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Six months after launch, Philly's Kiva Zip loans are going strong

Last year, Flying Kite profiled the soft launch of Philadelphia’s Kiva Zip program, part of an international "social underwriting" platform for independent businesses. As of last October, Kiva City Philadelphia had made 13 loans totaling $52,000.

According to Kiva Zip Philadelphia manager Alyssa Thomas (of the City’s Department of Commerce), that number has jumped to 50, sending $208,000 to local small-scale entrepreneurs. The program's number of trustees has increased as well, from about 30 to 44, including the Enterprise Center, The Food Trust, New Kensington CDC and the Corzo Center.

Kiva loans -- which typically top out at $5,000, but can be as small as $500 -- help all kinds of nascent entrepreneurs make crucial upgrades to their businesses. The crowd-funding platform operates with the help of those trustees -- individuals, or, more often, organizations -- who direct entrepreneurs to the program and vouch for them, before the crowd-funded campaign for that entrepreneur goes live on the Kiva site.

"There’s a lot of due diligence on their part," says Thomas of the vetting and interviewing these volunteer trustees do before sending a loan applicant through. "We’ve had a pretty steady flow of businesses coming on to our site."

While many Kiva applicants don't fit the profile for a typical business loan, no applicant is ever turned away from Kiva Zip. Sometimes there are barriers to lending, such as the business owner’s high debt to income ratio or a lack of fluency in the digital platforms that make the campaigns a success, but these are overcome by starting applicants off with small loans, gauging their ability to repay on time, and then approving them for larger loans if all goes well.

The repayment rate in Philly is close to 100 percent. One recent loan recipient, shepherded via The Food Trust, is a small fruit and produce business operating in the Northeast. With the help of a Kiva loan, the owners leased a four-acre farm; they bring the produce directly to their store (which accepts SNAP payments) in an area lacking fresh food options.

Locals who want to learn more about Kiva in person can head to Dilworth Park on June 4 from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. A pop-up shop with feature several loan recipients and a lunchtime address from Alan Greenberger, the City’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Director of Commerce.

Thomas hopes passersby will stop to learn more about how supporting Kiva loans contributes to the city's economic revival.

"The idea of this event is really to capture people while they’re walking by and let them know you can support a local business," she explains. "You can help shape the way your neighborhood looks."

In the meantime, the program is growing so much that the department has a new opportunity: Thomas is looking for a Kiva Zip fellow to join her office. Applications are due by June 5.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alyssa Thomas, Kiva Zip Philadelphia

Career Wardrobe celebrates 20 years of helping Philly women find employment

After twenty years in Philadelphia, the nonprofit Career Wardrobe has an unparalleled view of the modern road from poverty and unemployment to self-sufficiency and jobs.

"It’s hard to believe," enthuses Executive Director Sheri Cole, who has been with Career Wardrobe for fifteen years. "It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve grown."

Career Wardrobe aids unemployed women, many living in poverty or on welfare, who want to get a job, but can’t afford the clothing they need to make the right impression at job interviews. In addition to supplying a full professional-grade outfit to clients -- right down to the shoes and accessories -- the organization also offers a range of career help, including workshops on job hunting and interviews, computer lab access, and services such as headshots for business profiles.

"We’ve tried hard to remain relevant to what the community needs," insists Cole.

Career Wardrobe launched prior to the welfare reforms of the Clinton administration. At that time, many of the organization's clients came to them via a "referral partner system" with other nonprofits such as housing or domestic abuse programs, because there weren’t state-funded job-training programs.

Welfare reform, requiring that recipients job-hunt to qualify for their assistance, ushered in a whole new era of government-funded job training programs, and a new source of partnerships for Career Wardrobe.

By 2001, Career wardrobe had as many as 200 different job-training programs referring clients, but now, the nationwide trend is a reduction in funding for these programs, and that number has sunk to about 50.

"When we started about 20 years ago, we were very strict in how women could come to us," she explains. Now, as the organization has grown and job-training services have contracted, Career Wardrobe is taking a more inclusive tack. Its Open Access Program is available to any unemployed woman, including students or people who have just lost their jobs; they can access "professional clothing services" for small fees on a sliding scale.

