Philly’s Impact Economy to Get $15M Boost With ImpactPHL Ventures

ImpactPHL Ventures initial funding partners.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners celebrated the one-year anniversary of its ImpactPHL investment collaborative on Thursday with the unveiling of its largest funding initiative to date: a $15 million follow-up project in line with ImpactPHL’s mission to assist early-stage companies that address social, environmental, and health problems.

Thanks to its seven initial funding partners, Ben Franklin’s new ImpactPHL Ventures will allow the tech investment powerhouse to assist Philadelphia’s impact economy more than ever before. ImpactPHL was initially created after the release of the 2016 report “Growing the Impact Economy Of Greater Philadelphia.” The report, put together by Ben Franklin and the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, pointed to a number of regional factors that make the area the perfect breeding ground for a national standout impact economy. Included was an outline of five key objectives for ImpactPHL, beginning with advocacy and promotion and ending with research and education.

“Investing for regional economic impact has always been core to Ben Franklin’s mission. With ImpactPHL Ventures we are adding a focus and assessment of an enterprise’s social impact” RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, president and CEO of Ben Franklin, told Philadelphia magazine.  Read more »

I Love My Job: Ben Franklin Tech Partners CEO RoseAnn B. Rosenthal

RoseAnn B. Rosenthal. Courtesy photo.

RoseAnn B. Rosenthal has been at the helm of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania — one of country’s leading tech-focused economic development institutions — since 1996. That’s an impressive stint, and the leader’s got tons to show for it. Under Rosenthal’s guidance, the organization’s profile as a catalyst for local tech development has risen, and so too has the region’s position as an emerging entrepreneurial hub. Most recently, Rosenthal helped create and launch the Health Care Innovation Collaborative, a model that funds digital enterprises in Philly’s strongest industry. Ben Franklin already has over 200 tech companies in its current portfolio, and with Rosenthal’s lead, the organization is taking even more in through bold, new initiatives like ImpactPHL Ventures and a Fintech Accelerator. As the region readies for more growth, Rosenthal tells us the ventures she has her eyes on and what an entrepreneur must do to get her attention. And because she has over 45 years of experience in a competitive, continually changing industry, she’s got some real lessons on work-life balance, being a woman in charge, and staying grounded.  Read more »

I Love My Job: Turn5 Founders Steve and Andrew Voudouris

Turn5 president & CEO Steve Voudouris (left) and Turn5 executive marketing director Andrew Voudouris (right). Image via Turn5.

Not many people can say they started a successful business in high school, but brothers Andrew and Steve Voudouris can actually boast that Turn5 — what they launched in 2004 when they were 17 and 15 — is now one of the fastest-growing e-commerce companies in the Philadelphia region. The Malvern-based company’s three brands — AmericanMuscle.com, ExtremeTerrain.com, AmericanTrucks.com — are a haven for car enthusiasts looking to stock up on fun parts (think special headlights, souped up steering wheels, and fancy bumper covers) for their Mustangs, Jeeps and trucks. The founders say what sets Turn5 apart in the automotive aftermarket industry is the platform’s ability to foster a community of learners through the convergence of auto experts and technology. The company recently secured $611,000 in state credits to expand to new headquarters in Paoli this fall, adding 200 more jobs (by 2020) to its team that currently stands at almost 400. Fresh off of their EY Entrepreneur of the Year win, the brothers tell BizPhilly why Turn5 is experiencing so much growth and how they plan to do more in the Philly tech community. They’re already involved with Coded by Kids and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and without ever getting college degrees of their own, they’ve awarded $44,000 in college scholarships to teens across the region. The brothers tell me why school wasn’t for them and get into the nitty-gritty of running their operation at the ages of 32 and 30 now. (Warning: This interview may make you want to buy a Jeep.)

We grew up in … Delaware County about a half hour outside of Philadelphia and went to Marple Newtown High School in Newtown Square.

