Ousted Safeguard Scientifics chief Steve Zarrilli named CEO of Science Center

Following a six-month search, the University City nonprofit picked Zarrilli, who stepped down from the Radnor VC firm in April after a feud with some Safeguard investor groups.

Steve Zarrilli, pictured here at Safeguard's Radnor HQ in 2016. (Photo by Roberto Torres)

Former Safeguard Scientifics CEO Steve Zarrilli, who stepped down in April following a tumultuous battle with investor groups who called for his resignation, was announced Thursday as CEO of the 65-year old R&D nonprofit University City Science Center.

Zarrilli, a board member of the West Philly organization since 2014, is the successor of former Science Center CEO Steve Tang, who resigned in January to lead Bethlehem, Pa.-based life sciences company OraSure.

“What we have found in Steve Zarrilli is a proven leader of ideas, organizations and people, and a passionate advocate for helping entrepreneurs grow concepts into companies,” said Board Chairman Craig Carnaroli. “He brings to the Science Center deep ties to Philadelphia, but also an expansive view of how technology, when nurtured and incubated, can thrive and be a catalyst for economic development.”

A source with knowledge of the selection process told that Drexel University’s Keith Orris, SVP for Corporate Relations and Economic Development, had been among the final candidates alongside “a woman from outside the area.” The source declined to name her, but said this woman had been selected by the search committee as the top applicant out of a pool of 100 candidates. Carnaroli instead chose the former Safeguard exec, the source said.

“I am very excited to have this opportunity to lead the Science Center during its next phase of growth and contribution to our regional innovation economy. I believe the Science Center is uniquely positioned to serve as an important catalyst for the continued development of science and technology commercialization opportunities both locally and nationally,” Zarrilli said. “The Science Center has such a rich history of supporting entrepreneurial development. I believe we can substantially leverage this history of success to further create new and scalable programming and support for our innovation community; and strengthen the Science Center’s collaborative endeavors with our shareholders, partners and other community members.”

Zarrilli, 57, comes to the Science Center at a pivotal moment. At the end of last year, ahead of the hub’s move to the 14-story, 345,000 square-foot building at 3675 Market, the organization announced a “major model shift” that would stray from office and lab space management to focus more on entrepreneurship-focused programs like the Digital Health Accelerator, with Cambridge, Mass.-based Cambridge Innovation Center and Kendall Square, Mass.-based BioLabs focusing on running the physical space side of things at 3675 Market. (That shift, at least for one company, resulted in a major rent hike.)

Zarrilli’s tenure at Safeguard came to a close after some investor groups took issue with Safeguard’s strategy. (Unlike most VC firms, Safeguard is a publicly traded company.) Yakira Capital Investment and Sierra Capital called for the resignation of the leadership team, though later Sierra Capital called truce after investor Ira Lubert and Russell Glass were added to the board of Safeguard.

Companies: Safeguard Scientifics / University City Science Center

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