Open Access means greater engagement with the public, including workshops at Free Library branches. The new motto, according to Cole, is, "You’re unemployed? You qualify."

"I would like to be helping women who are newly unemployed, so they won’t be falling into poverty," she says. Often a donated $100 suit can be the difference between a quick return to the workforce or longterm reliance on government assistance.

There’s plenty in the works for Career Wardrobe over the next few months: In September, they’ll be moving their current offices on 12th Street in Center City to a third-floor space above their existing boutique shop at 19th and Spring Garden. The increased space will let them expand Make It Work For Men, a pilot program for gentlemen in need of career clothing.

In the meantime, the organization’s annual fundraiser, "A Perfect Fit Fashion Show, Auction, and Cocktail Reception," is coming up on June 11 at the Crystal Tea Room. It will feature author, activist, and supermodel Emme, who will accept Career Wardrobe’s Fashioning Futures for Women Award.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sheri Cole, Career Wardrobe

"If not for this woman..." Science Center seeks nominations for its Innovators Walk of Fame

The University City Science Center is looking for a few good women -- three to be exact -- as honorees for its Innovators Walk of Fame.

The Philadelphia institution is reinventing the pedestrian walkway along 37th Street between Market and Chestnut as a pocket park -- the Innovators Walk of Fame will be a key element.

"With a name like Innovators Walk of Fame, we thought it was imperative to come up with something more innovative than names etched on the sidewalk," explains Science Center Spokesperson Jeanne Mell. "Instead we’re going with an arrangement of cubes with metal panels etched with the honorees’ names."

The second group of honorees, to be announced in October, will celebrate female innovators with a connection to Greater Philadelphia.

"The Innovators Walk of Fame reflects the diversity of the local, regional and global communities in which the Science Center operates and innovates," says Science Center President Stephen S. Tang. "The face of innovation is varied and diverse, and to be relevant the Innovators Walk of Fame must reflect that spectrum."

The inaugural class of honorees comprised legacy innovators in the STEAM Categories:

* Britton Chance was a leader in biochemistry and biophysics focusing on the physics of electronics and radiation, and developing noninvasive optical devices used in medicine. 

* John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, Jr. created the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, developed at the University of Pennsylvania.

* Frank Piasecki was instrumental in the U.S. helicopter industry.

* Buckminster Fuller invented the geodesic dome. 

* Mathematician John Backus assembled and led the IBM team that developed Fortran, for years one of the pre-eminent programming systems.

* Lockheed Martin encourages its 4,800 employees in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to actively interact with the next generation of engineers and technologists by serving as local school advisors, extracurricular activity mentors and career role models for students.

Nominees may be alive or dead, and are not limited by industry or type of innovation. According to the Science Center, successful nominations will complete this sentence: "If not for this woman’s innovation, the world would be a lesser place because..."

The deadline is June 15.

Source: Jeanne Mell, University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

Homes get smarter, Malvern's Zonoff gets bigger

Malvern's fast-growing Zonoff has expanded into new 35,000-square-foot headquarters. The fresh digs come on the heels of a $31.8 million funding round for the company, which provides a comprehensive software platform for "smart homes."

Zonoff’s software platform enables partners such as electronic device makers, service providers and retailers to deliver new products and services to the consumer mass market to remotely monitor and control thermostats, lights, security systems, etc. The new two-floor space is triple the size of their previous office, and includes a sophisticated demo suite where clients can gain hands-on experience and test smart-home products and services. 

As with all good tech companies, the space also includes open collaborative workspaces, private conference rooms, kitchen and dining areas with cafe tables and local beers on tap, and an employee game room.

"We’ve been very thoughtful in deciding where to invest resources, and we believe that our team is one of our strongest differentiating factors," said Zonoff CEO Mike Harris. "We believe that our new state-of-the-art office and demo center will provide our employees with an environment and culture that will motivate them to deliver on our extremely high standards for innovation and technology development."

The new space also makes it possible for Zonoff to keep hiring. The company has added to its executive team and doubled its workforce in the past year -- they now employ 70 engineers, software developers and sales, marketing and new business personnel. They expect to grow another 50 percent by the end of the year. Zonoff also has remote personnel located in California, Washington State and Germany.
 
