Penn President Amy Gutmann "announced the future" on Friday at the grand opening of the Pennovation Center — a space meant to turn intellectual inventiveness into entrepreneurial ventures.
Nested in the Lower Schuylkill area, the Pennovation Center is both an extension to Penn’s campus and a contribution to the larger scientific community of Philadelphia. It houses offices, labs, full-service incubators, "inventor garages" and production spaces dedicated to productivity between faculty, students, inventors and companies.
Its stated goals are to establish the city as a prominent scientific community, harness the potential of recent graduates and draw in new entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
The grand opening featured a series of speakers, the keynote address and ribbon cutting, reception and open house. Among the speakers were several Penn alumni, including founder of FeverSmart William Duckworth, CEO of COSY Jonas Cleveland and Manager at Qualcomm Daniel Mellinger. Architect of the center Matthias Hollwich was also present. At the opening, Gutmann conducted an interview with Warby Parker co-founders and 2010 Wharton graduates Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa as well.
Since 2010, Hollwich worked to design a building he hoped would match the innovative spirit of those it would house. The north façade represents the center breaking through the building and into the global community. He described the interior as “raw, simple [and] rough." He joked that attending the grand opening felt “like sending your kids to college.”
Penn Board of Trustee chair David Cohen spoke about skepticism in the Board when Gutmann first pitched the transformation of a rundown, abandoned industrial facility into a state-of-the-art science facility. It was Gutmann’s vision, he said, that allowed them to believe it could be done.
Referencing the film "Back to the Future," Gutmann said she believes society has “achieved more than sci-fi predicted.” Her commitment to the center is grounded in her desire to foster research and her confidence in the capabilities of human minds, especially the minds of those at Penn, she said.
Embracing the themes of innovation and investment in the future, Gutmann had the scissors delivered to her by a drone before cutting the ceremonial ribbon, accompanied by streams of confetti.
"The future ain’t what it used to be — it’s better," she said.