What Do You Get When You Put Curalate, Starr Restaurants and Coded by Kids Together?

Image courtesy of Curalate.

Image courtesy of Curalate.

Philly Tech Week is back, and it’s more creative than ever. Case in point: On Tuesday, May 2, Curalate will challenge a group of as many as 200 people to a Center City scavenger hunt.

Teams will make their way around Center City to unlock and solve random challenges designed by Curalate engineers. And there are two end goals here: Unlock the location of your prize – a swanky party catered by Starr Restaurants that evening – and give kids across Philadelphia their next coding lesson. Curalate says the $10 cost to participate in “Sprint & Sips” will go directly to Coded by Kids, the Philly grassroots organization that’s giving students access to technology education. Plus, the first team to solve all of the clues and make it to the secret location will win a $250 Starr Restaurants gift card.

“We needed to do something different for Philly Tech Week this year,” Curalate co-founder and CTO Nick Shiftan told Philadelphia magazine, “And we wanted to combine the two things that Curalate does best – competitive problem solving and partying.”

Shiftan says Curalate has had much success with internal scavenger hunts and wanted an opportunity to try it again. But more importantly, the company wanted the chance to promote the importance of tech and computer science fluency and education.  Read more »

Penn Is the Nation’s Sixth Best School for Tech Transfer, Report Finds

The Pennovation Center. | Photo: © Michael Moran via HWKN

The Pennovation Center. | Photo: © Michael Moran via HWKN

Last week, the Milken Institute, a California think tank, released a new report that ranks more than 200 universities across the country according to “technology transfer,” a school’s ability to turn its research into actual products or research-driven startups.

The report “Concept to Commercialization: The Best Universities for Technology Transfer” ranked the University of Pennsylvania as the sixth best university in the nation for technology transfer, up from 12th in 2006. In other words, Penn does a great job of turning its research into revenue, tangible products and actual jobs.

The research institutions were evaluated through an index of four key indicators: patents issued, licenses issued, licensing income, and startups formed. The report also looked at each institution’s total research funding.

Penn’s indexed score in the study was 95.39, and the school’s consistent performance across all indicators is what contributed to its high placement, the authors wrote. And a recent reorganization at the school streamlined its tech transfer efforts. In 2014, the Penn Center for Innovation consolidated Penn’s technology transfer office and other programs relating to commercialization and startups.  Read more »

5 Takeaways from the 2017 “State of Center City” Report

Center City has strengths that can help it dig out of the employment hole it's still in, say local leaders. (USA Today Sports)

Center City has strengths that can help it dig out of the employment hole it’s still in, say local leaders.
(USA Today Sports)

The release of the 2017 “State of Center City” report at this morning’s quarterly meeting of the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation was a “Yes, but…” affair.

Yes, job growth in the city is on a tear, said Center City District Executive Director Paul Levy. It outpaced job growth in both the suburbs and nationwide in 2016. And Philadelphia has added jobs for seven years running and 11 of the last 12. But in an economic recovery that’s been led by job growth in cities since 2010, Philadelphia — city and region — posted the slowest growth of the nation’s 26 largest cities in that time span.

Yes, the city has posted impressive job growth numbers relative to years past. But it’s still not only digging out of a 36-year-old hole — employment remains 25 percent below where it was in 1970 — it hasn’t even returned to its 1990 level yet. By contrast, its peer cities in the Northeast have fully recovered on both fronts and boast employment figures 12 (New York) to 24 (Washington) percent above their 1970 levels.

“This is why we called it ‘The Challenge of Incomplete Revival,'” [PDF] Levy said in his remarks opening this morning’s panel discussion.

The question then becomes: How do we complete it? Read more »

Philly Soda Tax Brings in Highest Collection Yet in March

istockphoto.com NoDerog

istockphoto.com NoDerog

The Philly soda tax brought in $7 million dollars in March, its third month in action, the Department of Revenue announced on Tuesday. The amount is the most the city has ever collected in a single month from the beverage tax.

