When Johann deSa, PhD ’10, a visiting research professor in Drexel University’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, needed a space and support to launch the new company he founded, he didn’t have to venture off campus. He turned to ic@3401, a startup incubator co-managed by Drexel and the Science Center, to build Instadiagnostics, through which he developed a technology platform that would perform laboratory tests at the point-of-care. Instadiagnostics is supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Drexel Ventures, the University’s technology transfer organization that helps Drexel researchers with commercializing translational research.
“When a technology with commercial potential is spun out of academia, there needs to be a stepping stone,” said deSa. “Drexel, by forming this collaboration at ic@3401, makes it possible for a company to take that step. We were able to spin out our company and have a space to call our office, which is important when applying for grants, hold professional meetings and have access and connections to a startup community and all of its programming.”
ic@3401, which is located on Drexel’s University City Campus at 3401 Market St., specializes in growing startups and helping to build companies to a point where they can expand and move off-site (and, hopefully, remain in the city). Most of the companies that come to ic@3401 are just starting out and can grow in a rent-subsidized space surrounded by a community of entrepreneurs and other innovators. It’s also a valuable resource for Drexel faculty, postdocs and graduate students with entrepreneurial endeavors related to their research.
“This space was designed with Drexel academic innovators in mind,” said Shintaro Kaido, managing director of venture commercialization for Drexel Ventures. “Many from Drexel are relatively new to entrepreneurialism. So ic@3401 was built so that there’s a critical mass of active and successful entrepreneurs who Drexel participants can work alongside to move up the learning curve as fast as possible.”
“We're providing a competitive advantage for Philly's startups to raise capital, grow, and stay in the city,” said Eamon Gallagher, JD ’13, program director of ic@3401 and director of the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic in the Kline School of Law. “Companies start here with two or three people and an idea, and we help them deliver a product, sell it, hire employees, raise capital and get their company off the ground. Our average startup goes from a team of two to a team of 10 in 19 months.”
This year, 34 companies in ic@3401 have already collectively raised more than $20 million, a marked increase from the $16 million raised in 2017 and the $18 million raised in 2016. In the past three years, 52 companies have raised over $53 million.
“This includes financing from capital providers and can come from outside of the region,” said Kaido.
Employees work out of 60 co-working desks at ic@3401 and have access to private phone booths, conference rooms and office suites, among other rooms. Neighbors at the space regularly mix at weekly pitch sessions and monthly lunches and happy hours.
Additionally, Slack channels are set up to connect people with similar backgrounds, or function as a place for people with problems and questions to receive help. Plus, ic@3401 has what Gallagher calls a “little take out menu” of centralized and aggregated resources available to help with building a startup, like finding an accountant or an attorney or learning about tax incentives and setting up a payroll. And Gallagher also works as a matchmaker, introducing entrepreneurs and companies that could benefit from a partnership or meeting.
“There are so many things that startups have to move through very, very quickly and particularly early on,” said Gallagher, “but if you don't know where to look, it's like paralysis based off of infinite possibility. A lot of what we do is collapse that infinite paralysis into a few defined pathways or a few defined people to talk to, just so that you can go through that process and check that box and move on to the next thing.”
This shared community and access to resources and help is part of what makes ic@3401 so unique, according to Kaido.
“Many incubators have rolodexes of advisors or mentors, but those people aren’t located at the incubator,” said Kaido, who developed the strategy behind ic@3401 in 2015 to make it more than just a coworking space. “This is a different model of nurturing startups and first-time founders. The urgency of building startups requires immediate attention, and that’s what ic@3401 offers.”
Unlike other incubators located on college campuses, ic@3401 uniquely houses both University-affiliated and outside companies. Drexel academic innovators can drop in anytime and participate in monthly lunches and happy hours. And if you are a Drexel academic, you are already “in.” Other members are very carefully curated by ic@3401.
“When companies come in, their members aren’t here to just come in to work with their heads down,” said Gallagher. “They’re committed to becoming a member of the community, and that means both being able to tap, take and benefit from the community as well as contribute to the community.”
Once applicants apply through any of these measures, they meet with Gallagher to discuss their plans and ideas — “they have to pass the Eamon Gallagher test,” Kaido joked. Then, they have to present their company to an operations committee and oversight board to gain full approval to start working in the space. Once in, companies pay a subsidized rent. ic@3401 does not take equity in its members.
For University faculty and staff, Drexel Ventures is here to help them figure out the next steps of their startup journey.
Drexel Ventures also offers two grant programs for aspiring startups: the Drexel Ventures Innovation Fund, which awards between $75,000 and $100,000 per project to fund about four or five projects per year, and the Proof of Concept Academy, which builds teams around promising technologies and their faculty inventors who can then become competitive candidates for seed funding. Winners of both of those grant programs are strongly encouraged to get membership at ic@3401.
Drexel Ventures was recently reorganized into three teams — technology commercialization, venture commercialization and corporate relations — to provide aspiring Drexel entrepreneurs and innovators with a community and a go-to, one-stop shop. And ic@3401 is a huge part of that mission.
“We really want to let faculty members at Drexel know that ic@3401 was really designed with them in mind,” said Kaido. “We wanted to build an incubator that has value to them, and though it may seem like the incubator is about startups in general, we really want this to be a resource for entrepreneurs.”