Source: Matt Calderone and Sarah Borton, LaunchSquad for Zonoff
Writer: Elise Vider

Local startup Fitly's SmartPlate uses advanced technology to keep dieters honest

Dieters rejoice. At last, a plate that can keep you honest.

Philadelphia’s Fitly has developed SmartPlate, a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled hardware device that instantly tracks and analyzes what you eat with the support of a mobile application.

The plate’s design is based on research that shows that size, color and shape all influence eating habits. According to the company's website, the average dinner plate has grown 36 percent since 1960 and bigger plates translate to bigger waistlines. Similarly, studies have shown that darker plates make it harder to determine a proper portion, encouraging overeating. The SmartPlate is shaped as a "squircle," to give the illusion of a bigger surface while providing a 10-inch diameter white surface -- ideal for healthy portions.

SmartPlate has built-in advanced object recognition and weight sensors, providing an automated reading of what a user is eating. It comes with an Android or iOS app that integrates with most wearable devices and food journaling apps.

The plate also comes with a microwaveable lid and in a variety of colors.

Anthony Ortiz founded Fitly, aimed at weight management and control of diabetes, in 2011. The company has established itself through its mobile/web app as a delivery service for fresh ingredients and recipes based on the user’s personalized healthy meal selections. Fitly is a 2013 DreamIt Health graduate. 

The company launched SmartPlate, its first product, earlier this month at Collision Conference in Las Vegas and is now in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign where it hopes to raise $100,000 to start production. They hope to begin shipping next year.

Source: Fitly
Writer: Elise Vider

Wharton award-winners simplify renters insurance for the millennial market

Zack Stiefler and Tom Austin will receive their MBAs from Wharton this month, and their prospects just got a lot sweeter thanks to a $30,000 Perlman Grand Prize award in the 2015 Wharton Business Plan Competition.

Stiefler, who was born in Philadelphia but grew up in San Diego, and Austin, a Maine native, began working on their company, Bungalow Insurance, about a year ago.

The 28-year-olds both studied economics at Duke University as undergrads (Stiefler graduated in '09; Austin in '08), but didn’t connect personally until the summer of 2013, when they met in California, and later played together on Wharton’s hockey team.

The inspiration for their new online insurance-buying platform hit when they moved to Philly for school, and had to grapple with buying renters insurance for the first time.

"We really decided to start Bungalow because as consumers, we were frustrated with the experience of buying insurance," recalls Stiefler.

The two already have a lot to say about the insurance industry. First off, most insurance companies are much older -- some have been around for a century or more -- than major companies in other sectors. It’s a tough arena for entrepreneurs to break into. Plus, there's the feeling and experience, both for consumers and venture capitalists, that insurance is a complex, unglamorous field.

"Consumers have grown used to the fact that insurance is a complicated thing, and the industry has really benefited in a large way from that perception," says Austin. "Insurance doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems right now. The products are actually relatively straightforward."

Factor in many insurance companies' reluctance to join the online marketplace in a user-friendly way and you have the perfect opportunity for a new business niche. They note that when it comes to customer satisfaction with online service, only cable companies rank below insurance companies.

Bungalow is launching with a focus on renters insurance rather than a more conventional product such as homeowners or car insurance partly because of their own experience with the needs of renters. Stiefler points to a major demographic shift: People under 35 are twice as likely to rent versus own their homes, and 55 percent of them don’t own cars.

"There are 30 million millennials out there who don’t need auto, they don’t need homeowners, they just need renters [insurance]," he explains.

The industry has failed to effectively grasp this need or create the kind of online shopping experience this generation prefers.

"We thought not only could we build a great experience, we could also really deliver a product that people aren’t selling right now that customers really need," adds Stiefler.

