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Startup 101: Look before you leap into crowdfunding


For startups, crowdfunding might seem a foolproof way to raise capital. Wrong!
 
Entrepreneurs are hereby warned that it takes exhaustive preparation: building a network, maintaining a robust online and social media presence and, above all, having a viable idea. Companies that fail to meet their funding goals can appear tainted in future investors’ eyes. Equally worrisome are companies that fail to deliver the pre-orders or perks they promise.
 
Speaking at a recent "Smart Talk" session at the University City Science Center’s Quorum, William Duckworth, a founder of FeverSmart, put it succinctly: "It’s a 30-day process that takes a year to do."
 
FeverSmart is actually a crowdfunding success story, raising $65,000 in 2014 -- 157 percent of its goal -- in 35 days on Indiegogo, one of several popular platforms. The company, which makes a "smart" wearable thermometer, raised 75 percent of its initial $40,000 goal in the first 24 hours, winning a coveted space on Indiegogo’s home page.
 
At Quorum, ROAR for Good co-founder and CEO Yasmine Mustafa described how, in a case of cold feet, she lowered her company’s goal from $100,000 to $40,000 just before launch. The company, which makes a wearable personal-safety device, raised $267,000.
 
"Crowdfunding was a validation that people would buy [our product]," she said. "It was a test about whether we really had a company."
 
Wayne Kimmel of SeventySix Capital, an early investor in Indiegogo, added that "crowdfunding has truly democratized the funding world."
 
And now, crowdfunding is taking a giant step. Effective May 16, new rules will allow startups to raise capital by selling equity shares in their company.
 
"The risks are acute and there will be a lot of stumbling blocks," argued attorney Matthew R. Kittay, who specializes in crowdfunding at Fox Rothschild. "But 1,000 people will share a $1 billion lottery ticket. It will happen and it will be a big story to tell."

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
 

The Enterprise Center launches a new fund to provide equity to businesses that need it most


Mid-level minority and women-owned businesses can often access financing through debt but not through equity investments. To remedy that problem, The Enterprise Center (TEC) has launched the Performance Fund through its Capital Corporation.

According to TEC, a Federal Reserve Bank of New York study revealed that "low-income populations and communities of color were being forced to engage in high-cost financing options for themselves and their businesses, as a result of limited access to basic financial services." This gap is due to a lack of community banks where they’re most needed and inequality in lending practices.

"Traditional [venture capitalists], they don’t look at deals that require less than $3 million," explains Chris Chaplin, TEC Capital Corporation director of public and private capital. "To a great extent, we recognized that there was a demand -- a need in the marketplace for companies to get at least some access to equity to take it from one level to another."

The funds for TEC’s first two Performance Fund equity investments came thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). One of them is a $211,000 investment in Jidan Cleaning LLC, owned by Patricia Claybrook, with offices in Medford, N.J., and Philadelphia.

When vetting companies for these inaugural investments, TEC targeted businesses with revenue of at least $250,000 annually.

"A lot of these companies, they can get debt, but they need equity support to take it up to the next level," says Chaplin. For most women-and minority-owned businesses of this size -- already hampered by a lack of financial and social resources more easily accessed by white male entrepreneurs -- "getting equity is next to impossible."

TEC helped to finance Jidan’s growth in the past with a loan, which the business serviced well. The company has a long relationship with the West Philly organization: They clean its building and those of its partner organizations.

"What we’ve found is they’ve been growing rapidly," with larger and larger contracts, says Chaplin. "We recognized Patricia needed some financial support…but we didn’t want her to be caught in a situation where she was just servicing debt."

Over a three-year period, the $211,000 equity investment will help Jidan grow its full-time staff by 14, its part-time staff by 17, and provide benefits to employees. Chaplin predicts that with this investment, the company will surpass TEC’s staffing estimate.

"The focus of our work with HHS with these investments is not only to create wealth," he adds. "The real focus is to create jobs...sustainable jobs with benefits."

TEC is already looking toward the next cohort of Performance Fund recipients. While TEC may approach HHS with its decision by the end of April, the new cohort won’t be announced until September. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Chaplin, The Enterprise Center

Local to Global: The Greater Philadelphia Export Plan wants to boost billions in business


How can a local economy make a global debut? In December 2014, Flying Kite spoke with the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia about the launch of its Greater Philadelphia Export Plan, conducted in partnership with the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia. After more than a year of market analysis -- along with surveys and interviews with local businesses -- the finalized study and a plan of action were released this month.
 
