Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Microsoft's Malvern partner plans global growth

Boss Zikria Syed says NextDocs, with 85 workers and over $10 million in sales to Sanofi and other drug giants, "can grow... to a much larger scale"

Microsoft's Malvern partner plans global growth

Zikria Syed left Microsoft's Philadelphia office (it's actually in Malvern) eight years ago to set up his own business. Syed's current company, NextDocs, writes drug clinical-testing software. It employs 85, with offices in seven states and six countries (Japan is next). Most (50) are based at NextDoc's Malvern headquarters, close to Microsoft's 160-person Life Sciences Industry headquarters. 

Syed may have left Microsoft, but it's no hard feelings: Microsoft and NextDocs share clients in and beyond the US 202 drugmakers' corridor - Sanofi Aventis, and Merck, among others, says Michael Naimoli, managing director of Microsoft Life Sciences.

"It's in the DNA of Microsoft to work through a partner ecosystem," Naimoli told me. "We have, traditionally, not necessarily produced software that is specific for the life sciences industry. Our primary focus, with respect to life science and healthcare, is to work with our partners," vendors like NextDocs.

The physical proof of the partnership is the new 20,000 square foot "Life Sciences Solutions Scalability Lab" that Microsoft opened with NextDocs after gutting a former Vanguard Group office downstairs from Microsoft's Malvern office. Microsoft cofounder Steve Ballmer visited when work finished in March, and so did PA Gov.Tom Corbett, even though the state isn't financing the project, according to Bob Kuhns, director of the Microsoft center.

The lab, staffed by nine newly hired "technical architects," includes rooms for visiting clients to test clinical-testing software (and hardware from HP, Dell and other vendors) before it's rolled out for thousands of staff at individual companies. In a case study report approved by Sanofi, the European drugmaker says its Microsoft-NextDocs clinical trial software has saved "10,000 working days" compared to its previous management systems.

Syed (Drexel grad, master's of computer science, 1989) says he's been self-funding NextDocs with proceeds from the 2006 sale of his previous company, Broadpeak LLC (now part of Parexel) plus profits. Five-year-old NextDocs has been profitable since 2007, he says, and will top $10 million in sales this year, after two straight years of 60% sales growth. No plans to sell: There's a very large market, and we think we can grow the company to a much larger scale over the next few years" by staying independent.

Joseph N. DiStefano
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PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano
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