Scientifics, Stephen Zarrilli has been chosen to be the next president and CEO of the University City Science Center, starting October 1, the center announced Thursday.
A member of the center's board of directors since 2014, Zarrilli will assume the role almost a year after the former president and CEO, Stephen S. Tang, stepped down in January to become CEO of OraSure Technologies, the Bethlehem-based maker of saliva-testing equipment.
Zarrilli, 57, said the center will be a "leader in driving the future of innovation in Philadelphia" because of its physical assets and ability to attract entrepreneurs and retain students in the area.
"I really believe we are at a place in our evolution as a business environment for innovation that, as good as it's been in the past 30 years, we have a lot of organizations working together," said Zarrilli, who grew up in the Philadelphia region and lives in Malvern, Pa.
In a statement, Board Chairman Craig R. Carnaroli called Zarrilli "a proven leader of ideas, organizations and people, and a passionate advocate for helping entrepreneurs grow concepts into companies."
Zarrilli arrives at the science center — a nonprofit that combines resources from the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and others — after losing his job in April at Radnor-based Safeguard, where he served as CFO from 2008 to 2012 before becoming president and CEO.
Zarrilli left following a struggle with a group of hedge fund investors who said that Safeguard, which invests in small software firms, has been spending too much on operations and borrowing too much without earning enough profit. Before Safeguard, Zarrilli was Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Penn Valley Group, a management consulting firm for early-stage businesses.
The science center controls 11 prime blocks and more than two million square feet of rental space along Market and Chestnut Streets next to the Penn and Drexel campuses. It rents offices to professors, doctors, businesses, and government agencies — and is adding stores and apartments as it plans to more than double its footprint — in what has become one of the region's highest-rent districts.
Under Tang and other leaders, the center and its board have seen its mission as more than that of a landlord: It also helps science-based businesses grow up next door to the universities, in hopes they will add jobs to a town where most big employers are hospitals and colleges and few are homegrown tech firms.
In May the center attracted criticism because some rents were quadrupling. It was a sign of success and the flood of investment boosting biotech firms. But it was also a threat to start-ups that could force brainy start-up leaders to flee to cheap space in the suburbs or go out of state.
Zarrilli said the increased cost of rent is justified by the heightened quality of the new facility Massachusetts-based Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), is opening with lab operator BioLabs at the Science Center's 3675 Market St. building.
"The concept in and of itself is not unique, but the way they're presenting and branding the space is going to be a big leg up for the center," Zarrilli said. He added that the new facility will be a "game-changer for the Science Center and the region" because "it's going to be a completely different infrastructure" that will better allow entrepreneurs to be successful.