According to the Economy League, 86 percent of global economic growth is projected to happen outside the U.S. between now and 2020, but only one percent of U.S. companies currently export, with a small majority of that one percent exporting to only one market. Philadelphia already boasts $32 billion in exports annually, but with the right support, that number could grow significantly.
  
This metro export plan, made possible by a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, convened experts (including business leaders and state and federal trade officials) in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and northern Delaware.
 
The initiative got an important boost in January 2015 when study partners learned that they’d be among seven other U.S. cities to join the 2015 cohort of the Brookings Institute’s Global Cities Initiative (in partnership with JPMorgan Chase), designed to support U.S. metros in developing customized trade and export strategies. Philly joined Baltimore, Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Fresno, Salt Lake City and St. Louis in a nationwide conversation.
 
The Economy League attended the Global Cities Initiative’s first national workshop last February, which focused on how to launch a large-scale export study, and a second workshop in July. By that time, the Philly project’s in-depth market assessments were complete. According to Josh Sevin, Economy League managing director of regional engagement, the focus then became, "How do you convert that [research] into a strategy with some momentum?"
 
Through those assessments, the Economy League got a clearer picture of what it already knew: Philly is often dubbed a post-industrial city, but a highly specialized manufacturing sector remains, with plenty of potential for global growth.
 
When it comes to exports, we usually imagine freighters packed with stuff, but the definition of an export is broader than that. For example, if a cardiology team from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia travels to set up a new facility in Dubai, that’s a Philly export. Same story if a local architect designs a building overseas.
 
"When we talk about a good or a service export, think about where the dollars are coming from, not the point of service," says Sevin. That means any time someone from outside the U.S. comes here for school, or for medical care, or utilizes Philly legal or financial services, that’s an export, even if the office, classroom, or hospital room is right in our city.
 
He hopes the action plan can help spark "a virtuous cycle": the more businesses engage with the global market, the more business owners take note, and say, "Why not me?"
 
The Economy League is considering another opportunity to join a Global Cities cohort geared specifically to developing a foreign direct investment strategy.
 
Later, we’ll take a look a more in-depth look at the new metro export plan through the lens of a participating Philly firm.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Josh Sevin, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia

 

PCDC celebrates 50 years of giving Chinatown a voice


In the 1960s, the Chinatown community banded together to oppose a planned expansion of Vine Street that threatened to bulldoze the Holy Redeemer church and school at 10th and Wood Streets. That action led to the birth of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), which has become an essential neighborhood institution. 

Now PCDC is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary: a major milestone for an organization that has supported a city-wide hub of commerce, culture, community and healthcare. (In 2015, Flying Kite’s On the Ground residence at Asian Arts Initiative wasn’t far from PCDC’s current headquarters at 9th and Vine Streets.)

PCDC got its start via a neighborhood town hall headed by Cecilia Moy Yep, George Moy and Anthony Wong, who all remain on the board of directors today. It was founded in 1966 and officially incorporated in 1969. Since then, its advocacy on behalf of local residents and business owners has spanned fair housing provisions for residents of homes razed in the path of the Convention Center expansion; successful opposition to a new sports stadium in the late 1990s; and a voice in other development projects from the Gallery Mall to Independence Mall. Now, the organization is moving forward on its massive Eastern Tower development.

"This was considered a blighted community at the time," explains PCDC's Sarah Yeung of the group's early days. "The city had cited Chinatown as a place for redevelopment. Chinatown was in and of itself a thriving immigrant community. It was full of families and businesses."

"The core mission was to ensure that this community had a voice in its own future," she continues. About 10 years after its founding -- and successfully scaling back the city’s plans for the Vine Street Expressway -- "they turned toward helping Chinatown to plan for its future as a neighborhood." An initial master plan in the 1970s led to a series of affordable housing developments that are important anchors today.

In 2000, John Chin became PCDC’s executive director, growing and diversifying the organization’s offerings, and leading the 2004 Chinatown and Callowhill Neighborhood Plan process.

Over 8000 people live in Chinatown, says Yeung, and PCDC services directly reach over 1000 clients a year, with a staff of just six people.

"Chinatown has become not just a resident-based community, but also a hub for Asian Americans in the region," she adds. "We serve as this home base for a greater population in the Delaware Valley region. We’re the only Chinatown in the state."

