The Philadelphia area "could be the best place in the country to start a software company in the life sciences,' says Zikria Syed. A veteran of Micorsoft's Malvern-based pharma software business and, before that, of Shared Medical Systems, Syed now employs 80 engineers, programmers and businss people at his company, NextDocs.
Syed plans to triple the headcount at his new West Conshohocken office (formerly home to Jacobs Engineering) to 250 (by 2014, I understood him to say; in February, spokesman David Cahill called to tell me it may take longer.)
Sales are approaching $20 milllion this year, growing 50% a year, Syed says.
Syed ticks off some of the other bio-software companies growing up around the city: Liquent (sold earlier this month for Parexel for $72 million), Bioclinca in King of Prussia, Clinical Financial Servcies in Audubon.
That proximity makes it collectively easier to recruit talent to help NextDocs' Microsoft-based open-source clinical-testing drug development software compete with more established "legacy' systems like Documentum, OpenText, Sparta Systms, Quemass.
"We offer standardized tech, delivered in a scaleable way - that's why Sanofi and AstraZeneca and Abbott picked us up," Syed told me. "We are not the low-price offering, that's for sure. We are a premium product. We say the total cost of our ownership is low, because of the standard Microsoft technology. We have a bigger ecosystem of service providers," unlike proprietary-system competitors. "That lowers the cost over time." NextDocs also integrates for customers of enterprise software giants SAP and Oracle.
NextDocs moved to these larger quarters after raising $10.3 million from Open View Partners, a Boston firm that focuses on helping targets boost sales to big companies, in August. The firm was previously backed by Slicon Valley Bank.
Syed likes Conshy better than his previous crowded digs in King of Prussia: "It's younger, it's more urban, we've got more energy and excitement here. Young talent wants to work on collaborations; these people don't want to own a car. They want to walk to restaurants and happy hours. Some of them bike to work..
"We're in a Class A facility, it's more accessible from the highways, and there's a train station across the street for our employees from Philadelphia," says Syed cheerfully. He has clients in France, the U.K., Germany, Switzerland. "We can grow the company to five to 10 times our current size just in pharmaceuticals. We are dipping our toes beyond pharmaceuticals, to see what the potential is."