Friday, May 22, 2015

POSTED: Thursday, May 21, 2015, 3:10 PM
William Penn atop City Hall, from a drone video shot for Visit Philadelphia.

One of Pennsylvania's largest insurers says it has received the Federal Aviation Administration's blessing to launch its first DJI Phantom 2 quadrocopter drones, which will putter across the skies to spy out your damaged home or car.

Erie Indemnity Co. hopes airborne digital cameras will help it avoid sending so many human adjusters to accident scenes. They'll also "help with underwriting," or pricing risk, Erie spokeswoman Leah Knapp told me.

Erie, the 12th largest U.S. auto insurer and 14th largest home insurer, joins AIG, State Farm and USAA in winning FAA backing for drone testing, claims adjustment and underwriting. The company last month won "conditional approval" from FAA "to use unmanned aircraft systems -- commonly referred to as drones — in our inspections, risk assessment and management, loss prevention and underwriting evaluations," according to Gary Sullivan, vice president of property and subrogation claims, in this column 

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 3:10 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 11:57 AM

Osage University Partners, Bala Cynwyd, says today it has raised $215 million to invest "startups that are commercializing university research." The group has signed deals with 68 U.S. and two Israel universities and research institutions, locally including Penn, Drexel, CHOP, Rutgers, Princeton and Penn State, managing partner William "Bill" Harrington tells me.

The deal more than doubles OUP's investment outlay to date. The new money will form OUP's Fund II. Harrington says Fund I has lately cashed in on "significant exits" from a string of firms, including these newly-public companies:
- Receptos (RCPT)
- Aerie (AERI)
- Otonomy (OTIC)
- Immune Design (IMDZ)
AGTC (the name is also the stock symbol)
The business model is for OUP to share profits with the colleges and research groups who come up with bright ideas in bio and info tech.

In addition to Harrington, OUP II partners include Marc Singer and Robert Adelson. Founding Partner is Louis Berneman, one of the daddies of what colleges call "technology transfer." 

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 11:57 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 11:47 AM

The busy trade group for Philly-area IT and bio start-ups and the investors who love them -- PACT, the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technology -- granted its 22nd yearly Enterprise Awards at the Pa. Convention Center May 14, its first 1,000-person Philly gala after four years in the burbs. Winners: 

• Healthcare Innovator of the Year: Tabula Rasa Healthcare, Moorestown 
• Life Sciences CEO of the Year: Jeffrey Marazzo, Spark Therapeutics, Philadelphia (which went public in this $161 million IPO. A previous PACT Company of the Year.)
• Emerging Life Sciences Company: Excellis Health Solutions, New Hope
• Life Sciences Startup Company of the Year: BioBots, Philadelphia
• Technology Company of the Year: iPipeline, Exton
• Technology CEO of the Year: Lars Bjork, Qlik, Radnor (also a previous Company of the Year.)
• Emerging Technology Company of the Year: Evolve IP, Wayne
• Startup Technology Company of the Year: Sidecar, Philadelphia
• Digital Innovation: Elemica, Philadelphia
• Investment Deal of the Year: NewSpring Capital, Radnor/LLR Partners, Philadelphia

That Deal of the Year was the $336 million sale of Quintiq, the Philly-based (but mostly Dutch-run) supply chain software firm with users in 80 countries, to France's Dassault group. In a statement, NewSpring partner Marc Lederman credited LLR, NewSpring advisor Michael Donahue, and especially Quintiq's cofounder and ceo Victor Allis, cfo Michael Coluzzi, and other Quintiq principals for growing the business at 30% a year; and Morgan Lewis lawyer David Gerson for nominating the deal.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 11:47 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 9:56 AM
Brian L. Roberts, chairman of Philadelphia-based Comcast

Cable TV and tech executives were among the highest-paid public-company CEOs in 2014, including salary, bonus and stock gifts reported to the SEC and shareholders in proxy statements so far this year and ranked by executive consultant Equilar and the NY Times here. Highlights:

1) Discovery TV boss David Zaslav, $156 million
2) Michael T. Fries, boss at John Malone's Liberty Global multinational cable TV empire, $111 million
3) Mutual fund mogul Mario Gabelli (Gamco), $88.5 million 
4) Microsoft boss Satya Nadella, $84 million 
5) GoPro mini-camera-maker boss Nicholas Woodman, $77 million
6) Gregory B. Maffei, boss at Liberty Media and West Chester-based shopping channel QVC, $74 million