PCDC will celebrate its 50th birthday with an anniversary gala at the National Constitution Center (525 Arch Street) on Friday, May 6 at 6 p.m.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Yeung, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation


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On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Philadelphia makes another prime showing in latest Knight Cities Challenge


After nabbing more project grants than any other U.S. city in the Knight Foundation's inaugural 2015 Knight Cities Challenge, Philly has more reasons to be proud. As announced at an April 12 celebration at Reading Terminal Market (RTM), local winners received the largest share of the national grant program’s $5 million pool for 2016: over $873,000 for four local initiatives.
 
This year’s contest, which invites individuals and organizations nationwide to submit their ideas for improving city life, drew over 4,500 applicants. That was narrowed down to 138 finalists and 37 grantees. Philadelphia's winners include the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA) for its 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses; Reading Terminal Market Corp. for its Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers; Little Giant Creative for its Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship, and Benjamin Bryant for his Little Music Studio.
 
Caitlin Quigley of PACA spoke at the celebration. Her organization will use its $146,000 grant to launch 20 book clubs in 20 Philly neighborhoods. Attendees will focus on studying cooperative business models, and then use what they’ve learned to launch a co-op business serving a need in their community.
 
Quigley hopes the initiative will "activate Philadelphia residents to be lifelong agents of change in their neighborhoods."
 
RTM General Manager Anuj Gupta spoke on behalf of Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers, recipient of $84,674. According to Knight, the project will build "cultural bridges to Philadelphia’s immigrant communities with cooking classes celebrating ethnic food," led by RTM chefs.
 
RTM is one of the city’s most diverse public spaces, explained Gupta, and it’s known "as a place where one can expect civility," no matter where you come from, over the common enjoyment of food.
 
Tayyib Smith's Little Giant Creative is receiving $308,640 for its project that boosts "economic opportunity by using hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups." As Smith noted, one third of our city’s population lives in poverty. With a GED and two semesters of college, he’s now the founder of four businesses, and he wants to see Philadelphia's entrepreneurial community talk as much as they can about local poverty.
 
Bryan's The Little Music Studio, which netted $334,050, will be a "traveling playground for musicians," making musical instruments accessible in public places to anyone who wants to sit together and play. The "project is not about performance," says Bryan, but about diverse people connecting through spontaneous jam sessions. (He’s leading the project through his role as director of planning and design at Group Melvin Design.)
 
As Knight Foundation Philadelphia Program Director Patrick Morgan put it, "Each of these ideas represents the best of Philadelphia."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Patrick Morgan, Knight Foundation Philadelphia, and Knight grant recipients 

 

State dollars double Career Wardrobe's budget, making way for a five-county expansion

Thanks to a huge new contract, April 2016 is the biggest month yet for the Philadelphia-based Career Wardrobe, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.

But back in 2011, things weren’t so rosy for the nonprofit, which connects jobseekers with professional clothing, career counseling and resume help. Career Wardrobe Executive Director Sheri Cole spent a month in Harrisburg after former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s administration cut funding for PA WORKWEAR, a Department of Health and Human Services program that helps provide career clothing to those living in poverty. Thanks to data showing the program's success in reducing reliance on public assistance, funding for PA WORKWEAR was reinstated that same year.

Fast forward to 2016 and a major new contract from PA WORKWEAR will double the nonprofit’s budget; the money has already enabled them to hire five new employees. Career Wardrobe is also expanding from Philadelphia County into Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Berks Counties. As of April 1, Career Wardrobe is operating out of its Spring Garden location in Philadelphia, as well as new boutiques in Chester City and Bristol, while overseeing similar programs in other counties.

Starting with their new fiscal year on July 1, Career Wardrobe’s budget will jump from about $700,000 to $1.5 million. In the coming year, Career Wardrobe will be able to serve up to 7,000 people, 80 percent of whom will be referred through PA WORKWEAR.

The results are real, says Cole of the outcomes Career Wardrobe measures through surveys, conducted at six months and a year after the initial appointment at their boutiques.

"Of those individuals, over half are successfully at work, and only 30 percent of them are still receiving cash assistance," explains Cole. "If you’re a government official looking for programs that move people out of poverty, that’s a great program to be interested in. If we can capture you and help you bounce back into employment before you hit cash assistance, that’s great."

