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What’s the Secret Sauce to Creating an Incubator Space That Helps Convert Academic Ideas into Valued Offerings?


A Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association Q&A with Louis Kassa, CEO of the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center.

Louis P. Kassa III, MPA, is CEO of the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center (PABC), Hepatitis B Foundation and Baruch S. Blumberg Institute

Louis P. Kassa III, MPA, is CEO of the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center (PABC), Hepatitis B Foundation and Baruch S. Blumberg Institute

Louis P. Kassa III, MPA, is CEO of the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center (PABC), Hepatitis B Foundation and Baruch S. Blumberg Institute. He recently was named to the Philadelphia Business Journal Power 100 list for the second consecutive year for his leadership role in helping to develop the region’s biotech industry. The PABC is a nonprofit life sciences incubator dedicated to the creation of a world-class biotechnology center, to the promotion of regional economic development and job creation, and to the education and training of tomorrow’s researchers.

With locations in Doylestown and University City, Philadelphia, the PABC has grown dramatically in recent years and now has more than 100 member companies, about 70 of which have operations in our two incubators, filling both to capacity. Kassa received his master’s in Public Administration from Villanova University and bachelor’s from Penn State.

Q. From Boston to the Bay area, incubator spaces are a popular platform to provide an ecosystem where top academicians and the business community converge to create innovative products and services. What differentiates the PABC’s ecosystem such that it is ranked as one of the nation’s most successful life sciences incubators?

A. Louis P. Kassa III: Indeed, there are many life sciences incubators in the US, well over 100 nationwide. According to the Impact Index, which is produced by the International Business Innovation Association, the PABC has been ranked among the top three life sciences incubators in the US. Moreover, Kolabtree, the world’s largest online freelance platform for scientists, recognized the PABC as one of the top ten life sciences incubators and accelerators. And Excedr, a leading life sciences lab equipment supplier, list us this year among the nation’s top 17 biotech incubators.

The PABC’s secret sauce is developing services which help innovative scientists to stay focused on their passion to create valued scientific products and services. PABC’s offerings include access to more common equipment than any other incubator across the country.

Process offerings include access to resources including legal, compliance and other critical assets that are needed to shepherd a scientific idea from conception to the market. And finally, our non-profit status nurtures a culture whereby it is mission over money. While profit is important to be sustainable, it is one element in our operating model.

For example, successful PABC companies are not forced out but rather encouraged to remain so that they are able to continue their growth trajectory via our constantly growing suite of offerings and also serve as sounding boards for the new startups that join us. Moreover, the PABC’s access to top talent is second to none.

For example, we collaborate with several leaders from the University of Pennsylvania which is home to many firsts including Wharton and is essentially the birthplace of cell and gene therapy, which is the foundation of numerous companies at our incubator in Philadelphia’s Cira Centre. Moreover, we have eminent industry leaders like Wayne Yetter on our board, who was the founding CEO of the 25-person start-up AstraMerck, which evolved into today’s $45.8 billion AstraZeneca. Having access to a leader like Wayne, who not only helped to create economic value but also a culture that nurtured future leaders like former Merck CEO Ken Frazier, provides mentorship that our startup executives can benefit from on an ongoing basis.

Through this differentiation, the PABC creates value such as the $7.3 billion in economic activity in the region during 2016 to 2021.1 For the start-ups within the PABC ecosystem, they have a successful exit, on average, of 3.5 years versus the national average of 8.5 years.2 For the Greater Philadelphia community, during those six years, the Doylestown-area biotech facility produced 1,135 new jobs.

Of those, 500 were jobs with PABC-member companies and 635 were jobs in Pennsylvania, excluding Bucks County.3 Moreover, we’re building a pipeline of future leaders via our innovative programming with high school and college students.4 Finally, with 2024’s challenge of continuous layoffs, continued job creation is a key value creator by the PABC.

Q. As the readership includes start-up entrepreneurs, academicians, and large cap biopharma executives; what are your recommendations for how they might engage with the PABC ecosystem?

A. Kassa: First, all of these stakeholders can engage with the PABC via one of the many different platforms such as company spotlight events, scientific seminars, our Regional Biotechnology Conference and our annual Entrepreneur Spotlight, plus the golf outing we hold every spring at a top-shelf country club in the region. It’s all posted on our events’ calendar.5

Second, startup entrepreneurs should refine their business plans, seek out good advisors and feel free to contact the PABC. The same is true for academicians, who can get in touch with our technology scouts who work for our Academic Innovation Zone (AIZ) program. Another resource is Dr. Lorenzo Pelligrini, managing partner of our Hatch BioFund, is a highly experienced entrepreneur and scientist who can offer valuable feedback and director. And large cap biopharma executives who are striving to get in the ground floor with the entrepreneurs at the PABC should stay on top of what we’re doing. Perhaps the best opportunities to do that are our events, particularly the Entrepreneur Spotlight, which this year will be held on July 18 at the PABC in Doylestown.

Finally, the key is to take that first step and engage with us. The Pennsylvania ecosystem of government, education and businesses understands our mission and the value which can be generated by us working together. The opportunities are amazing, such as last October’s fireside chat event, where Jim Greenwood, former US Congressman; John Crowley, executive chairman of Amicus Therapeutics, and Ron Philip, CEO of Spark Therapeutics, engaged in a spirited discussion. And the informal reception afterward provided a tremendous networking opportunity for everyone who attended.6 Come join us now, we’re open for collaboration in both our locations of downtown Philadelphia at B+Labs and Doylestown.

I should mention the B+labs at Cira Centre, which is a partnership with Brandywine Realty Trust, represents a major step forward in a new direction for us. Cira Centre is a landmark high-rise building in University City, where some of the world’s most important work in cell and gene therapy is being done. That exciting new field in biotech essentially began there at the University of Pennsylvania, so this new location for us is ideal. When we opened B+labs two years ago the space was already fully leased, and we’ve recently expanded from three floors to five.

About the Author

Michael Wong is an emeritus board member of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.


  1. https://www.pabiotechbc.org/news-and-events/news-releases-and-coverage/bucks-countys-pennsylvania-biotechnology-center-pabc-generated-7-3-billion-in-economic-activity-over-the-past-six-years/
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SV9XoY8iIA
  3. https://www.pabiotechbc.org/news-and-events/news-releases-and-coverage/bucks-countys-pennsylvania-biotechnology-center-pabc-generated-7-3-billion-in-economic-activity-over-the-past-six-years/
  4. https://www.pabiotechbc.org/education/internships-and-apprenticeships/
  5. https://www.pabiotechbc.org/news-and-events/calendar/
  6. https://www.pabiotechbc.org/assets/Uploads/Summer-2023-PABC-Update.pdf
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