A story that best describes our sibling relationship … goes back to 1992 when we were 6 and 8 years old. Nintendo released a game called Contra, and before we knew it, we were saving the world from aliens. He’d shoot up into the right, and I’d shoot down into the left to get the bad guys on that side. That was the beginning of our divide and conquer scheme.

We decided to get into business together because … we were bored with high school, nerdy, bad at sports and into technology. High school was not our favorite place to be.

We became interested in tech because … it was the early 2000s and tech was all the rage. The dot-com bubble. Everything in the news was about tech, and it was hard to not be excited about how things were changing. I remember in fifth grade having a computer, a 66K modem and dial-up. You could download a song, but you had to start it before you went to bed and hopefully it was done in the morning. And then DSL came out. Everything was just changing so fast, and we wanted to be a part of it.

We got into cars when … I (Steve) got my first car in 2001, a V6 Mustang. That’s what got me into it. It became a lot more fun when the business started to do a bit better. We could have a lot more fun. I bought a 2007 Mustang G2 and supercharged it and had a great time with it. But I’d say we’re more of a tech company than we are a car company.

We started Turn5 because … the automotive market at the time was prime for being disrupted by technology. People were ordering out of catalogues and mailing checks halfway across the country, and that was an opportunity. In 2004, having a website and allowing consumers to order online, and setting up tracking numbers—it was an industry that was behind the times. That excited us because we were so interested in technology and so interested in e-commerce. Read more »

Philadelphia City Council Says “No” to Wolf Tech Tax

L to R: Councilman David Oh; Governor Tom Wolf.

Since Governor Wolf proposed the reinstatement of the “tech tax” in his Pennsylvania budget proposal, tech leaders across Philadelphia have rallied against it, and on Thursday, City Council members voted 9-7 in favor of a bill that expresses opposition to the tax.

The bill, “Opposing proposed taxes for the technology and computer services in Pennsylvania,” was sponsored by Republican Councilman David Oh and Republican Councilman At-Large Al Taubenberger.

“People understand that the proposed tax would be very harmful to the economy in Philadelphia,” Oh told me as he listed off developments like Comcast’s new technology tower that would stand to be affected. “Tech-related fields and consulting are a booming part of Philadelphia. They’ve created a lot of jobs, excitement and opportunities.”

Governor Wolf proposed the tech tax or computer services tax — a 6 percent levy on software development and consulting firms — to help close a $3 billion deficit in the state budget. Only four other states have a tech tax, which was originally passed in Pennsylvania in 1991 but repealed shortly after, when the tech industry protested that it was inhibiting job growth. Read more »

Philly Millennials With Top Jobs and Good Teeth, Your Dating App Has Arrived

Images courtesy of The League.

Everyone’s favorite dating app to hateThe League — has officially made its way to Philadelphia, and it’s why you got a flood of LinkedIn notifications about locals who just updated their professional profiles.

Over the last two years, the dating app has become the world’s most selective—to get in you can’t be broke; you’ll need high-grade headshots; and, respectable degrees with an equally respectable career are musts. And bring patience—lots of it if you really care. The platform has gotten its reputation for exclusivity by making people wait. Each applicant’s LinkedIn profile and Facebook activity are thoroughly vetted, so no catfishes or underachievers.

An estimated 500,000 hopefuls worldwide are currently waiting to be admitted, and as of this week, 9,568 people in the Philly area have casted a request for entry.

Why all the thirst? According the startup’s founder Amanda Bradford, dating apps tend to fall short for successful singles, and they’re clamoring for a fresh option. The app’s tagline is currently #GetMeOffTinder.

“Online dating has typically not been great, especially for women who receive offensive messages and photos,” Bradford told me. And she called out users with subpar profiles. “There are so many profiles that people clearly haven’t put a lot of time or effort into, and on certain apps, people just joke around and make fun of the process,” she said, “so I wanted to mitigate these kinds of behaviors from the beginning and build a community from the ground up.”  Read more »

Philly Tech to Rally Against Wolf Budget Proposal

The tech industry has hit a rough patch with Governor Tom Wolf.