Currently, the PA WORKWEAR dollars -- which Career Wardrobe will administer with the help of partnering county organizations -- will benefit referrals who are on cash assistance. Fortunately, since half of its budget still comes from non-government sources such as corporate, foundation, and individual donations, Career Wardrobe can continue its Philadelphia-based programs, which are open to a wide range of people facing hardship because of unemployment, with a sliding scale of fees ranging from $5 to $20.

People currently ineligible for help through PA WORKWEAR programs in nearby counties can still be referred for sessions within Philadelphia, and Cole hopes that with time, this flexibility will expand to other counties. And while the vast majority of Career Wardrobe clients are women, the new dollars are aiding expansions in programs for men, too.

"We really believe that the cost of a suit should not be a barrier to you being able to go out and market yourself and conduct a proper job search," insists Cole.

To support Career Wardrobe, learn more about donating clothing or volunteering.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sheri Cole, Career Wardrobe

 

Microsoft Innovation Center comes to University City


The Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC), a hub for entrepreneurial activity and community engagement, will open this summer on the ground floor of the University City Science Center’s headquarters at 3711 Market Street. 
 
According to Science Center spokesperson Kristen Fitch, "the MIC will be a place where entrepreneurs, students and community members can convene to use Microsoft tools and technology, get training and advice from Microsoft tech evangelists, sign up for complimentary BizSpark and DreamSpark software packages, and participate in programming to help them advance their ideas and ventures."
 
Bringing the MIC to University City is a big win, she adds.

"The MIC complements and reinforces our focus on making uCity Square a neighborhood that supports innovation, entrepreneurship, access and inclusion. The MIC will complement Quorum programming as it helps bridge the current gaps for startups on their journey to success, such as the lack of access to funding, knowledge and expertise; access to affordable technology; business planning; and exposure to potential markets and customers."
 
A key part of the MIC’s mission will be engaging underrepresented groups with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities and careers.

"We plan to seek input from neighborhood and community partners to develop programs and workshops that can help their constituents leverage Microsoft technology and Science Center experience to support their entrepreneurial ambitions," says Fitch.
 
Possibilities include a partnership with the Center's FirstHand program (which engages middle and high school students from underserved schools), technology skills training with Microsoft’s YouthSpark hub, technology camps, and software grants to nonprofits that focus on STEM and computer science literacy.
 
The MIC, a collaboration between Microsoft Corp., SeventySix Capital, the Science Center and Wexford Science & Technology, is only the third such hub in the U.S.; other locations are in Atlanta and Miami.
 
The space will open in time for the Democratic National Convention in July and "serve as a hotbed of Microsoft activity during the convention, with a number of programs and events that explore the intersection of technology and civic engagement," promises the Science Center.
  
"Bringing Microsoft to Philadelphia and uCity Square is a game changer on many levels," said Science Center President & CEO Stephen S. Tang in a statement. "Not only have we attracted a large tech company to our city, but the MIC also offers a means to engage our neighborhood, innovation and entrepreneurial communities, and give them access to Microsoft technology and training."

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
 

PIFA 2016 explores Philly's new maker heritage


April 8 through 23, the Kimmel Center is mounting its third Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA). This year’s event includes everything from theatrical performances to lectures to a fiery art installation on the waterfront to concerts played from inside city fountains. The whole thing will culminate in the PIFA Street Fair on Broad Street, beginning at 11 a.m. on April 23, an all-day family-friendly affair packed with fantastic sights, food, vendors, rides and performances.

According to artistic director Jay Wahl, there are fewer projects this year, but they’re "bolder" than in the past.
 
"We’ve spent more energy on fewer projects to make them better and richer," he explains.
 
This year’s festival features over 60 events in 16 days across the city. The theme is "We Are What We Make"; as the website puts it, exploring "how our humanity is shaped, changed, inspired, and challenged by the world we create." 2015 MacArthur Genius Award winner Mimi Lien will put up a "massive" installation in the Kimmel Center's lobby.
 
"I was starting to notice that across the city, there was a real interest in where we make things, how we make them, who makes them," says Wahl of the PIFA theme. For example, our contemporary food culture: Diners aren’t only interested in where the restaurant is, but who the farmer was and how the food got there.
 
And this extends to many facets of modern Philly life, including our burgeoning urban and waterfront parks (an "interest in the way that urban and natural environments come together and the materials of those things"). In the 19th century, Philadelphia was known as "the workshop of the world," and from a historical perspective, "this is where the nation was made," explains Wahl. "We did that politically, we do that socially, now we’re doing that behaviorally and mentally, and I was thinking, what does that mean?"
 
