Philly's Passage Bio, with relationship to Penn, raises $115.5 million in a Series A for rare diseases

Tom Paine

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James M. Wison / Penn Today

Philadelphia-based Passage Bio has raised $115.5 million in a Series A to develop cures for rare diseases , led by OrbiMed Advisors.

The funding will bd used to develop five therapeutic compounds to treat rare monogenic diseases of the central nervous system (CNS). Passage Bio has a license agreement with the University of Pennsylvania and its Gene Therapy Program along with the Penn Orphan Disease Center (ODC). James M. Wilson, a professor of Medicine at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine, is the company's co-founder and chief scientific advisor. Wilson is a pioneer in the gene therapy field.

Under the terms of their agreement, UPenn conducts the preclinical research, while Passage is responsible for clinical testing and eventual commercialization.

Last year’s approval US approval of the first viral-based gene therapy, Spark Therapeutics’ Luxturna, opened the door to others in the field.

“We believe this is a truly unique partnership, which gives Passage access to certain Penn AAV technologies developed at the GTP, our strong preclinical translational science capabilities and orphan drug development know-how,” said Dr. Wilson in a statement. “Our team at Penn is extremely experienced and has been on the cutting edge of AAV research for over 20 years. We are confident in this team’s ability to move new treatments for rare CNS monogenic diseases through clinical development in an effort to one day provide new treatment options for patients with chronic unmet needs with high mortality.”

Philly EnterpriseTech People News 2/17/2019

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Talia Goldberg started @FirstRound DormRoomFund founding partner at Penn.

CNN on Richard Vague's possible Presidential run.

— Tom Paine (@phillytechnews) February 17, 2019

Google Blog: Investing across the U.S. in 2019

Investing across the U.S. in 2019


One year ago this week, I was in Montgomery County, Tennessee to break ground for a new data center in Clarksville. It was clear from the excitement at the event that the jobs and economic investment meant a great deal to the community. I’ve seen that same optimism in communities around the country that are helping to power our digital economy. And I’m proud to say that our U.S. footprint is growing rapidly: In the last year, we’ve hired more than 10,000 people in the U.S. and made over $9 billion in investments. Our expansion across the U.S. has been crucial to finding great new talent, improving the services that people use every day, and investing in our business.

Today we’re announcing over $13 billion in investments throughout 2019 in data centers and offices across the U.S., with major expansions in 14 states. These new investments will give us the capacity to hire tens of thousands of employees, and enable the creation of more than 10,000 new construction jobs in Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia. With this new investment, Google will now have a home in 24 total states, including data centers in 13 communities. 2019 marks the second year in a row we’ll be growing faster outside of the Bay Area than in it.

This growth will allow us to invest in the communities where we operate, while we improve the products and services that help billions of people and businesses globally. Our new data center investments, in particular, will enhance our ability to provide the fastest and most reliable services for all our users and customers. As part of our commitment to our 100 percent renewable energy purchasing, we’re also making significant renewable energy investments in the U.S. as we grow. Our data centers make a significant economic contribution to local communities, as do the associated $5 billion in energy investments that our energy purchasing supports.

Here’s a closer look at the investments we’re making state by state:

We’re continuing to expand our presence in Chicago and are developing new data centers in Ohio and Nebraska. The Wisconsin office is set to move into a larger space in the next few months—and last November we opened a Detroit office in Little Caesars Arena, where you can see into the space where the Detroit Red Wings play.

detroit office opening
Googlers and partners at our office opening in Detroit last November

With new office and data center development, our workforce in Virginia will double. And with a new office in Georgia, our workforce will double there as well. Data centers in Oklahoma and South Carolina will expand, and we’re developing a new office and data center in Texas.

ribbon cutting
Opening one of our data centers last year.

Massachusetts has one of our largest sales and engineering communities outside of the Bay Area, and we’re building new office space there. In New York, the Google Hudson Square campus—a major product, engineering and business hub—will come to life over the next couple of years.
We’ll open our first data center in Nevada and will expand our Washington office, a key product and engineering hub. In addition to investments in the Bay Area, our investments in California continue with the redevelopment of the Westside Pavillion, and the Spruce Goose Hangar in the Los Angeles area.

Googlers at work. Our investments this year will go toward expansions in data centers and offices across the U.S.

All of this growth is only possible with our local partners. Thank you for welcoming Google into your communities—we look forward to working together to grow our economy and support jobs in the U.S.


TCF '19 on Saturday, March 23 at College of New Jersey; A look back at its history

Tom Paine

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TCF 2019 (formerly the Trenton Computer Festival) will be held on Saturday, March 23 at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, NJ.

The first Trenton Computer Festival was held on May 2, 1976 at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) in Ewing NJ, outside of Trenton. It was started by Sol Libes of the Amateur Computer Group of New Jersey and Allen Katz of The College of New Jersey. It later moved to Mercer County Community College as it grew larger, and in 1999 moved to the NJ Convention Center in Edison, NJ, but returned to the College of New Jersey in 2005.

