One City in Pennsylvania is Poised to Crush the 21st Century …

Photo via Dave DiCello/visit pittsburgh

Photo via Dave DiCello/visit pittsburgh

I came to Pittsburgh to see the future.

On a blustery late-winter morning with a light whorl of snowflakes falling near the banks of the Allegheny River, Sarah, a friendly young PR person for Uber, opened the rear passenger door of a Volvo SUV that had so much electronic gear installed on the roof, it looked like it was wearing a crown. She gestured for me to take a seat. We were in the parking lot of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, a converted restaurant-equipment warehouse just north of downtown. I was about to have a very special Uber ride, and not just because it was free.

I buckled up, and the Volvo headed out on a few blocks of 33rd Street that run under a hulking railroad trestle — an unsubtle symbol of the city’s heralded industrial past. The car turned toward downtown and headed into the bustling Strip District. We went a few miles and then circled back on Smallman Street to the Uber warehouse, which is situated in a part of Pittsburgh that recently has become such a magnet for tech research that one think-tank maven described it to me as “where you really feel you’re in the 21st century.”

The ride took maybe 15 minutes and was uneventful except for a needless stop for a double-parked delivery truck outside one of the Strip’s many food stores and some hard braking when an impatient idiot passed us on the right. I can’t say much more about it because Uber wouldn’t let me in the door unless I signed an imposing confidentiality agreement, and Sarah reminded me several times, in her very friendly way, that the whole trip was “on background.” But I think I can reveal this: Though there was someone in the driver’s seat, for most of the trip the car drove itself. Read more »

Does Every Child Need to Learn to Code?

BSD’s Christopher Geary at the company’s Bryn Mawr HQ. Photo by Gene Smirnov.

BSD’s Christopher Geary at the company’s Bryn Mawr HQ. Photo by Gene Smirnov.

Christopher Geary doesn’t look as tired as he ought to. In the past week he’s met with educators who run private schools in Beijing and then some school leaders in Hong Kong, where he lives, and just this morning in late March with the headmaster of Hill Top Prep in Rosemont. He logged 286,000 air miles last year and doesn’t seem to be cutting back. Right now, at least he’s sitting in one place — the little reception area of his company, in its year-old American headquarters in the back of the Rosemont Square shopping center on Lancaster Avenue. He’s with Ashley Govberg of the Philadelphia jewelry-store Govbergs, who have become Geary’s business partners here. Their company is BSD Code + Design Academy, which was set up first in Asia and now is here to teach computer coding to our schoolchildren. The company holds classes and camps at its clubhouse of an office suite, sends a small staff out to teach at a growing number of local schools, and develops curricula for private- and public-school teachers to use.

One thing Geary does look is like a hipster: He’s dressed in black, with thick-rimmed glasses, scraggly Johnny Depp facial hair, and a man bun tied behind his head. But the hipster tag doesn’t quite fit. Raised by parents who toted him around Asia and educated him in Britain, he speaks with the kind of English boarding-school accent that sounds refined and exotic in Philadelphia. Geary, who’s 34, has a law degree. He’s written for the Huffington Post about the ethics of shark fin soup. With his wife, in Hong Kong, he owns a jewelry business concerned with “ethical sourcing” of metals and gems. He technical-dives off the coast of Indonesia. (Technical is deeper and more dangerous than recreational scuba.) He trains in martial arts in Hong Kong (really, the place you want to do it). Read more »

UK Firm to Offer Housing for Tech Startup “Friends” in Philly

Startup Home's London facilities join the idea factory and the loft apartment at the hip.

Startup Home’s London facilities join the idea factory and the loft apartment at the hip.

Co-working spaces typically have several common amenities: meeting and gathering spaces, game tables, beer taps in the kitchen or even a pub room.

The newest entry in the co-working field, an import from the United Kingdom that’s launching in Philadelphia this spring, adds a few others: a living room, a dining area, and groceries in the fridge and pantry. And the office spaces come with bedrooms.

Startup entrepreneur, meet Startup Home, a “starter home” with a difference. Read more »

How the Sharing Economy Is Changing Office Space

Coworking space provider Benjamin's Desk is one of the major forces reviving the Center City office space market.

Coworking space provider Benjamin’s Desk is one of the major forces reviving the Center City office space market.

Two booms taken together turned Center City Philadelphia from a somewhat sleepy place at night with a buzz-cut of a skyline to a vibrant, round-the-clock environment with a true big-city downtown profile.

The first was the office construction boom that was touched off by Liberty Place, the building that broke the buzz cut. The second was a wave of new residents that first began to stream into the city center around that same time.

But as that wave turned into a flood, the two booms ended up canceling out the city’s office-sector growth. Older office buildings were turned into residences even as new office buildings went up, thus keeping the office market (and the rough number of office workers) flat. The culmination of this canceling-out was the conversion of Two Liberty Place’s upper floors into condominiums in the early 2000s. Read more »

U-City Named Hottest Tech Submarket in Nation

One Drexel Plaza and Drexel Square

Strong demand and rising rents should make it easy for projects in the University City development pipeline, like the Schuylkill Yards joint venture between Drexel University and Brandywine Realty Trust, to find tech-sector tenants to fill them, if the latest CBRE “Tech-Thirty” report is any guide. | Image: SHoP Architects and West8

Those shiny new buildings rising in University City are not only turning it into Philadelphia’s second downtown — they’re making it the nation’s hottest submarket for high-tech office space, according to CBRE’s annual “Tech-Thirty” survey.

The survey, which examines job growth and technology office space rent growth in the nation’s 30 largest technology employment centers, put the area surrounding Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania at the top of the list for office rent growth — the average rent of $41.40 per square foot is up 37.8 percent over the two-year period from the second quarter of 2014 to the second quarter of 2016 — and in growth of net absorption (the amount of space on the market that gets occupied), it ranked second only to Tempe, outside Phoenix, with a growth rate of 23.3 percent over that same period. Read more »

Are You More Innovative Than a Middle Schooler?

Keelyn, Dani, Alisha, Calea, Simone, and Emma spent the week designing an app and pitched it to potential investors at a TechGirlz camp.

Keelyn, Dani, Alisha, Calea, Simone, and Emma spent the week designing an app and pitched it to potential investors at a TechGirlz camp.

On Friday, 26 ambitious young ladies ages 11 to 13 from various Philadelphia middle schools presented app ideas to a panel of mock investors at Villanova University.

“Demo Day” was the culmination of a week-long entrepreneur camp offered by TechGirlz, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering girls to be future leaders in tech. This summer marks the fifth year of camp, and 5,000 girls taught at camps nationally and internationally.

“We are big and we are audacious and we are going to keep making sure that girls understand that they can be part of this industry,” said Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of TechGirlz.

Read more »

Comcast Expands Internet Access for Thousands of Low-Income Families

Comcast Center | Jeff Fusco

Comcast Center | Jeff Fusco

About 35,000 households across Philadelphia are now eligible to apply for Internet Essentials, Comcast’s high-speed internet program for low-income families.

Comcast and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also announced today that nationwide, an estimated total of 2 million households will now have access to the internet program.

The expansion follows several other attempts by Comcast to increase access to low-income families through pilot programs in the last year, and is also possible through HUD’s ConnectHome, an initiative of the Obama Administration to expand high-speed affordable broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and electronic devices to all Americans.

Read more »

Comcast to Satisfy Your Connectivity Needs During DNC

Wells Fargo Center | Photo by PHL Approach via Wikimedia Commons.

Wells Fargo Center | Photo by PHL Approach via Wikimedia Commons.

Comcast Business has been named the official broadband and telecommunications provider for the Democratic National Convention, the Philadelphia host committee announced on Tuesday.

No surprise here. In Philadelphia, the media giant has already made moves to upgrade its XFinity WiFi network at several transportation hubs around the city in time for the influx of an anticipated 50,000 guests in town July 25th-28th.

At the Wells Fargo Center, where the main convention events will take place, Comcast will provide network connections for internet, WiFi, Ethernet, Voice and TV services for convention attendees, operations personnel and vendors working in the arena.

Read more »

How to Make the DNC Innovative? Get Curalate On Board

From left to right: Andrew Binns, DNCC Chief Innovation Officer; Kelli Klein, DNCC Digital Director; Apu Gupta, CEO and Co-Founder of Curalate; Mayor Jim Kenney | Photo by Fabiola Cineas.

From left to right: Andrew Binns, DNCC Chief Innovation Officer; Kelli Klein, DNCC Digital Director; Apu Gupta, CEO and Co-Founder of Curalate; Mayor Jim Kenney | Photo by Fabiola Cineas.

This year’s DNC in Philadelphia will be the most innovative Democratic national convention to date, the host committee says, and that’s thanks in part to the popular, fast-growing Philadelphia-based startup Curalate.

The DNC host committee announced today that Curalate, the image monetization software company, is an official technology provider for the convention, joining other technology leaders like Microsoft, AT&T, and LG, also official technology providers.

In its fourth year of business, Curalate captures the visual content or images of its clients like Staples and Urban Outfitters on social media platforms like Instagram and connects the images to the products pictured within them. With Curalate’s technology, for example, a user on Pinterest can click on an image of a dinner table spread from Crate & Barrel (a client) and be linked to where they can find and purchase the items online. Read more »

What Hillary Clinton’s Tech Plan Could Do for Philadelphia

Hillary Clinton speaks earlier this year at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Convention in Philadelphia. Photo | Matt Rourke, AP

Hillary Clinton speaks earlier this year at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Convention in Philadelphia. Photo | Matt Rourke, AP

Hillary Clinton dropped some big technology objectives last week when she released her all-encompassing “Initiative on Technology & Innovation” policy agenda.

The ambitious list of initiatives reads like an innovator’s dream, with proposals to connect every U.S. household to high-speed internet by 2020, train 50,000 new computer science teachers in the next decade, and even minimize the worries of budding entrepreneurs by deferring their federal students loans for up to three years.

In Philadelphia, the presumptive democratic nominee’s platform could do a lot to further the city’s commitment to attracting and retaining entrepreneurs. While some industry leaders say Philadelphia is already a microcosm of Clinton’s plan, others are skeptical about whether the stated initiatives can ever materialize here.

Read more »

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