When it comes to the street fair on April 23, Wahl suggests arriving early -- one-of-a-kind performances will pop up in the crowd all day. There’ll be patches of grass in the middle of Broad Street, a 25-foot waterfall, a zip-line, a Ferris wheel, a Zeppelin blimp in the air and carnival swings below City Hall.
 
"I think we can say all we want [about] the arts transform[ing] the city…but until your body is doing something quite literally different, I don’t think you can feel it," he adds. "The moment you sit with your kids in the grass in the middle of the street is the moment you think about Broad Street differently forever."
 
And PIFA is part of a larger narrative about Philly as a destination -- a city touted by The New York Times and Lonely Planet as a top place to visit, and designated a UNESCO World Heritage City.  
 
"None of that happens without the arts and culture here," says Wahl. "That’s the reason you want to go someplace…PIFA is part of that tapestry of what makes the city vibrant."
 
To browse the full line-up of events, visit PIFA’s online calendar.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jay Wahl, Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts

KIZ tax credits expand east to booming Old City startup scene


Old City just got a major boost with the expansion of the University City Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) across the Schuylkill River and all the way to Front Street -- that means some major new tax credits for the neighborhood’s burgeoning tech sector.

Old City-based Arcweb Technologies hosted the March 23 announcement, with featured remarks from University City Science Center President and CEO Stephen S. Tang, Arcweb CEO Chris Cera, and Mayor Jim Kenney.

If you go into a coffee shop near North 3rd Street in Old City -- or as it’s affectionately known, "N3rd Street" -- and "grab somebody that’s sitting there, most likely they’re a technology worker," said Cera. "I don’t think that’s found anywhere else in Philadelphia."

And he went further than that: "My 10-year outlook…is that this is going to be the tech center of Philadelphia, here in Old City."

Expanding that University City KIZ should contribute to that growth, which Tang called "a pivotal moment in our city’s transformation from a manufacturing economy to an innovation economy."

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell instituted the KIZ program "to spur entrepreneurial activity," Tang explained. There are 29 KIZs across the state and three within the City of Philadelphia: the large BioLaunch 611+ zone that spreads north of Lancaster and Girard Avenues and I-95; the Navy Yard KIZ, and the newly expanded University City KIZ.

A KIZ is a special district that offers tax incentives to eligible for-profit companies in the life sciences and technology sectors. The program offers a statewide pool of $25 million toward the credits. An approved KIZ company (applications must be submitted by September 15 of each year) can claim a tax credit equal to 50 percent of its increase in gross revenues in the most recent taxable year over the revenue from the preceding year, earned within the KIZ. This tax credit is capped at $100,000, and for companies whose credit exceeds their tax liability, the credit is saleable for up to $0.90 on the dollar.

In the last decade, 48 early-stage tech and life science companies in the University City KIZ have received almost $8 million in tax credits, with 21 companies nabbing close to $2 million just last year. Now this benefit will extend all the way across the heart of Center City and into Old City.

(For a look at one University City company reaping the KIZ benefit, check out our profile of Graphene Frontiers, working towards big changes in medical diagnostics.)

"As a result of these tax credits, startups are retaining jobs, hiring new employees and developing new products," said Tang. "Not only are KIZ tax credits being invested in our local economy, but they’re also strengthening Philadelphia’s innovation ecosystem."

"It’s very exciting to see what’s happening in Old City," added Mayor Kenney. "The expansion of this [KIZ] will help propel that even faster and further than it has in other parts of the city."

Arcweb is just one company standing to benefit from the change.

"I didn’t want to have a tax credit make me move across town, from people and a place that we call home," said Cera. "I’m glad that we chose to stay and invest here."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: University City KIZ expansion launch speakers

Bringing virtual reality to medicine at Temple


Gamers, armchair travelers and sci-fi fans are all embracing virtual reality. Now researchers at Temple University are pursuing medical applications for realistic, computer-simulated environments.
 
Dr. Alessandro Napoli, a bio-engineer at Temple, recently spoke at the University City Science Center's Quorum about how this promising technology could aid in weight loss and provide stress reduction during cancer treatment.
 
In 2012, working under the direction of Dr. Antonio Giordano of the Sbarro Health Research Organization, researchers used avatars to teach and demonstrate healthy diet and exercise habits. In settings like home kitchens and supermarkets, the avatars modeled healthy choices. Though the sample was small, participants said the approach helped them change their behavior and resulted in weight loss.
 