In the days before the Internet and the presence of most computer retail outlets, user groups and other channels of information, TCF played a particularly critical role as a source of learning and knowledge dissemination for the East Coast in the fledgeling microcomputer industry.

TCF has had a notable and varied list of keynote speakers throughout its history, including Bill Gates, Dr. Adam Osborne, Mr. and Mrs. John W. Mauchly (of ENIAC fame), Eric Raymond, Dr. Ken Iverson, and Gordon E. Eubanks.

In the past a weekend-long event, in recent years it has been a one-day event held on a Saturday in March.

David Gewirtz wrote an ode to the early days of TCF in ZDNet in 2012.

This a slide show from the first Trenton Computer Festival in 1976, produced by TCF co-founder Sol Libes: Cl

Mega Cloud companies doing a good job of avoiding Philly

Tom Paine

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Amazon's pullout from New York City as one of its two HQ2 sites yesterday didn't provoke a rethink of the selection process, the company saying it did not intend to reopen it "at this time." Amazon simply doubled down in Virginia where the other selected HQ2, (Crystal City) is located, and said it would further expand its already announced Nashville site. Apparently, it didn't call back Newark NJ, Philadelphia, or any other previous bidders to ask if they still had interest.

I do wonder, though, whether Philly's political environment would have caused problems for Amazon similar to those in New York.

A case in point is Amazon warning Philadelphia that it may cancel possible plans to open a brick-and-mortar store there because of the city’s proposal to ban "cashless stores." While there is a legitimate issue there for people who are unbanked or underbanked, the proposal sounds as if it is largely aimed at Amazon alone. A simple way around the problem might be a vending machine dispensing prepaid cards.

On Wednesday, Google announced it would invest $13 billion this year across the country in several states, primarily in support of the Google Cloud business, which is playing catch up to Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure. Although it appears from this map that a new office location in North Jersey is planned. nothing new is planned for Pennsylvania.

Microsoft Azure doesn't appear to have any major locations in Pennsylvania, although Azure issues are handled out of Microsoft's Malvern office.

Amazon and Google both have significant offices in Pittsburgh, though not necessarily tied to their Cloud businesses.

Comcast, SAP and SunGard Availability are probably the largest Philly-area Cloud providers.

Update on plans for New York City headquarters

After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term. While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.

We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion—we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture—and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.

We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and their staffs, who so enthusiastically and graciously invited us to build in New York City and supported us during the process. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have worked tirelessly on behalf of New Yorkers to encourage local investment and job creation, and we can’t speak positively enough about all their efforts. The steadfast commitment and dedication that these leaders have demonstrated to the communities they represent inspired us from the very beginning and is one of the big reasons our decision was so difficult.

We do not intend to reopen the HQ2 search at this time. We will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville, and we will continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada.

Thank you again to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and the many other community leaders and residents who welcomed our plans and supported us along the way. We hope to have future chances to collaborate as we continue to build our presence in New York over time.

Today in Philly Tech History 2/14/2012: Capital One's $9 billion acquisition of Wilmington-based ING Direct USA gets Fed approval

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Five years ago, on February 14, 2012, Capital One's $9 billion acquisition of Wilmington-based Internet bank ING Direct USA won approval from the Federal Reserve, clearing the way for the deal to close within a few days.

The deal, announced in June 2011, featured a Wilmington-bred success story although its parent, Netherlands-based ING Groep NV, had to auction it off to satisfy European banking regulators. ING Direct USA added $80 billion in deposits and 7 million customers to Capital One.

ING Diect's loyal customer base was concerned about how Capital One would change its newly acquired bank. Indeed, some of those changes were just implemented, as ING Direct has been renamed Capital One 360, and ING Direct's famous orange logo was taken down early this month and driven away and replaced with a spiffy new Capital One sign on the headquarters building in downtown Wilmington.


ADT acquires Langhorne-based LifeShield

Tom Paine

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ADT has acquired LifeShield, the Langhorne-based DIY home security systems company, for about $25 million.

LifeShield, founded in 2004 and a pioneer in DIY home security, has been passed around frequently recently. It was acquired by DirecTV in 2013, and went with DirecTV to AT&T after that acquisition in 2015. At&T had no plan for it, and it floundered there, I understand.

It was sold back to former CEO Michael Hagan (also ex-Verticalnet, Nutrisystem) and his Hawk Capital Partners in 2017.

“As more consumers look for real protection solutions that only ADT can provide, we look for companies that share our passion for security, customer service, and innovation,” said ADT President and CEO Jim DeVries, in a press release . “We are confident that LifeShield’s capabilities and approach, combined with the brand and scale of ADT, will create an opportunity for us to offer our services to a broader cross-section of U.S. households. Together with LifeShield we will be positioned to offer more solutions to a broader base of customers and create increased value for our shareholders as we seek to grow profitability through expanded, yet focused offerings.”

LifeShield recently introduced a video doorbell, and a Google Assistant toolkit.

John Owens will continue to lead LifeShield, and Hagan will serve as an advisor.