To close a $3 billion deficit in the Commonwealth’s 2017-18 budget, Wolf has proposed the reinstatement of a statewide sales tax on software development, hardware consulting, and other computer services firms, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

At six percent, the so-called “technology tax” would be at least two percent higher than those of any of the other four states (Hawaii, Connecticut, South Dakota, New Mexico) that currently impose broad taxes on these services. The number has Pennsylvania’s tech sector worried.  Read more »

New York VC Gayle Jennings O’Byrne on Tech Scene: “There’s Nothing Philly Can’t Do”

Gayle Jennings O’Byrne speaks at the third annual Women in Tech Soiree at WeWork during PTW17. Image courtesy of Stimulus.

Philly Tech Week this year gathered thousands of people around 100 events, and one person who stood out from the crowd was Gayle Jennings O’Byrne.

A venture capitalist based in New York City, O’Byrne made her way down for tech week to check out a few events and speak at the third annual Women in Tech Soiree hosted by Mogulette founder Brigitte Daniel Corbin and Stimulus founder and CEO Tiffanie Stanard.

As the keynote speaker for the night, O’Byrne had tons to say about the state of women in tech. After all, she recently left JP Morgan where she was for nearly two decades to launch the investment management firm Harriet Capital and its venture arm the Harriet Fund, which has been covered by publications like Forbes, Inc., Self Magazine, NBC News and Black Enterprise. The Harriet Fund will exclusively back ventures led by women of color, and O’Byrne says there’s much need for this focus especially in cities like Philadelphia.

BizPhilly caught up with O’Byrne during Philly Tech Week to learn more about the Harriet Fund. We also got the opportunity to ask O’Byrne, a Penn alumna and Silicon Valley native, how she views the Philly tech scene as a venture capitalist on the outside. O’Byrne offers insight on Philly as a beacon for diversity in tech, corporate and university partnerships and how Philly entrepreneurs can attract investment capital. This is the first part of BizPhilly’s interview with O’Byrne. Check back for part two next week.

BizPhilly: You’re a black female venture capitalist. That’s uncommon. Can you talk about your path and how you came to where you are now?

O’Byrne: I’m a California girl. I grew up in Northern California, Silicon Valley. My mom was one of the original “Hidden Figures.” She was a math major, statistics minor and knew COBOL, FORTRAN — all those programs they talked about in the movie. So I grew up in the shadows of Silicon Valley, with the lack of diversity that was there. I came east to go to school in Pennsylvania at Penn and the moved back to California to work at Sun Microsystems. At the time they were launching things like Sunsoft and Java coding. After that, I went to Wall Street, and I’ve been a New Yorker for the past 18 years.

Now I’m a venture capitalist and founder of Harriet Capital because Silicon Valley in many ways hasn’t changed that much from when my mom was there, particularly the diversity and the opportunities for people of color and, in particular, women, unfortunately.

BizPhilly: What else propelled you to leave JP Morgan after 17 years to found Harriet Capital and the Harriet Fund?

O’Byrne: Harriet Capital and the Harriet Fund came out of marketing realities that were documented in a report called #ProjectDiane that a business partner at Digital Undivided produced and researched. A couple of troubling statistics came out of it.

One was that out of all 10,000 venture capital deals funded between 2012 and 2014, only 24 of them were with companies led by black women. So statistically, only about .002 percent of deals were with black women. This didn’t add up for me because we know women of color are very entrepreneurial. They’re building companies at a rate of about 800 a day. I don’t want it sound like all 800 are ready for investment or are investable companies, but a recent report on the state of women said that there are four million companies owned by black and Latina women that generated $150 billion as of 2016. So when we put this information next to #ProjectDiane’s VC funding statistics, the math is just bad.

We also saw through the data that black women raised $36,000 on average when they went to the market for funding. The average guy, white guy predominantly, raises $1.3 million. We decided we have to fill that void. There are amazing women out there who can build great companies and the education and professional attainment of these women is at the top. They have, in many ways, followed the American Dream. But now, they need those critical first dollars because the friends and family dollars aren’t always there, and Wall Street, Silicon Valley and venture capitalists don’t even meet them halfway.

