Philly Tech’s Most Memorable Moments of 2017

Tech leaders tell us about the events that defined and shaped the growing industry this year.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA downtown city skyline. Sean Pavone | iStock

Philadelphia’s tech community has had quite a year. We saw local CEOs stand up in the name of morality, in light of threats to immigration, and tech leaders come forward to speak out about their experiences with sexual harassment. Some companies left the city, while many more doubled down on their commitments to Philly with some impressive exits and funding rounds. Philly tech was in the national and international spotlight plenty of times, and the city’s rising position in various rankings and lists gives us a lot to celebrate as we enter 2018. But new campaigns, research findings and recent shakeups confirm the tech community has its work cut out for the New Year. Here’s a look back at the year’s defining moments, according to some tech community leaders.

Erica Windisch, CTO & Founder, IOpipe

  • From Mazzoni and the Commission of LGBT affairs, to the changes at Philadelphia Startup Leaders, we are seeing attempts to be not just more diverse, but more inclusive of marginalized voices. These shake ups give Philadelphia an opportunity to become a safer, more welcome, and open place for hiring, building businesses, and driving innovation.

Robert Cheetham, president and CEO, Azavea

Tayyib Smith, co-founder, Little Giant Creative and IHHE 

  • The Black & Brown Founders conference was illuminating for all involved. 2017 was the year diversity and inclusion was tossed around a lot with no real metrics, vision, mission, mandate nor plan for implementation. I’m looking forward to less rhetoric and more movement in the New Year.

Archna Sahay, senior consultant, J Nowak Strategy

  • A big moment was the release of the Innovation that Matters 2017 report from 1776 and the US Chamber. The report stated: “Philadelphia jumped five spots in this year’s ranking thanks to significant investments from civic leaders that led to jumps in culture.” This report initially launched in 2015 but Philadelphia did not appear on the list. In 2016 we came in at 8th and by 2017 we ranked in the top three alongside Boston and SF. This report highlights all the different facets that make up a vibrant, connected and healthy tech ecosystem. Philadelphia’s strong showing on the report is a testament to her brilliant and committed tech community and a strong indicator of good things to come for our city.
  • The hiring of Sam Woods, Heather Qader and Francisco Garcia for Commerce’s Business Development team are also defining moments of 2017. As the tech community has grown by leaps and bounds, it is wonderful to see the city respond by staffing up the team that supports this community. This shows a commitment to and an understanding of the impact the tech sector has on so many critical elements of city life from taxes, to the school system to infrastructure. I am happy to see City Hall continuing to build on the foundation that was laid so many years ago with the launch of StartupPHL and the role of Entrepreneurial Investment inside Commerce.

Wayne Kimmel, managing partner, SeventySix Capital

  • Former Philadelphia Phillies first baseman, Ryan Howard, joined venture capital firm SeventySix Capital as a partner and invested in Philadelphia-based esports event producers, N3rd Street Gamers.

Laurie Actman, Chief Marketing, Communications & Program Officer, Penn Center for Innovation

  • A big moment for Philly Tech this year in the life sciences arena was the approval of Kymirah, the first ever FDA approved gene therapy drug to treat cancer, based on groundbreaking R&D performed at Penn by Dr. Carl June and developed in partnership with Novartis. A big moment for Philly Tech this year otherwise was the huge and growing presence of Philadelphia’s innovation and startup community via Amplify Philly at SXSW this year.

Jeanne Mell, VP Marketing Communications & Community Engagement, University City Science Center

  • The Amazon HQ2 pitch was a watershed moment for Philly and the tech community. It brought together diverse voices and sectors and showed what a powerful message we can send when we speak with one voice. The Philly Delivers website (especially the interactive maps and videos) was a concrete example of our tech community’s talent.

David Silver, founder, REC Philly

  • For the second year in a row, Philly was able to come together to produce #AmplifyPhilly at South by Southwest. Philly had the largest showing of any other city at SXSW, which included our own Mayor. It was incredible to see the inspiring startups, entrepreneurs, and artists all come together to promote Philadelphia and the great things we are accomplishing. It really set the stage for the remainder of the year and what is still to come for Philadelphia’s tech community.

Danielle Cohn, Executive Director, Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs for Entrepreneurs

  • 2017 is the year of the Wonder Women of Tech in PHL –Yasmine Mustafa @ROAR, Alana Bly @Social Ladder, Emily Foote @Practice, Bethany Edwards @LIA Diagnostics, Kushboo Shah @Cloudamize, Stacy Mosley @FixList, Morgan Berman @Milkcrate…and more!

Mark Switaj, Founder & CEO, RoundTrip

  • In 2017 Philly jumped to the No. 3 spot on a yearly ranking of the country’s 25 top startup cities, up five notches from last year, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and 1776! #Winning #SanFranAndBostonHaveCompetition

Ricky Solorzano, CEO, Allevi, Inc.

  • A big moment for Philly tech this year was when BioBots, Inc. became Allevi, Inc. Philadelphia has allowed Allevi, Inc to be competitive on a global scale allowing scientists to create 3D tissue around the world.

Anthony Maher, co-CEO, 1776-Benjamin’s Desk

  • A big moment for Philly tech this year was watching the Pennovation Center become host to some of the most relevant and diverse events in the region:  PTW17, FemmeHacks Conference, Stellar Startups w/ Josh Kopelman, PCI’s iCorps Showcase, 1776 Challenge Cup, Bunker Labs PHL and so many more.  Fantastic execution by Carter McClure, Managing Director, and the entire UPENN team. Our close second is Real Estate tech startup Houwzer disrupting the residential real estate brokerage and raising north of $2.5 million to scale nationally.

