In this region, no deficit in biotech entrepreneurs

I received some interesting reactions from readers to Friday's column about the legacy of two pioneers of the region's biotechnology sector.

I'd wondered aloud who might follow in the footsteps of Frank Baldino Jr., the founder of Cephalon Inc. who died in December, and Hubert J.P. Schoemaker, the founder of Centocor Inc. who died in 2006. Both built large enterprises that continue to employ hundreds locally.

In a comment posted online, Pennsylvania Bio president Christopher P. Molineaux listed seven local life-sciences entrepreneurs whom he suggested were walking that same path, including Steven Nichtberger, CEO of East Norriton-based Tengion Inc., and Maxine Gowen, founder and CEO of King of Prussia-based Trevena Inc.

In e-mails, readers in the biotech business mentioned how difficult it is to get from the point of drug discovery to putting actual product in consumers' hands. At the same time, they said they draw inspiration from the stories of how Baldino and Schoemaker adjusted their business models and ultimately succeeded.

What struck Christopher J. Burns, president and chief scientific officer of VenatoRx Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Exton, on hearing the tributes at the Pennsylvania Bio annual dinner was the determination of Baldino and Schoemaker to improve the life-sciences entrepreneurial community in the Philadelphia area.

It was clear from Burns' e-mail that inspiration has led to action. VenatoRx, a 2010 start-up by several key executives who had also started Protez Pharmaceuticals, recently was approached by two other start-ups seeking advice. Burns said his company offered to provide both companies with antibacterial testing - for free.

"We had to convince them that we're just trying to help one another out," Burns wrote. "Pretty simple concept that we lose so quickly."

He went on to say that he did not know Baldino or Schoemaker personally, but admires the example they set for others to follow.

"We'll try to do our part," Burns said. "What better way for anyone's legacy to live on?"

Tech Alert

The Philadelphia area's Web entrepreneurs have been trying to learn from and lean on one another for several years now.

One place to see some of the results of those collaborations is the third annual Entrepreneur Expo, being presented by Philly Startup Leaders, at the University of the Arts Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m.

Thirty-nine companies will show off their mobile applications and Web-based tools in Hamilton Hall at 320 S. Broad St. It's free to attend, but event organizers would appreciate those wanting to go to register at

What's the expo going to look like? Spokeswoman Gloria Bell described it as an "eighth-grade science fair meets a corporate trade show."

The K Factor

Perhaps we should've seen the $2.4 billion purchase of GSI Commerce Inc. by eBay Inc. coming. (Read more here.)

After all, both dot-com businesses have local venture capitalist and entrepreneur Josh Kopelman in common.

In 1999, Kopelman founded Conshohocken-based, an online site selling used books, movies and music. eBay bought it in 2000 for $300 million, and Kopelman ran the business until 2003.

GSI Commerce, of King of Prussia, named Kopelman, now managing director of First Round Capital, a prolific seed-stage venture fund, to its board on Feb. 8. At the time, GSI founder Michael G. Rubin said Kopelman's "understanding of the changing landscape of e-commerce and the Internet will be very helpful as GSI Commerce continues to expand and evolve."

Nearly seven weeks later, eBay came calling, lugging billions of more dollars to the Philadelphia region.


Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or See his blog at .