Silicon Valley got the way it is because of its culture of failing, but women aren’t even getting enough money to fail, let alone succeed. With the Harriet Fund, we’re getting equity, and we’re giving venture capital that gives women that runway to build a company, learn some things, try some things, fail at maybe a product or two in a market or two, and then go back, rebuild and keep building.

BizPhilly: Are you able to disclose how big the fund will be?
O’Byrne: Yes. Our target is 20 million. We are in the process of securing five million and with that, we can start making investments. My goal is that this year we’ll start making investments, and I’m already looking at a number of companies and doing due diligence.

BizPhilly: How do you identify these women of color in need of funding especially if they might already have the mindset that no one is checking for them? How do you create a presence in the community and let them know that you’re here?

O’Byrne: That’s where my business partner Kathryn Finney comes in. She is a successful African American entrepreneur who sold her company and then built the platform DigitalunDivided and its incubator and accelerator program — the BIG Innovation Center — which mentors and coaches women over six months to help them build their companies.

She was in New York but she went ahead and built the BIG Innovation Center in Atlanta. We’re very interested in getting outside of the normal markets that people think of. New York and Silicon Valley are both very good markets but are also very expensive. There are other places like Atlanta and Philadelphia that have ecosystems that can support entrepreneurs and good tech entrepreneurs in particular.

Mogulette founder Brigitte Daniel Corbin and Stimulus founder and CEO Tiffanie Stanard, hosts of the third annual Women in Tech Soiree at WeWork during PTW17. Image courtesy of Stimulus.

BizPhilly: Can you say more about how you see Philadelphia? What can entrepreneurs do to attract VCs like you to Philadelphia since accessing capital is getting easier but still remains a challenge for folks here?

O’Byrne: I think it’s hard for the individual companies themselves to do that because they’re building companies, which is a 24/7 job. Entrepreneurship is hard enough on its own, and having to go knock on every VCs door just gets exhausting.

I think what’s happening here in Philadelphia is that there’s some organic, and maybe not organic, but intentional ecosystem being created to support entrepreneurs that provides a hub for streams of capital to come in. And this ecosystem should allow entrepreneurs to be smart about the dollars coming in. What you don’t want is a lot of dumb money coming in. Once you have a lot of dumb money and some bad experiences, the well can dry up. As a city, building these hubs of intelligence is going to help the entire community, and that’s how more Philadelphians will get in front of the right VCs and the right capital.

For someone like myself, I’m excited when I think of this kind of system because it signals that the entrepreneur is not siloed, that they have resources and an ecosystem with other supports and even other entrepreneurs that they can talk to. Places like Philadelphia get me really excited because I see market factors that help entrepreneurs to succeed.

BizPhilly: Another factor that plays into Philly’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is the city’s rich suite of universities and corporations. While some are getting in on the innovation action to varying degrees, others are slow to get on board. Think back to your time at JP Morgan when you were in finance, investment banking and philanthropy, was partnering with startups a priority? And can you offer any tips for Philly corporations on how they can get the ball rolling with their support for the innovation community?

O’Byrne: I’d say in the 80s, 90s and even early 2000s, people gave lip service to “partnership.” Everyone used it. It was a buzzword; it was a catchphrase. “Synergy” was complimentary. All of these were out there and overused to exhaustion. What’s different now is that the consumer problems that challenge us, the social issues that exist, have us at a place where we have to come together. Governments, whether at the local, state or federal level, are stretched to capacity. We can no longer say, “I can succeed to your detriment or without you.” Now it’s, “I actually need you to succeed.” And we see this in a couple of different ways. For instance with philanthropy, it used to be chic to have your name on the wing of a hospital or an academic building. Now, everyone should understand that it takes a lot of different stakeholders to reach impact. My suggestion is that everyone must come to terms with the idea that it can’t just be one wealthy family, one major philanthropist, or one grant to have impact. Instead, it’s going to take many. That’s where things like public and private partnership come in. There’s a sense of urgency to wanting to solve these problems, and I think people are now more focused on getting stuff done.