The city collected $5.9 million for January, the first month, and $6.2 million for the month of February. The Department of Revenue says the March collection of $7 million is a preliminary figure and final numbers for the month will be available in May.

According to Philadelphia’s Five Year Plan released at the beginning of March, the city’s budget office projected that the tax would bring in $7.7 million each month until June, the end of fiscal year 2017. The preliminary figure falls below this estimate.

The Department of Revenue says it’s confident that it’ll reach the fiscal year 2017 collection goal of $46 million, which encompasses the first six months of the 1.5-cents-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax. For the full year, the city expects the tax to bring in more than $91 million. “We are satisfied with what has been a relatively smooth implementation and collection of the tax,” said revenue commissioner Frank Breslin in a statement. “Field investigators have found that a majority of businesses affected by the tax are compliant. We will continue our enforcement and compliance efforts to reach all those distributing sweetened beverages.”

To reach the $46 million goal for fiscal year 2017, the city still needs to collect about $26.9 million. That’s about $9 million in collections for the months of April, May and June. But Mike Dunn, a spokesman for the city, says the revenue department will be collecting funds for fiscal year 2017 well past the month of June. “Some of the payments that we receive after July 1 are actually related to activities that occur before the end of June,” Dunn told Philadelphia magazine. “All the [Philly Beverage Tax] payments received on July 20 will be related to activities prior to June 30, and some of the August revenues may also be attributed to before June 30.” 

The city says collections of the beverage tax are expected to fluctuate throughout the year because of factors like holidays, weather, and seasonal changes in soda consumption.

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I Love My Job: Reading Terminal Market General Manager Anuj Gupta

Reading Terminal General Manager Anuj Gupta. Photo Courtesy of Reading Terminal Market.

Reading Terminal General Manager Anuj Gupta. remhoto Courtesy of Reading Terminal Market.

Reading Terminal Market is about to approach its 125th year of continuous operation, and in its old age, it’s only getting better. The Terminal’s up to 80 merchants now and 6.5 million visitors annually, and General Manager Anuj Gupta, who stepped into the role in 2015, keeps the space on top of what’s fresh and wholesome in food. This year the Knight Foundation awarded Gupta a grant to launch “Breaking Bread, Breaking Borders,” a program that brings people together from different cultures to share a food experience. On the last day of Passover, Philly’s Muslim and Jewish communities discussed the Holy Land over a meal and next month, members of Philly’s Mummer and Chinese communities will dine. Gupta hasn’t always been in the food space. He’s got a law degree from Penn and a background in community organizing and revitalization — experience that Gupta brings to the job everyday, he says. In this interview Gupta lets us in on the hidden gems of Reading Terminal Market and what’s new since he’s been in charge. He gives us a look at the Terminal’s Saturday morning regulars and shares what he cooks up in his kitchen at home.

I grew up in … Chester County in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

Something I miss about my childhood is … falling asleep on summer nights with Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn’s voices in my ears from my nightstand radio.

My schooling experience … has given me a lot of opportunity. I got to go to public school in a really strong public school system. At that time it wasn’t a particularly diverse place so it was a little challenging for a person of color to grow up. But I cannot say anything less about the quality of education that I had.

I’m really afraid of … not doing something right in raising my kids. I’m a dad of a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. I think every parent has that fear.

I don’t let my kids eat … cotton candy in large part because I don’t want to pay the consequences of the extreme sugar high. We do tend to not buy things with high fructose corn syrup. We have sweets in the house but we look at ingredients lists for that.

For someone who’s never visited Reading Terminal Market I’d pitch it as … an authentic Philadelphia experience and one that can’t be missed. It really represents some of the best that our city has to offer, not just in food but also in people. It’s one of the most diverse pubic spaces in America, and it’s a place where everybody, irrespective of where they come from, can and should feel welcome.

