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Meet the Visionary Excellence Award Winner: University City Science Center

Posted Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Programs & Events, Member News

What’s it take to receive the Visionary Excellence Award? Read our interview with Stephen S. Tang, Ph.D., MBA, President & CEO of the University City Science Center, as we highlight one of the key organizations that drive the Greater Philadelphia region. Join us to celebrate the 33rd Annual Excellence Award winners on Thursday, November 5 »


Who has been an inspiration to you as a business owner and why?

One of my favorite books is called The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley. Written by a couple of venture capitalists from Silicon Valley, The Rainforest transformed the way I think about innovation communities and the role that research parks, incubators and economic development organizations can play. The authors offer a unique and compelling recipe for developing innovation ecosystems that we’ve taken to heart at the Science Center. They contend that innovation cannot be engineered. Instead, innovation ecosystems are actual biological systems like Rainforests, with talent, ideas and capital serving as the nutrients that flow through the system. Central to this model is the “Keystone” species that bridges social distances and connects disparate parties together. Serving as a Keystone species has become one of the guiding pillars of our strategy at the Science Center.

What’s so special about the Philadelphia region business community?

Philadelphia is a city on the move. In the space of a year Philly will welcome Pope Francis, the Democratic National Convention, Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Tour and Forbes Under 30. Our skyline is reaching higher, our businesses and institutions are expanding, and over the past six years our city has attracted more millennials than any other city in America.

Philadelphia’s vibrancy has its roots in its history. As Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is fond of saying, Philadelphia is America’s first startup. When the founding fathers gathered in Philly more than 200 years ago, they essentially drafted a business plan for the first democracy. To take it a step further, Colonial Philadelphia was also the nation’s first innovation ecosystem. Home to the first university, the first hospital and the first bank in the country – as well as creative thinkers like the Founding Fathers – our city had many of the necessary elements that make up a successful startup. And all of those elements are in abundance today.

What does it mean to you personally and/or to your business to be named an Excellence Award winner?

We are proud members of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber. So it’s especially meaningful to receive the Visionary Award in recognition of our efforts in tech-based economic development. Not only am I humbled to accept the award on behalf of the Science Center, but I am also honored to accept it on behalf of the 350+ companies that have gotten their start at the Science Center over the past 52 years.

What are your growth plans for the next 3 – 5 years?

After 50+ years of operations, the Science Center is in the midst of a dramatic change that will impact Greater Philadelphia’s role in the innovation ecosystem. In June 2015 we joined forces with Wexford Science + Technology, a BioMed Realty company, to expand our footprint. In September, we announced a new brand for our campus: uCity Square. Today, uCity Square is home to the Science Center, our programs, and our vast ecosystem of scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators. uCity Square is a 10-15 year project. Over the next 3-5 years we will be working to ensure that uCity Square will be a true mixed-use community comprised of office and lab space for companies of all sizes. Together with Wexford, we’re creating a community of ingenuity where bright minds can flourish and thrive.

Throughout, the Science Center will continue to be at the forefront of Philadelphia’s innovation economy. As we embark on the next chapter of our narrative, our commitment to helping innovators invent the future remains steadfast.

What’s something that you think would surprise people about your business?

At the Science Center, we’re big believers in succeeding – or failing fast! Indeed, we are enthusiastic advocates of failing faster, cheaper and smarter. Sure — successful startups are the ultimate goal, but if you’re going to fail, we want you to do it quick, learn from it, and move on. Failure is tough. We’ve all experienced its sting. And given that we’re human, it’s inevitable that we’ll fail again. So let’s get used to it – and if possible, even embrace it. Failure is a valuable experience. It’s a natural consequence of risk. And if there’s one common trait that entrepreneurs share, it’s a high tolerance for risk.

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