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Move Over SXSW: Philly’s New Innovation Festival Has Something for Everyone


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When B.PHL, Philly’s big new innovation festival coming this fall, begins on October 15th, it will instantly take its place as a Philly institution, on the same pedestal as the Art Museum steps or the Liberty Bell. Across three days, more than 150 events and speakers will highlight what makes this city special, showcasing its collaborative and cutting-edge nature in a way that’s uniquely Philly. To help you get a handle on the massive event, Michelle Histand, director of Innovation for Independence Blue Cross and the mastermind behind B.PHL, takes you through what makes B.PHL a soon-to-be classic.

Bringing Together the Big Players

In the months since its inception, the event has quickly caught on, becoming a kind of “We Are the World” of Philly institutions. Philly’s major universities, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and Comcast are all participating, and so are important figures in the city’s art world. Not only are they putting up a presence—they’re coming up with presentations and talks that place an emphasis on the city’s special collaborative potential. The Curtis Institute of Music, for example, will be demonstrating how they’re using tech to enhance their students’ musical abilities, with a piano that memorizes how you play it, and then physically plays it back to you. “During the session, they’re going to play a student’s recording, and that student will accompany his own recorded piano-playing on violin,” says Histand.

The event will also combine national innovative figures with local heroes. Richard Montañez, a former janitor who became a PepsiCo exec after inventing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, will give a talk, but so will Mindy Scheier, a local who invented adaptive clothing that makes it easier for people like her son who have muscular dystrophy to dress themselves. The idea, according to both Histand and Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, is to demonstrate on a national stage that Philly has arrived as a city, while still doing things on its own unique terms.

“The B.PHL Innovation Festival is a novel milestone moment, intended to enhance awareness throughout the region and nation of all that Greater Philadelphia has to offer” says Wonderling. “Especially in the areas of innovation, technology and the creative economy.”

Increasing Accessibility

The event will require a pass, but many attendees will be able to receive one for free. Each purchased pass comes with the opportunity to gift a pass to someone who needs one, and the festival’s organizers have actively been calling around to local nonprofits to offer them access. “Any nonprofit who wants badges for other folks or for their members will get them,” says Histand. “We want to make sure to get badges into the hands of everyone who wants one.”

The festival is purposefully walkable and bike-able (Indego bikes are $10 a month for B.PHL pass holders), and events are located within five blocks of a subway stop. At the same time, the festival extends out beyond Center City into West, North and South Philly neighborhoods, so all parts of Philly can get involved.

“In West Philly, we’re actually hosting a bazaar made up of local shop owners in a church, where you can come in and shop for local goods,” says Histand. “A speaker from a community nonprofit business center will also give a talk on what it means to be a small business owner, and the resources that are available to you.”

Emphasizing Impact

Perhaps most importantly, the event shows that Philly really is the City of Brotherly Love.

“I’ve lived here for years, and most of the folks organizing this live here,” says Histand. “We know that we have a lot of innovation, but we also know that we still have a lot of poverty. We didn’t want to have this festival downtown and ignore everything else that’s going on, so we have a lot of programming on how to solve that problem.” In that vein, Philabundance will be partnering up with Reading Terminal Market for a talk on upcycling and reducing waste in order to get food to the people who need it, and Triple Bottom Brewery, a new Philly business, will be giving a talk on how they’ve had success in employing people experiencing homelessness. Through the programming, B.PHL will aim to make a real, lasting improvement to Philly, reflecting the city’s culture of shared support and collaboration.

“We want to be true to who we are as Philadelphians,” says Histand. “So we want this festival to make a big impact, on individuals, on the neighborhoods and on the city.”

Ready to get inspired? For more information or to register to attend, click here.