A merchant at the Terminal with a nontraditional story is … Elizabeth Halen who owns two stores — Flying Monkey Bakery and Condiment. She was an academic working towards a Ph.D. in statistics. I think she always had a subconscious passion for baking and good food. She worked a job as a part-time baker and did some crazy night hours for the prior owner of the Flying Monkey to pay her way through graduate school. But during that time she discovered that academia wasn’t for her. She ended up buying the business from the prior owner and has turned it into a bakery that’s gotten a lot of national attention. And then she launched a second concept here — Condiment. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anything else like it in the city in terms of its creativity and innovation.

A natural talent of mine is … public speaking. It’s something I enjoy doing, and I discovered it as a high school senior. I was selected as the high school graduation speaker. Just before the graduation, I totaled my car but was still able to deliver the speech with some measure of success. I got a sense of my confidence right before I entered the auditorium.

My first job was … caddy. We had a country club right near our house in Chester County. You could make anywhere from 25 to 50 a round, all cash. And you got free golf once a week at the golf course. I’d ride my bike there on weekends and spend the mornings caddying and it was great money for a 12-year-old.

Reading Terminal picks new merchants by … first looking to see if we can find a purveyor of fresh foods, whether it’s meats or produce. And we look for purveyors we don’t already have, which is getting increasingly hard to do. But we look at what voids in the market we have on the prepared foods side and we try to be in front of trends in the food industry and in line with our social mission to make sure Philadelphians have access to affordable, fresh nutritious foods.

Some cuisines Reading Terminal currently doesn’t have are … several East Asian cuisines like Korean or Vietnamese. We don’t have Caribbean cuisine. We also don’t have African, West or East African, which are quite different. And if you look at our mission statement, one of the points is that the space celebrates the diversity of the city and our customer base. And so as the city is increasingly diversifying, we need to be representative of that.

A new addition to the Terminal is … a mushroom farmer who sells exotic mushrooms.

Two that most people don’t know about the Terminal are … we are one of Pennsylvania’s largest redemption sites for EBT recipients. And we are approaching our 125th year of continuous operation as one of the nation’s largest and oldest public markets.

A big difference between the Nutter and Kenney administrations is … well, the world financial system isn’t collapsing first thing under the Kenney administration. But one difference I credit Kenney for is an unwavering support for immigrant communities starting on day one of the administration. I’m appreciative of that.

I use my law degree … everyday. I was a real estate lawyer so I use my background for negotiating and enforcing leases here, drafting contract language, understanding how to think through the potential hypotheticals that lawyers are trained to think through, whether it’s in negotiating an agreement with a merchant here or thinking about potential liability issues on any number of projects. I use it quite a bit.

I splurge on … basically three things. One is when The Boss comes to Philly. I buy tickets to see him. Two is baseball stadiums. I’m trying to see every baseball stadium in the country, and I’m down to nine. And three (although my wife wouldn’t really call it splurging because we buy the most discounted tickets we can find), is making sure our kids get to see the world. We just went to Colombia over spring break two weeks ago. Up next is Spain at the end of the summer before school starts.

My favorite time of year at the Terminal is … the day before Thanksgiving. Every holiday is somewhat centered on food, but there’s no other holiday when the food is absolutely front and center in bringing people together. People line up outside the market doors early in the morning. Some will be waiting outside beginning at 7:30, and we open the door and line up donuts, coffee and free shopping bags to hand out. And just the mood of the customers coming in — they’re happy to be here and we’re happy to see them. We are happy to help them get ready for what I think is a very important holiday. A lot of folks have made it a tradition that they’re going to come do their shopping here.

Some hidden gems at the Terminal are … the brunch at Pearl’s, the spice collection at Head Nut — you won’t find a more diverse collection of spices anywhere in the city — and the turkey and chicken cold cuts at Godshall’s. They have this amazing turkey, which I love to make sandwiches out of.

