Penn faculty startup raises $100K from city's StartUp PHL fund - Technical.ly Philly

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Mar. 27, 2015 12:51 pm

Penn faculty startup raises $100K from city’s StartUp PHL fund

It's a big win for the new Penn Center for Innovation, which aims to get more faculty members spinning out startups.

Boon Thau Loo, founder of Gencore Systems.

(Courtesy photo)

The City of Philadelphia’s StartUp PHL angel fund has invested $100,000 in Penn faculty startup Gencore Systems.

It’s the first time that the fund, run by First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, has backed a startup built on research done at a local university. It’s also notable because Gencore Systems is the first startup to come out of Penn’s Computer Science Department, at least in recent memory.

The $100,000 investment is convertible debt, said First Round’s Ben Cmejla. It’s part of a larger fundraising round that cofounder Boon Thau Loo hopes to close in the next few months. (The company previously raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding.)

Loo, an associate professor in Penn’s CS department, launched Gencore in the summer of 2013 after conducting nearly six years of federally-funded research with his students to develop the technology. Loo was on sabbatical leave for all of 2014 to get the company off the ground.

The company’s first product helps businesses see the effect of new code on their cloud servers, like Amazon Web Services or Rackspace. It is specifically targeting companies who do what’s known as “continuous deployment,” where dev teams launch new code multiple times a day straight to users and need immediate feedback on those deployments. A handful of companies are piloting the product, Loo said.

The investment is a big win for the new Penn Center for Innovation, the school’s rebranded and streamlined tech transfer office that aims to help more faculty launch startups.

“This is a great example of what we’re trying to do at Penn,” said Laurie Actman, the Penn Center for Innovation’s COO, adding that Penn is also focused on starting spinout companies that will stay in Philadelphia and this investment will help them reach that goal, at least with Gencore.

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Penn has an undisclosed amount of equity in Gencore and also holds licenses to some of the company’s technology.

Gencore’s position at Penn is also a point of pride for Loo.

“My vision is to develop a high-tech company so that we can give our students a reason to be proud and pave the way for more faculty members to commercialize their research,” he told us in the fall of 2013.

The company employs eight out of MentorTech Ventures’ office in University City.

This is the seventh investment that StartUp PHL has made since it launched in the fall of 2013. The Gencore investment comes from StartUp PHL’s angel fund, which launched last fall to fund companies that weren’t quite ready for a larger seed investment from First Round Capital. The angel fund is backed by Kopelman and other local angels, whom Kopelman declined to name.

As Mayor Michael Nutter’s tenure winds down, it’s clear that his administration wants Nutter’s support for the tech scene to be one of his legacies.

When asked about the latest investment, deputy mayor for economic development Alan Greenberger said in a statement: “Through StartUp PHL, making changes to our tax code, and highlighting startup success stories in Philadelphia, this Administration is committed to building Philadelphia’s profile as one of America’s top startup cities.”

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