The second project studied the use of virtual reality during chemotherapy treatment of breast cancer patients in southern Italy. It is well known that music relieves anxiety for patients receiving chemo. What if, instead, they wore headsets that simulated relaxing 3-D images such as tropical scenes, forests or mountains?
 
The researchers compared music and virtual reality applied for five minutes before, 20 minutes during, and another five minutes following treatment. Measuring several physiological responses including heart rate, the researchers found that virtual reality was as calming as music. The virtual reality patients also reported that they perceived their chemo sessions as much shorter -- a positive outcome.
 
More research is needed, said Napoli, but with minimal training requirements "this is a great tool to introduce to clinical practice."
 
Napoli also presented work on a system to assess balance control and determine fitness to return to active military duty following a head injury. The system is being developed with Dr. Iyad Obeid, a Temple engineering professor, using Microsoft Kinect motion capture technology and basic computer equipment.
 
Balance problems can indicate brain injury. In hospitals, balance is assessed using large, complex and expensive equipment that is unsuitable in the field. The alternative is often a subjective visual assessment.
 
Napoli’s field system can provide visual images of 25 joints and other measures to assess balance with no need for complex equipment or highly trained operators. Over the next few years, the researchers will test the system in actual field conditions using Temple athletes and ROTC students.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
 

Aalta Yarn knits together business and social good


"All knitters are givers," says Christine Forester, founder of Aalta Yarn. Tapping into the national trend toward social enterprise, her business links knitters not only with high-quality hand-knit yarn but with charities in need of knitted goods. 

Forester, a Bucks County native, worked in the yarn industry for years, witnessing the explosion of the knitting craze. 

"The younger generation wanted to make something of their own that was beautiful and unique," she explains, recalling how celebrities like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Jennifer Aniston led the trend, knitting European novelty yarns into simple scarves. 

Knitting's popularity has only increased since then: Philly millennials are showing up to classes at Nangellini in Fishtown or LoopKnits on South Street, and making names for themselves yarn-bombing all over the city (that includes Jessie Hemmons of Ishknits). 

Today's knitters want quality yarn to work with from companies that prioritize purpose along with profit. Aalta Yarn fits the bill. The high-quality Italian product is ideal for creating long-lasting blankets -- something Forester encourages knitters to create and donate to support their partner charities, the local chapter of Project Linus and Tabor: A Family of Services

"I was absolutely amazed at the number of needs [these organizations] had," recalls Forester. "There were so many children in need of blankets." 

Along with coordinating donation points at local shops, the company donates yarn to knitters via website request so that anyone can contribute their skills to make a blanket. 

Aalta Yarn is available in regional yarn shops including The Tangled Web in Chestnut Hill, Finely A Knitting Party in Swarthmore, and Knit in Newtown. The shops also carry Philly-made wool baskets and bags braided with 100 percent wool yarn.

Forester, who grew the business out of her capstone project for an MBA in strategic design at Philadelphia University, sees Aalta Yarn as a way to connect the giving spirit of knitters with quality products for kids who, like Linus in Peanuts, need that extra bit of comfort. 

"I want to make a difference," she says. "I want to make an impact, I want to bring joy and happiness to these children that are in need."

Writer: Martha Cooney
Source: Christine Forester, Aalta Yarn

 

Pad Porter tackles to-do lists for overwhelmed Philadelphia households


Nonya Collier, the energetic entrepreneur and "head concierge" behind Pad Porter, found her inspiration amid the hassles of moving.
 
Going from a small Rittenhouse Square apartment to a fixer-upper in Fishtown, she recalls being "so overwhelmed with moving, fixing up the house, finding contractors. I wished I had someone to help me out.”
 
So Collier launched Pad Porter in October as a "concierge for the urbanite home." The startup, based at ic3401 at the University City Science Center, offers services including package and dry cleaning delivery, household errands, light housekeeping, pet feeding and grocery shopping. Moving help, overseeing contractors, meal preparation, professional organizing and more are also available for an upcharge.
 
Most of Collier’s clients -- no surprise -- are professional women, many with young children. "There is still a sense that they are primarily responsible for the domestic tasks and feel pressured to get them done," she says tactfully. Pad Porter offers them the luxury of "coming home and putting their feet up and not having this long to-do list."
 