The 2017 foodie is … a person that has a diverse palette. This person is looking for freshness and quality of ingredients and is interested in sourcing ingredients and how the food was made.

The Reading Terminal regulars are … the heart and soul of the market. There’s a Saturday morning cadre of customers, and Saturday morning is my favorite regular period of time during the week. Peter and Donna, for example, have been coming for 50 years. They do their regular shopping, sit down for coffee and breakfast and read the paper. And when they sit they catch up with three or four others who have been coming for ten, 20, or 30 years. They sit at the same table each time, and it’s a wonderful sight. There are people who have become good friends just through their time there. Former DA Lynne Abraham is one of the regulars, too, and she’ll catch up with all of the others on Saturday mornings.

FromL to R: Vincent Lovine. owner of Lovine's Produce; Al Mezzaroba, Reading Terminal Market Board of Directors Chair; Anuj Gupta, Reading Terminal Market GM; and Brent Cossrow, Reading Terminal Market Board of Directors Vice Chair.

From L to R: Vincent Lovine, owner of Lovine’s Produce; Al Mezzaroba, Reading Terminal Market Board of Directors Chair; Anuj Gupta, Reading Terminal Market GM; and Brent Cossrow, Reading Terminal Market Board of Directors Vice Chair.

Instagram has changed the food game by … giving people an appropriate tool to present their businesses and reach people with immediacy. We use it quite a bit at the Terminal. It’s a photogenic shop so Instagram is our most powerful advertising mechanism, period.

A memory of the Terminal before I became GM is … that I’d come here almost every Saturday morning. I was one of the regulars. I’d bring my daughter in a stroller — she was just an infant at the time — and I’d put some books in my backpack. We’d eat breakfast and do all of our grocery shopping. My favorite part of the routine was loading up the bottom of the stroller with grocery bags. And I’d have grocery bags hanging from both handles and grocery bags stuffed in my backpack. I’d get to Mt. Airy on the Regional Rail and call my wife and tell her, “There’s no way we’re making it back home. Can you come pick us up?” [Laughs] It was almost like a Pavlov’s Dog Syndrome situation where I knew the circumstance I was going to end up in at the end of the trip, but I still did it anyway.

Some changes since I’ve been GM include … experimenting with programing on perimeter of the building. We’re trying to create more of a market district around the Terminal. Last year we had a monthly flower market on Saturday afternoons with PHS, and we brought the Franklin Flea once a month.

We’ve really started to bring in more pop-up food uses through our day cart program. In addition to the distillers, we have a young guy who makes these exceptional gourmet biscuits based on his grandmother’s recipes. We have another guy coming in with entirely vegan home consumption products like vegan scrapple, vegan bacon, and vegan breads.

We’re also using our city demonstration kitchen a lot. Every second and fourth Saturday you can sit down for an interactive cooking demo with one our chefs or owners here. On the first and third Saturdays, we offer free personalized chef-led tours of the market. Our chef Tess Connors will walk you through different stores depending on what your interests are, depending on what you want to cook that week.

The most pressure I’ve gotten on the job … was during my first three months. I started in the middle of June 2015 and had a little under three months to get the market ready for what we thought was going to be thousands and thousands of people coming through our doors during Papal Visit. I knew nothing about market’s operations so I had to really learn it and get a good handle on it in advance of it. Turned out it was all for not because we were dead that weekend though we well prepared.

A culinary expert I admire is … Chef Joseph Poon.

I respect … the extent to which [restaurateurs] have put Philly’s dining scene on the national map. It’s really amazing. We’re a premier dining city, and that’s happened in a relatively short period of time. They’ve carved out a nice niche in Philly that allows you to get a five star meal at a really good price. You can’t do that in New York or D.C. or Boston. There’s still a level of expense you’re going to incur at any restaurant, but there’s a level of accessibility to really creative, innovative cuisine that I don’t think you’re going to find in other cities. I respect what they’re doing for Philadelphia’s reputation across the country.