Radnor-based Avantor files for IPO. #avantor #vwr

Tom Paine

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Radnor-based Avantor, a chemical producer and distributor patched together through acquisitions, filed an S-1 registration statement for an IPO today . Avantor is a portfolio company of PE firm New Mountain Capital, and its executive chairman is former Rohm & Haas CEO Rajiv L. Gupta. Gupta, now Senior Advisor to New Mountain, also served as interim CEO of Avantor.

New Mountain acquired specialty chemical maker Mallinckrodt Baker, based in the Lehigh Valley, in 2010, and that became the original basis of Avantor.

Then, in November 2017, Avantor acquired Radnor-based VWR, a distributor of chemical and scientific supplies for Life Sciences amd other segments, for $6.5 billion. That business far outweighed the former Mallinckrodt business in size and scope. It also left Avantor with an enormous long-term debt load of $7.2 billion. IPO proceeds, which Avantor has bookmarked on the S-! as $100 million but could be as high as $1.5 billion, will be used primarily to reduce New Mountain's debt obligations.

But VWR is an exciting business, with an industrial ecommerce model that can be a market leader. Its a consolidation play on the small batch specialty chemical and supplies market.

I haven't had enough time to digest numbers and analysis yet, but wanted to get this out first.

California hospitality platform Zingle raises $11 million, acquires Philly AI startup

Tom Paine

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California-based hospitality platform Zingle announced $11 million in venture capital funding last week , from PeakSpan Capital.

At the same time, the company said it had acquired a Philadelphia AI startup, Presto (sometimes referred to as Presto AI), apparently late last year.

From Presto's LinkedIn page, this description:

Acquired in 2018, Presto developed predictive NLP models that perform the world's best classification, similarity analysis, and entity recognition in the hospitality domain. We set out to improve the quality and efficiency of text based guest interactions in hotels. Presto's mission is to create experiences better than humanly possible.

Presto was started by a team at the University of Pennsylvania passionate about hospitality, computational linguistics, and data science.

According to Zingle's press release:

With the acquisition of Philadelphia-based Presto AI, a hospitality-focused, computational linguistics, and data science team, the Zingle platform has evolved significantly. By analyzing and learning from millions of monthly messages exchanged between guests and hotels, the solution is able to categorize over 150 different intents, making responses smarter and more personalized. Message data is also stored in Zingle’s analytics and can be used to inform data-driven decisions, i.e., using message volume trends to make smarter staffing decisions.

"Through the acquisition of the Presto AI team, the Zingle platform has taken a significant step forward,” continued Blakely. “Zingle is now uniquely positioned to provide hotels an AI-equipped solution that meets growing consumer demand for both digital engagement and automated onsite convenience while improving guest engagement intelligence from booking to check-out."

There was a similarly targeted startup in Philly a few years ago (can't remember name) that didn't quite take off.

Today in Philly Tech History 2/10/1998: CDNow completes IPO

Tom Paine

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On February 10, 1998, CDNow, started in 1994 by twin brothers Jason and Matthew Olim out of their parent's basement in Ambler, completed its initial public offering. The online music retailer, which sparked a revolution in music distribution, closed the day up 37.5% at $22, from its opening price of $16. CDNow raised $65.6 million, and had a market capitalization of $342 million at day's end. Based in Jenkintown at the time it went public, it later moved to Fort Washington.

When it went public, its prior year revenue was $17.4 million, with a net loss of $10.7 million. Shortly afterwards, CDNow acquired its largest competitor, another Philadelphia area company named N2K. Revenue grew rapidly to a $150 million run rate, and CDNow was an early innovator in ecommerce and web marketing techniques.

However, as the crisis in the Internet economy materialized in 2000, investors lacked confidence in CDNow's financial performance and future outlook. The company slashed its workforce and soon sold itself (after a prospective merger with Columbia House fell through) to German media giant Bertelsmann in the summer of 2000 for $117 million. The brand later ended up with Amazon, and gradually faded away.

Mike Krupit, currently COO at startup Real Food Works, was serving in a CIO/CTO role for CDNow at the time of the IPO. He soon afterwards became COO and later CEO after Bertelsmann took over. He had already seen a couple of companies he had been with go public, including Infonautics. I asked him by email what things were like for CDNow at the time of its IPO. His response:

"CDNow was one of the first dotcom and ecommerce companies to go public. Obviously, we were thrilled to be able to put the money in the bank and have [it] to invest in our growth. But we also knew it didn't guarantee our success. It was tremendously exciting for the team, [though] as you'd imagine, the honeymoon doesn't last too long."

"Culturally, it's a double-edged sword. The expectations of the IPO isn't always met by the reality. The dream of the value of our equity is now something easily calculated. When the stock is up - great; when not, demotivating. We also had to stop sharing lots of information with the team. A lot of healthy chatter had to stop by being a publicly-traded company, which was a big change to CDNOW's startup culture."

Krupit told Technically Philly last summer that what ultimately killed the company was the planned merger with Columbia House; CDNow focused much of its resources on that and when it fell through there wasn't much of a backup plan.