One client, for example, went on vacation while Pad Porter moved out old furniture, assembled new Ikea items and organized her home office.
 
Collier differentiates her company from sites that commoditize household services and expensive personal assistant agencies.

"Our business is based on high quality and a trust-based relationship," she explains. Pad Porter carefully matches its client with a personalized concierge and ensures that there won’t be "1,000 strangers coming into your home."
 
Collier's primary marketing tool so far is attendance at professional networking events. She is also exploring partnerships with community organizations and condominium associations that might offer Pad Porter memberships to their residents. And she is capitalizing on Philadelphia’s housing boom (so far, her services are concentrated in Center City and South Philadelphia) with moving services  -- packing, unpacking, lining shelves, etc. -- that connect her to a new customer base.
 
Unlike most of its Science Center neighbors, Pad Porter doesn’t have a large technology component yet, though Collier expects to eventually develop an app. But residency at 3401 has been worthwhile.

"Finding a community as an entrepreneur takes a lot of effort," she says. "Being in a community like this has been a good investment. Just in terms of finding referrals and resources, I would have spent a lot more time at it."

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
 

Green City Works expands employment opportunities in University City


So how will University City District (UCD) transform $300,000 into sustainable, career-launching jobs in a traditionally tough business? Last week, we spoke with Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) leaders Hoa Pham and Jennie Sparandara about the Win Win Challenge grant UCD received this winter, following a $50,000 planning grant award in 2015.

The grant-winning Green City Works (GCW) program grew out of the organization’s existing West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI), which has been connecting long-time unemployed West Philadelphians with job opportunities at major local institutional partners for over five years.

"We were looking at partnerships that would allow us to broaden our demographic base," explains Sheila Ireland, vice president of workforce innovations at UCD, noting that WPSI cohorts tend to skew toward African-American women ages 25 to 35, with jobs in healthcare or educational institutions.  

The idea for GCW was born when Valley Crest landscaping approached UCD about recruiting landscaping technicians from the West Philly area. For an organization already managing up to $400,000 of work in green spaces within its district (think The Porch at 30th Street), a jobs program geared toward landscaping seemed like a natural fit, as well as an opportunity to broaden its programs into a male-dominated industry.

When Sparandara approached UCD about applying for the planning grant, "We said, 'Here is the opportunity for us to not just work on greenspace projects…[but] to do a social venture as well," recalls Ireland. The program targets applicants struggling with challenges such as longterm unemployment or re-entry from the criminal justice system, and helps them build transferrable job skills. "We used that Win Win Challenge planning grant period to prove a couple things: Could we build this program? Could we take on fee-for-service contracts? How would we incorporate?”

The experiment was successful, even in an industry as difficult as landscaping. Though wages in the field are slightly higher than standard minimum wage, the hours can go from dawn to dusk six days a week in the growing season, with workers laid off in the winter. In other words, not a ton of stability. And with many companies recruiting workers on H2B visas, local job-seekers often don't look at the industry for entry level positions.

"Can we change the way the industry looks at workers?" asks Ireland. At GCW, that means peer mentoring and support, a livable wage ($13 an hour to start, versus an industry average of $9), work hours from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and pay regardless of rainy days that delay the work.

That $300,000 in seed money from JOIN has allowed GCW to hire general manager Brian English and bring in its latest cohort: 12 workers who began a 26-week program on March 28. Those who finish the program stand an excellent chance of joining the GCW staff.

Ireland says the program is important because it honors a range of skills -- GCW’s staffers are people who are happy outdoors and who love community beautification.

"When you activate people’s talents, you really speak to what they should be doing in their lives," she enthuses. "And you can change people’s lives by doing that."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sheila Ireland, University City District 

The Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) has partnered with Flying Kite to explore how good jobs are created and filled in Greater Philadelphia. Stay tuned as we follow the progress of these exciting grants and track the city's continued workforce development challenges.

 

DIY electronic mental health screenings come to Montgomery Country


We may be used to using automated kiosks to pay for groceries, take out cash, or even check our blood pressure, but what about normalizing this kind of service for mental health screenings, too? The HealthSpark Foundation, with partners Screening for Mental Health and the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation, hopes to increase access to mental health services while reducing the stigma many people feel when they try to address mood disorders.

This month, the organization is debuting five MindKare kiosks in Montgomery County. This comes after two city pilots, one at a North Philadelphia Shop-Rite and another on the Drexel University campus.