Kristen Fitch, Senior Manager, Marketing & Media Relations, University City Science Center

  • While we didn’t need the 2017 Brookings Report Connect to Compete to tell us about the groundbreaking work being done in precision medicine, it validated our hypothesis: Philadelphia is a hub for this revolutionary research that is changing our approach to tackling disease. From the groundbreaking work being done at institutions like CHOP and Penn, and most recently punctuated by Spark Therapeutics’ FDA approval of Luxturna, Philadelphia is well positioned for its moment.

Tracey Welson-Rossman, CMO, Chariot Solutions; founder, TechGirlz

  • The gathering of more than 400 women over two days for Philadelphia’s 5th Annual Women in Tech Summit was a defining moment. This technical conference, in 3 other cities this year, is showing how Philadelphia is a leader in supporting women in tech. This support will be critical to the backbone of the talent needed to incubate and attract tech businesses. In addition to showing Philly’s leadership, WITS’s growing footprint proves the necessity of ongoing education, networking, and mentorship from women who have been in their shoes. If women are missing these opportunities in the office, they need to be available elsewhere because a supportive network is so important to keeping women in this field. No wonder, Philadelphia ranked no.1 in a recent survey of cities with the most diverse STEM workforce.

Chuck Sacco, assistant dean of Strategic Initiatives, Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship; director, Laurence A Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship at Drexel University

  • The release of the Brookings Institute Report “Connect to Compete: How the University City-Center City innovation district can help Philadelphia excel globally and serve locally.” This report demonstrates the potential of Philadelphia as an innovation hub and provides a framework that innovation and entrepreneurship leaders can use as a roadmap for the coming year.

Amanda V. Wagner, Public Relations & Community Development Associate, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA

  • A defining moment for Philly tech this year was the announcement of ImpactPHL Ventures, a $15 million funding initiative to support regional tech startups working to solve social, environmental, and health problems. The fund, and additional impact-focused programing, is a strong indicator of a regional shift towards public and social entrepreneurship. We saw a lot of focus on triple bottom line businesses this year, and generating funding support for those businesses demonstrates a strong direction for our local culture.

Ellen Weber, executive director, Temple University’s Fox School of Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute

  • Lia Diagnostics’ approval by the FDA and win in Germany was a watershed moment, as it was a consumer product coming out of Philadelphia led by women that brought international attention for the city. Their success is also a great story for companies that got their start with multi-university support (Temple and Penn) and got local funding from Robin Hood Ventures and Ben Franklin.

Bob Moore, chairman of Stitch & board president of Philly Startup Leaders

  • Guru’s $9.3M Series A round was an important proof point for Philly startups in 2017. Not only did it bring a large infusion of growth capital into one of Center City’s most promising companies, it provided yet more evidence that Philly companies can entice world-class VCs to invest their dollars here.

Bethany Edwards, CEO and Co-founder, LIA Diagnostics

  • Philadelphia was named the no. 1 city in the U.S. for diversity in STEM. This is important for Philadelphia because it separates our innovation community from other cities. It says that as a city we are dedicated to supporting diverse, co-gender progress in STEAM.

Dawn McDougall, operations manager, PromptWorks

  • Women in tech hit a new stride this year in knowledge sharing: It was evidenced by the Women in Tech Summit thriving in several cities beyond Philly including Denver, DC, and Raleigh, Girl Develop It (GDI) adding dozens of new chapters while continuing to grow its HQ in Philly, the ITEM’s inclusion hack in November bringing together underrepresented groups and employers to the same table, and Ela Conf broadening it’s audience to trans and gender queer people and with Philly hosting their largest conference to date.
  • 2017 also marked the year that a new class of tech employers put their intentions to hire women into action.  Notably, employers like Interactive Mechanics, PromptWorks, and the City’s of Philadelphia’s own Digital Transformation Office have launched fellowship or apprenticeship programs to ‘pair up’ aspiring developer with experienced engineers, which particularly help women and people of color.

Marvin Weinberger, inventor in chief, Innovation Factory

  • A big event would have to be the win by Dr. Harris’ team of the $10 million XPrize for building a working tricorder. We celebrated their accomplishment at a meetup.

Bruce Marable, CEO & co-founder, Employee Cycle

  • Philly had a big tech moment at the Black & Brown Founders conference, shedding light on the urgency and importance of creating a more diverse and inclusive tech community. This moment not only generated lots of media attention, but also made this serious topic top of mind for individuals who would have never thought about it otherwise.

Sylvie Gallier Howard, chief of staff, Department of Commerce

  • The outpouring of excitement and support from the tech community in response to the Amazon bid – as demonstrated in nearly 100 amazing submitted testimonials found on – really brought to light the buzz and forward-momentum of Philly’s tech sector.

Morgan Berman, CEO, MilkCrate

  • Our Interim CTO Darla Wolfe took over Philly New Tech Meetup!

Christina Lopes, CEO, The One Health Company

  • A big 2017 moment was when the head of Facebook Communications interviewed The One Health Company at the World Economic Forum in Davos during the annual meeting.

Melissa Le, co-founder, Waterfront Lab

  • A big moment for Philly tech this year was the Amazon bid. It was a huge moment for Camden as well since it was the first time in a long time Camden ranked in the same league as many major tech cities and communities. Many aspects of Camden and Philadelphia supported our position as up-and-coming cities and prime locations for innovation. Of course, if either city won the bid, the entire region would benefit. That said, it was a major milestone to see so many leaders from tech, business, government, and community come together in the common interest of residents, businesses, and future generations.