Going Geek: The Scenesters
They’re young, they’re hip, they’re entrepreneurial — and they’re giving Philly tech the kind of energy it hasn’t had in a decade
Mike Worth Philadelphia has a video-game industry? Yeah, a bit of one, especially now that Worth, 36, has helped organize and promote it through the year-old VGI Philly alliance. “Philadelphia’s got everything it needs to be a massive video-game hub—it just needs to have all the pieces connect,” says Worth, an Emmy-winning composer whose Space Whale Studios in Bryn Mawr is developing an action-puzzle game, Return All Robots!, for the Xbox. Worth says the city has an awesome breeder system for game developers: Drexel’s video-game design program is now ranked third in the country, and Penn has a unique graduate program in game-making. The region also has a quiet core of successful companies, like Bristol-based AMI Entertainment, a huge maker of those touch-screen poker games you see in dive bars worldwide.
Blake Jennelle It’s almost impossible to attend a technology or entrepreneurship event in the city without seeing Jennelle, 27, a Bucks County native and Harvard grad who returned to Philadelphia in 2005 wondering if he was the only person crazy enough to start a dot-com here. With a few local entrepreneurs, he organized a happy-hour meet-up and optimistically named it Philly Start-Up Leaders. Last year, PSL held 30 events and claimed 500 members, who share advice and even make deals. “More than anything else, start-up entrepreneurs need each other,” says Jennelle, who functions as a cheerleader and conduit. When it looked as if Fast Company magazine was going to ignore Philly in its series on where to start a company, “We made a lot of noise,” he says, and got the city in.
Roz Duffy Bucks County native Duffy, 33, who works at a Web design firm in Old City by day, has been a spark behind some of the hippest tech and cultural events in the city: BarCamp Philly, begun in November 2008, is an ad hoc “unconference” where attendees are the ones who give presentations; Refresh Philly is a roving monthly lecture series on mostly tech-related topics. Now Duffy is working to bring to town a local version of the acclaimed international TED Conference, at which brilliant speakers give talks on technology, science, art and politics. TEDxPhilly is planned for this fall. “Over three years, so much has happened,” Duffy says. “I’ve come in contact with so many people who are fired up.”
Geoff DiMasi & Alex Hillman DiMasi, 39, and Hillman, 26, deserve legitimate credit for the geekening of Philly. In 2007, they opened Independents Hall, a shared space in Old City where programmers, designers and other freelancers work and collaborate. IndyHall members get desk space and a place to hang, but more importantly, they interact. Most tech projects—say, creating an app to sell for the iPad—aren’t one-man jobs, and IndyHall’s ace code-writers, designers and other digital pros have hooked up to create profitable one-off projects as well as start-up companies like Orpheus Media Research. Hillman says the talent in the room means “for any project, I could dynamically form a sort of super-team.” Look out, X-Men.