BizPhilly: Another challenge for many innovation hubs across the country is diversity and inclusion. Philly’s tech scene is not representative of Philadelphia’s diversity. Do you think tech companies actually care about diversity and inclusion? Because if they did, wouldn’t things look and be much different?

O’Byrne: I would say it’s not a matter of whether they care about it, but it’s a matter of how they prioritize it. And at the same time, it’s a matter of how well the arguments been made for why diversity matters. Tech companies are like everyone else. They’re in the business to make money, earn revenue, return that revenue and those profits back to their shareholders and service customers well. All those business attributes don’t go away. It’s not an either/or, like you either build a company, you run it successfully, or you do diversity.

What I think needs to happen is we all have to get better at making the case for how and why diversity is going to add to the bottom line. We need to talk about it in a way that helps people operationalize the case that’s been made. For me, the clearest to demonstrate that is to go and help women build amazing companies. It’s not just talking about it, and it’s not just celebrating it. It’s getting the dollars in their hands so that they can go build companies.

BizPhilly: When Mayor Kenney kicked off Philly Tech Week 2017, he harped on the need for more diversity. He even suggested we start a “North Star” conference in Philly as an alternative to SXSW, which he felt lacked diversity. As an outsider looking in, can you see Philly becoming the nation’s beacon for diversity in tech and innovation?

O’Byrne: Yes. Philly actually has the perfect storm coming in that you have a generation of millennials that have really good ideas and have this courage to go out and build companies and not necessarily go and follow the traditional corporate path.

On the other side, you’ve got a really neat group of established professionals that have been sitting in corporations and academia that are now coming out of that, either because they’re retiring or they’re looking for the next chapter of professional experiences. And then you’ve got leadership, like a mayor who’s putting this front and center and saying, this is a priority for the city. So when you take all of that and underpin it with corporate support, there’s nothing Philly can’t do.

Follow @fabiolacineas on Twitter.

The City’s Latest “Call for Ideas” Is All About Philly Youth

Mayor Kenney at a Coded by Kids tech workshop. Photo courtesy of Coded by Kids.

Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce just opened up its sixth round of StartupPHL’s Call for Ideas, and this time around, the grant program is calling for proposals that can help bridge the gap between Philly kids and tech.

And the call couldn’t be timelier: Local businesses still have a hard time finding and securing tech talent and pathways to enter the tech world for those who have traditionally been left out of it are scarce. Silicon Valley isn’t the driver of growth in the tech industry; instead, it’s cities like Philadelphia that are posting high numbers of IT jobs openings, according to a recent CompTIA study. Without a labor force adequately armed tech skills, one million tech jobs across the country can go unfilled in the next decade.

“We know that tech is already a dominant force in today’s economy, and its influence will only continue to grow in the years ahead,” said Commerce director Harold T. Epps. “When we talk about education and getting Philadelphia youth ready to start their careers or launch their own businesses, tech has to be part of that conversation. It is never too early to connect students with the tools they will need for long term success.” Read more »

Bob Moore: 5 Ways to Make Your Tech Accessible

Team members from Inglis, a specialty care facility for adults with physical disabilities. The team showed off the tech products that help their 250 residents interact with devices like computers and iPads. Photo by Bob Moore.

Team members from Inglis, a specialty care facility for adults with physical disabilities. The team showed off the tech products that help their 250 residents interact with devices like computers and iPads. Photo by Bob Moore.

When you’re building a technology company, time is precious and knowledge is one of your most valuable assets. This keeps most founders on the lookout for “high density learning opportunities,” which are experiences rich with new, valuable information.

Philly Tech Week is the definition of a high-density learning opportunity. If you play things right, you can use it to grow your network, gain new knowledge in your areas of expertise, help others, and expose yourself to entirely new areas of technology — all in a single week.

This year, in pursuit of these opportunities, I attended several events that were outside of my normal comfort zone. This dispatch is about one of them: #techInColor’s Accessibility Hacks event. 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 »

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