The city’s commercial corridors … are some of the best ways to get to know all of the wonderful things about Philly. Many of the corridors are populated with longtime family businesses that are representative of Philadelphia’s diversity.

I’d describe my diet as … really well balanced. But my wife would probably tell you it’s too meat heavy. I insist on a vegetable and a starch in every meal. And it’s multi-ethnic. I do all the cooking at home, and I’ll try to do two different cuisines every week at the very least.

In the kitchen I’ve taken a stab at … various Persian dishes, and that’s been a lot of fun. I started doing Vietnamese dishes over the past few years. I make a really good Pho stock.

Family mealtime now is … trying to get a four-year-old and a seven-year-old to eat in time to take showers and do nighttime reading and get to be on time. It’s also about doing whatever chores my wife and I need to do to get ready for the next day. It’s a little bit of a chaotic scene.

Family mealtime growing up was … a big production. My father insisted that we rarely eat leftovers. We only ate Indian food one night a week and every other night was another cuisine.

A strange request we get at the Terminal is … “Can we have a table for two?”

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Philly Startup Leaders Taps Bob Moore as New President

Bob Moore. Photo by Jared Shelley.

Bob Moore. Photo by Jared Shelley.

As Philly’s startup community continues to expand and take shape, the small organization at the center of it all is undergoing some major change of its own, too. On Monday, Philly Startup Leaders or PSL, named Bob Moore, head of Magento Analytics at Magento Commerce, as its new president.

But Moore’s appointment to the voluntary role — a win for both PSL and the startup community overall — doesn’t surprise us in the slightest. The technologist has been a fixture in Philly’s startup scene for years, and his story is what many budding Philly entrepreneurs look to as inspiration. Moore had a humble start as an entrepreneur in the region about ten years ago; and last August, RJMetrics, the data analytics empire he built with co-founder Jake Stein, got acquired by the Silicon Valley e-commerce platform Magento Commerce. Though exact terms of the negotiations weren’t disclosed, the exit was a big deal for the company and for Philly: Magento, which serves more than 200,000 companies worldwide, is building out its team right here in Philly, and Stitch, a brand new startup spun out of the arrangement. And even before the exit, Moore help the company raise $23 million in investment capital from coast to coast and grew from 20 to about 150 employees in just a few years.

So what does Moore’s sterling track record mean for the future of PSL and the Philly startup community?

Guru CEO and PSL board chairman, Rick Nucci, says Moore will continue to be the hands-on and engaged mentor that he’s always been to Philly entrepreneurs. “Bob has been immersed in the startup community for many years, back to the inception of PSL,” Nucci told Philadelphia magazine. Read more »

Nasdaq PHLX Trading Floor Now Open at FMC Tower

Officials ring the bell on the Nasdaq PHLX trading floor at the FMC tower. L to R: Harold Epps, Director of the Philadelphia Department of Commerce; Steve Levick, entrepreneur; Kevin Kennedy, Senior Vice President and Head of U.S. Options; Representative Patrick Meehan; Representative Dwight Evans; Tom Wittman, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Equities, Nasdaq; John Wallace, former Chairman of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange; John Egan, former Chairman of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. Photo courtesy of Nasdaq.

Officials ring the bell on the Nasdaq PHLX trading floor at the FMC tower. L to R: Harold Epps, Director of the Philadelphia Department of Commerce; Steve Levick, entrepreneur; Kevin Kennedy, Senior Vice President and Head of U.S. Options; Representative Patrick Meehan; Representative Dwight Evans; Tom Wittman, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Equities, Nasdaq; John Wallace, former Chairman of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange; John Egan, former Chairman of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. Photo courtesy of Nasdaq.

Nasdaq’s futures and options trading market, previously housed at 1900 Market Street by way of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, is now in the FMC Tower. But the move across the river is more than just a relocation, the exchange says.