Other Philly-area CEOs near the top:
19) Herve Hoppenot, of Wilmington-based one-drug-maker Incyte, $33 million
22) Eric J. Foss, boss at Aramark, the cafeteria giant
35) Comcast boss Brian L. Roberts, $26 million  

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 9:56 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 7:30 PM

Jack Varsalona heads New Castle-based Wilmington University, whose billboards boast that the Chronicle of Higher Education calling it one of the fastest-growing colleges in America, at a time many schools are having a tough time keeping enrollments up. The Chronicle has also reported Varsalona collects an Ivy League million-dollar-plus compensation package: $800,000 salary plus $700,000 in deferred income, for a total of $1.5 million.

 WU employs hundreds of low-paid adjuncts, plus a core of fulltime teachers. Varsalona fills the place with cops, social workers and other adult learners, often schooling at night, working their way through. He's planning another campus, near Chadds Ford. I talked to him earlier this year.

What prepared you to run this place? I [was principal] at Ursuline Academy (Wilmington Catholic prep school) three years. Then I was (then-Delaware Gov. Pierre S.) "Pete" du Pont's education adviser in a pretty bad (1970s) recession. 

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 7:30 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 4:37 PM

UPDATE Wednesday: from Matt DeJulio, administrator, Society Hill Civic Association: While the Association does plan a General Membership Meeting at Zubrow Auditorium tonight, a report on the SuperFresh site at 309 S. 5th St. from the Zoning and Historic Committee will take place privately, before the membership meeting, and "there are no plans at this time to have discussion of this important issue open to the general membership or general public." 

An earlier version of this item said plans will be discussed, but that won't happen at the general meeting tonight. -- Listed owner of the SuperFresh property is Richard I. Rubin & Co., a predecessor of Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT). PREIT owns the Gallery, Cherry Hill Mall and other suburban and small-town shopping centers, and a collection of Center City properties.

Two spokespeople for PREIT who returned my calls could not immediately clarify a company role, if any, in the development plans.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 4:37 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 2:11 PM

Allentown, Pa. is among the Top 10 U.S. locations on a list of 33 U.S. cities rated for back-office business-process employers, the kind of jobs formerly outsourced to low-wage foreign countries but increasingly maintained in or returned to U.S. locations. That's according to a study by the New York-based, publicly-traded Hackett Group business consultants by analysts led by Jim O'Connor. 

U.S. cities that test well in the Hackett review, including Atlanta, Tampa and several midsize centers such as Allentown, Syracuse and Richmond, rank high for available low-cost office space and labor; they also benefit from high-quality roads, airport access and other modern infrastructure, low job turnover, and low "political risk" and "fraud risk," compared to foreign outsourcing centers; plus relatively low taxes, by U.S. standards.

Philadelphia rated 27th among 33 U.S. cities rated, about the same as Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Phoenix, above Houston and Austin, and below Dallas.--  New York, Boston, Washington, San Francisco, and other high-cost cities weren't rated.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 2:11 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 1:34 PM
File photo: Allstate. (Tim Boyle (Getty Images)

Allstate, the largest investor-owned U.S. retail insurer, says it plans to boost its total agency staff (agency owners, staff, and exclusive reps selling Allstate life, car, home, retirement and other products) across Pennsylvania by 260 this year, to 1,783. The expansion will include 63 new agency owners (30 in the Philly area).  The company is also targeting New England, Julia Reusch, a spokeswoman in Allstate's Malvern office, told me.

Allstate is targeting both Pennsylvania's aging population, and local markets where the economy is expanding. As agency owners, the company is looking for "mid-career, mid-level managers" with $50,000 to invest or a current sales license, who would own their own agencies to sell Allstate insurance and investment products, Ed Norcia, an Allstate manager in charge of "strategic deployment," said in a statement.

Allstate offers a $5,000 bounty for referrals of qualified agency owners or exclusives, payable on hire. “A property and casualty insurance background is not required," Norcia added. The company will train and provide some support. "They do need a strong entrepreneurial drive and passion to help others.”

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 1:34 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
About this blog

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 or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano