Here’s Why Brookings Thinks Philly’s Innovation Scene Isn’t Competitive Enough

code orange | f11photo

A new report released on Thursday by the nonprofit Brookings Institution tries to tackle a major, eternally looming question for Philadelphia: With all of the city’s recent advancements in innovation, why isn’t Philadelphia more competitive on the national and global stage?

The answer: Philly leaders and institutions lack “a sense of collective urgency” to help the city intentionally connect the dots on how to best leverage its innovation capacity.

The report examined what it calls Philadelphia’s “innovation district” the area from 17th Street in Center City to 44th Street along Market in University City and South along the Schuylkill River to Grays Ferry and determined that this region, home to anchor firms and institutions like CHOP, FMC, the Science Center, Drexel, Penn, Comcast, IBX, and PECO, can be further developed and more interconnected to push Philly past its innovation tipping point.

Philadelphia’s Innovation District. Courtesy of Brookings.

But before the authors prescribed their recommendations on how to bridge the innovation district’s gaps, they took a deep dive into what continues to ail the district and also what keeps it alive. Here are the strengths and challenges identified in the report:  Read more »

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 »

Philly ER Doc Wins Big for Creating a Real Tricorder

Toy Star Trek Tricorder prototypes. Image via Pinterest.

Toy Star Trek tricorders. Image via Pinterest.

Final Frontier Medical Devices, a team led by Paoli-based ER doctor Basil Harris, just won the global $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize competition for creating a groundbreaking device akin to Star Trek’s futuristic Tricorder.

The competition for the Tricorder XPrize has been five years in the making. The California-based nonprofit group XPrize, challenged applicants to develop a tricorder-like device, one that can accurately diagnose 13 health conditions and monitor five vital signs independent of a doctor or a hospital. The tool has the potential to revolutionize the health care space by giving consumers the power to check the state of their health independently at any time. The international competition had 312 entrants from 38 counties and Dr. Basil’s bootstrapped seven-member team of siblings and friends took home the grand prize of $2.6 million dollars for their tricorder prototype — the DxtER.  Read more »

How the Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship Is Building a New Class of Philly Business Leaders

Sudan Green explains his group’s ideas to the class during January's session.

Sudan Green explains his group’s ideas to the class during January’s session.

When I walked into the Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship’s third session one snowy Saturday morning in January, I was immediately greeted by the word hustle. It was written across the T-shirts of some of the program’s entrepreneurs, and the group chanted “Ay hustllllle” several times that morning to voice their enthusiasm.

The 24 entrepreneurs, clustered around the couches of the city’s Pipeline co-working space, were tuned into a lesson on the business model canvas, a template for fleshing out brand-new ventures. They spent hours thinking up value propositions, potential revenue streams, and their dreamt-up businesses’ cost structures. But the IHHE isn’t the average boot camp for entrepreneurs. In fact, this is Philadelphia’s first business incubator program intentionally geared toward young people who are often overlooked by existing educational and business communities — applicants who didn’t go to Wharton or have a venture capitalist for a relative. Here are four things I observed about the IHHE that prove it’s building Philly’s next generation of business tycoons. Read more »

10 Philly Startups to Watch in 2017, According to the Biggest Tech Leaders


As we said farewell to 2016, BizPhilly put a call out to the tech community: Which local startups are you most excited about for 2017? That call was answered with overwhelming excitement for what’s ahead in Philly’s innovation space. Here are 10 startups to watch in 2017, according to the Philly tech community.


When Philly’s wildly successful data analytics startup RJMetrics was acquired by Magento Commerce in August 2016, Stitch spun out of the deal. The company evolved out of RJMetrics’ “Pipeline” product, which provided data infrastructure and consolidation services to clients. The product was beta-tested under RJMetrics for more than nine months and these services are now offered to clients like Booktopedia, Instapage and Philly’s Guru. We’ll be watching Stitch for several reasons: Jake Stein, who cofounded RJ Metrics, is leading Stitch as CEO. He’s definitely learned a thing or two about data SaaS after jumpstarting RJMetrics (once one of Philly’s fastest growing startups) back in 2008 and raising more than $20 million from investors in San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia. Stitch is backed by the same investors as RJMetrics—August Capital, Trinity Ventures and SoftTech VC. And less than six months after their August launch, the company passed 100 paying customers. That’s more than five times faster than RJMetrics grew. Read more »

This Is the Best Part About Jefferson’s New Health Design Lab

Jefferson University Professor Bon Ku; Special Assistant to the President and CEO, Vice President for Innovation Partnerships and Programs, Donna Gentile O’Donnell; President and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, Stephen K. Klasko. Photo courtesy of Jefferson University.

L to R: Jefferson University Professor Bon Ku; Special Assistant to the President and CEO, Vice President for Innovation Partnerships and Programs, Donna Gentile O’Donnell; President and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, Stephen K. Klasko. | Photo courtesy of Jefferson University.

This week, Thomas Jefferson University announced the opening of  The Vault Health Design Lab, a prototyping and maker space designed to spur collaboration between students, clinicians and other healthcare professionals. While it is undoubtedly cool that the health lab is housed in the Old Federal Reserve Bank building, the best part about the lab is that it is adaptable, a space that will continue to change to meet the needs of its occupants.

The space is equipped with 3-D printers and small sewing machines for micro-processing and fabrication projects. The healthcare system also has plans to add augmented reality and virtual reality components to the space as time develops.

Read more »

Mayor Kenney Op-Ed: Tech Is Key to Philadelphia’s Growth

James Kenney | City Council Flickr

Mayor Jim Kenney | City Council Flickr

When I think about where Philadelphia has the greatest potential for growth, I am instantly drawn to the tech industry, and I am not alone. Global incubator and seed fund 1776 partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this year on a report ranking 25 major U.S. cities and their readiness for the oncoming digital economy — Philadelphia ranked 8th, ahead of New York City and Washington D.C.

Right now, the buzz surrounding Philly’s startup scene is bigger than ever. Companies like Curalate and RevZilla are getting national attention. CNBC recently profiled our startup community, highlighting Philadelphia’s unique attributes, including the city-backed platform StartupPHL. We’re seeing extraordinary growth and development in University City and other innovation districts around the city.

As our progress continues, discussions around how to elevate Philadelphia’s tech and startup scene increase. A difficult regulatory environment is often noted as a challenge, as well as a perceived lack of urgency. I want to assure you I see it as my job to enable innovation, not stifle it, and I take this responsibility very seriously. Read more »

Franklin Institute’s Virtual Reality Exhibit Is Much More Than an Exhibit

Photo by Fabiola Cineas

Photo by Fabiola Cineas

On Tuesday evening, I traveled to Tanzania and spent some time at a refugee camp. There, I experienced what it was like to fall asleep in a tent shrouded by a thin blue net, my only protection against malaria-carrying mosquitos. I shared the tent with a mom and her seven children for about 15 minutes.

I couldn’t exactly feel the looming threat of malaria, and the darkness of the night on the campgrounds didn’t startle me too much—I knew I was standing in the lobby of the Franklin Institute the entire time, and I couldn’t ignore the weight of the virtual reality goggles strapped to my head.

But what I did feel in those 15 minutes was connect to the family, their deep sense of hope and desperate quest to stay alive.

A couple of feet away from me were Philadelphians performing brain surgery. Some were deep diving into a far-off ocean or the galaxy; others were at a Drexel men’s soccer match, with a 360 degree view.

Read more »

PSL’s Startup Accelerator Is Now Taking Applications

Some of last year's PSL accelerator participants. Photo via Twitter

Some of last year’s PSL accelerator participants. Photo via Twitter

It’s about that time again to get your applications in for Philly Startup Leaders’ startup accelerator. The program’s organizers want to help the city’s entrepreneurs move their businesses to the next level. The application period is now open and will close on November 1st.

Through the accelerator, business teams with a product prototype will meet with guest speakers from the field every Tuesday for two hours to work through a program packed with information on building a company and launching a brand. Last year’s program highlights include sessions on goal setting and prioritizing, social media and marketing strategy and how to tell your startup’s story.

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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