According to the partners, the kiosks are "freestanding stations that offer a quick way for individuals to check on their mental and behavioral health by providing online self-assessments." The whole process can take as little as three minutes, explains HealthSpark President and CEO Russell Johnson, who likens the experience of using the touch-screen stations to visiting the ATM.

Evidence-based questions (developed through Screening for Mental Health) that gauge subjects’ feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts result in geographically customized recommendations for follow-up. This includes a list of accessible mental healthcare providers, or encouragement to bring the results of the assessment to a primary care doctor. If a user reveals suicidal thoughts, the kiosk can immediately provide a hotline number for help. Some kiosks enable users to print their results; others offer the option for them to be e-mailed to the user.

As a condition of installing the kiosks, one staffer from the hosting organization who works within view of the kiosk must receive training in mental health first aid. When needed, he or she can be a calming and well-informed presence for a person suffering from severe anxiety or suicidal thoughts, until help arrives.

The program evolved from a Scattergood design challenge a few years ago -- Drexel public health students won with a concept for a mental health-screening kiosk.

"Their interest…was to reduce the stigma associated with behavioral health conditions and create access," explains Johnson.

Dollars from the design challenge win led to the development of the kiosks with help from Screening for Mental Health. After the initial success of the pilot in Philadelphia, HealthSpark came on board, along with the Montgomery County Department of Behavioral Health, to try suburban placements.

According to Johnson, these locations were determined by factors such as geographic diversity and high pedestrian volume. You can find them at the Ambler YMCA, Manna on Main Street in Lansdale, Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Einstein Physicians Collegeville and the Norristown Regional Health Center.

And more kiosks may be coming. Johnson says that Screening for Mental Health, a national organization, is already getting inquiries about installing the kiosks across the country.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Russell Johnson, HealthSpark Foundation

A Barra grant helps African Family Health Organization ensure care for all


The African Family Health Organization (AFaHO), a member of the latest cohort of 40 Barra Foundation Awards winners, got its start in 2005 when founder Tiguida Kaba, a Senegal native, lost a friend -- she bled to death in her own apartment because she was uninsured and undocumented, and afraid to go to a hospital.

It was an extremely traumatic incident for Kaba.

"She felt the need to create something [so] that people would know that no matter your circumstance, you can get care, you can get help," explains AFaHO Executive Director Oni Richards-Waritay.

Richards-Waritay, who came to the U.S. from Liberia, has been on the nonprofit’s staff for about five years after starting as a volunteer. AFaHO’s multi-faceted mission of connecting African and Caribbean immigrants to a range of important healthcare services means a lot to her.

"Being an immigrant myself and knowing the experiences that people went through, I was called to help her in any way possible," she recalls.

Through partnerships with local community health centers that accept any patient who is a resident of Philadelphia, AFaHO case managers and community health advocates facilitate services -- everything from language interpretation at the doctor, to nutrition and wellness counseling, to medical care for children and pregnant women.

AFaHO incorporated in 2005, but didn’t gather the funding or traction to be fully operational until 2009. Originally, the organization operated out of offices at Broad and Spruce, but to better serve their clients, they decided to relocate to West Philadelphia (4415 Chestnut Street).

"I have a soft spot for children," says Richards-Waritay of the work that speaks to her the most. When it comes to persistent health issues, it can be hard for adults to make changes, but with children, "you’re able to mold them to think differently, to act differently, particularly about their health, and I see them as agents of change in their own homes."

AFaHO’s work with children can be particularly important in the emotional health realm.

"[We] help them navigate trying to maintain their African culture but also assimilate into American culture," she explains. "What [does] that mean as they’re trying to straddle these two different worlds and the impact that has on family dynamics?"

She’s thrilled about the opportunities the Barra dollars -- $25,000 per year for two years, with no stipulations about programming -- will offer AFaHO.

"I don’t even know how to explain the importance of this grant, because most of the funding that we get is tied directly to program work," she explains.

The Barra Awards offer general operating support, a rare boon in the nonprofit world. It could help pay for staff’s administrative time, cover a much-needed audit, support additional staff training, or enable an outside evaluation to identify best practices and areas where services could be improved.

"General operating money is really hard to come by," adds Richards-Waritay. Instead of zeroing in on a single program, the grant will let AFaHO grow as an organization. "On so many different levels, in terms of building our capacity, this grant is critical."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Oni Richards-Waritay, the African Family Health Organization

 
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