“It’s an opportunity for us to double down on our options business and double down on Philadelphia,” Kevin Kennedy, SVP and head of U.S. options at Nasdaq, told Philadelphia magazine.

According to Kennedy, options trading has driven the growth of the Philadelphia exchange for the last 30 years. And since being acquired by Nasdaq in 2008, the options market has become the exchange’s bread and butter. In 2016, Nasdaq completed its $1.1 billion acquisition of the International Securities Exchange. “We took that acquisition and bought it right into the fold of Philadelphia,” Kennedy said. PHLX now controls about 42 percent of the county’s options market and sees an opportunity for even more growth in the options space.

It’s the perfect time to hire more people in Philadelphia, Kennedy said. The office is multi-faceted. It facilitates large institutional trade on the floor and manages futures, options and stock exchanges. Read more »

Report: Educational and Medical Jobs Help Stabilize Rents and Retail Market

Pixabay.com

Pixabay.com

It’s no secret that Philadelphia is a powerhouse in educational and health services – just a quick glance around our thriving metropolis will make this more than obvious. What might not be so obvious, however, is that this position reaps benefits far beyond what’s to be expected.

In fact, according to a new report by CBRE Group, Inc., our solid base of educational and medical jobs has helped to smooth out the fluctuations in our rental and retail real estate markets as well. 

In the Philadelphia metro, 21.4 percent of workers, or 618,000 of our total of 2.9 million employed, hold educational- or health-related jobs, the highest share of any of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. It even exceeds the national average, which currently sits at 15.4 percent.

According to Ian Anderson, director of research and analysis at CBRE in Philadelphia, the influence of both these industries is huge on our commercial real estate market. “It is most pronounced and measurable in the multifamily market, where we have seen its effect in buoying rents during the last downturn,” he says. Read more »

New A.C. Master Plan Loosens Up Longtime Zoning Restrictions

This week the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the body that controls Atlantic City’s Tourism District, gave the green light on changes to the city’s master plan that will unwind some longstanding zoning restrictions.

The board says it approved the amendments to do away with some barriers to development and over the next year will develop more land-use ordinances to attract new businesses, according to the Press of Atlantic City.

Under the amendment, vacant land in the southeastern inlet near the former Revel casino will be turned from exclusively casino commercial to mixed-used residential. But there’s still a minimum density zoning requirement in place, according to the Inquirer, which will prevent people from buying the land to build beach houses, for example.

The revised plan also deems Kentucky Avenue an entertainment district and the Ducktown section of the city as an arts district. Areas around the Atlantic City Expressway and its waterfront have been labeled as spots for potential retail development.

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These 8 Startups Are in Ben Franklin’s First Fintech Accelerator Class

Ben Franklin Technology Partners HQ.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners HQ.

Ben Franklin Tech Partners just announced the eight startups participating in its inaugural fintech accelerator program and the list of companies gives us a strong sense how quickly Philly’s fintech space is growing. As we reported in February, the new accelerator program is the region’s first support program for tech companies in the financial services space, and it’ll run in partnership with the D.C.-based investment firm Village Capital.

The 12-week program will kick off soon on April 24 and by the end, the eight companies will determine which two startups in the group should be rewarded $25,000 in investment capital. Participants will receive mentorship from industry experts including SEI, Wells Fargo, Vanguard, InstaMed and Safeguard Scientifics. And over the course of the program, they’ll focus on learning how to grow their businesses through Village Capital’s investment readiness curriculum.

The eight companies come from all parts of the financial services spectrum and nearly all of them are based in the Philadelphia region. A number of the companies also offer financial services solutions for big problems in education, real estate, philanthropy and health care. “With the blend of both impact-focused and transaction-based fintech concepts, it’s an impressive range of companies, and a great indicator of the depth of opportunity in our region,” said Ben Franklin president and CEO RoseAnn B. Rosenthal in a statement. Read more »

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