The Bungalow platform (which will be headquartered in Philly but also operate in New York) and its industry partners will aim to simplify things both for buyers and providers, and the Wharton prize will help boost the company's growth.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Zack Stiefler and Tom Austin, Bungalow Insurance

 

Ben Franklin Technology Partners invests $2 million in 10 promising Greater Philadelphia companies

Ten early-stage companies in Greater Philadelphia are at work on innovative projects, and they're getting a boost from $2 million in new investments from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Atrin Pharmaceutical is a Bucks County biopharmaceutical firm that centers its research on the treatment of cancers lacking effective therapies. Its technology will advance drug development for the treatment of solid tumors including breast, pancreatic, lung, ovarian and colon cancers.

Decision Simulation in Chester County is the creator of DecisionSim, a simulation-based learning platform that enhances decision-making by allowing organizations to easily create assessment, education and training programs. Leveraging adult learning and gaming concepts, DecisionSim allows custom learning experiences to be developed while evaluating the decisions of learners, and collects valuable objective behavioral data to allow for a greater understanding of decision-making.

H2Odegree (H2O) in Bucks County is a manufacturer of wireless sensors and Software as a Service (SaaS) that provides solutions for measuring, controlling and billing utility costs in apartments, allowing landlords to improve their overall financial performance. The company’s target market is multi-family housing customers who use the company’s products and services for tenant billing and energy conservation related to water, electric, gas, btus and thermostat controls. H2O has over 38,000 sensors installed in 13,000 apartments in over 130 properties throughout North America.

MilkCrate in Philadelphia engages and rewards users who want to live their values by providing sponsored civic and commercial opportunities related to sustainably. Its app serves as a central digital hub for municipalities, businesses and organizations to reach conscientious consumers with relevant and tailored information.

Philadelphia’s Pico is a real-time engagement tool for brands, allowing them to engage with fans during events through the fans' pictures. All fans' pictures are automatically uploaded to the brand’s Facebook Page. Using Pico’s auto-tagging abilities, a real bond between the fan and brand is created.

In Bucks County, PrescribeWell is a new Platform-as-a-Service that enables physicians, healthcare providers and integrated health systems to seamlessly implement a turnkey, self-branded prevention, wellness and obesity intervention business in their existing practice. Customers license the company’s "white label" solution as their own, enabling them to generate significant new revenue streams that leverage the changes in healthcare reimbursement policy for physicians in preventive medicine.

In Philadelphia, RistCall helps hospitals and skilled nursing facilities improve patient safety and satisfaction scores by updating traditional wall-mounted nurse-call buttons with wearable technology devices. RistCall currently focuses on reducing patient falls and improving hospital/patient satisfaction.

Philadelphia’s Textizen provides mobile technologies for public engagement. The company makes it easy for government, organizations and companies to connect with people on the device they use most -- their mobile phone. The platform sends, receives and analyzes text messages. Administrators can click one button instead of making 10 or 10,000 phone calls, and use real-time dashboards to inform policy changes or deliver better customer service.

TowerView Health in Philadelphia helps chronically ill patients manage complex medication regimens. Patients using TowerView’s service receive pre-filled medication trays that insert into a connected pillbox, facilitating complex regimens with preformed ease -- its akin to a single-serve coffee machine. The connected pillbox senses when patients forget medication doses and sends automated text message or phone reminders to patients and their loved ones.

Viridity Energy in Philadelphia, a software technology company focused on total energy management, has a software and technology platform that allows commercial and industrial users to identify inherent load flexibility in their operations and monetize it. The company says its"“software turns energy profiles into financial returns"” transforming how energy customers interact proactively and productively with the electric grid.

Source: BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider

A major merger supports big plans in Fairmount Park

Big news keeps coming out of Fairmount Park: On April 21, the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust, the two nonprofits that support the city's park system, formally announced their merger.

The Conservancy, founded as the Fairmount Park Foundation in 1997, began primarily as a fundraising agent for the park, but in the last few years, the organization has partnered with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to branch into many aspects of planning, project management and outreach. It’s now also helming the recently-announced Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

The Trust, a public/private venture launched in 1992, focuses on professional preservation services to nonprofits and City agencies, managing historic buildings, public art and "cultural landscapes."

The new combined organization -- boasting the name Fairmount Park Conservancy -- isn’t shedding any jobs on either side; it will employ a combined staff of 16 and have an annual operating budget of about $2 million. Former Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell will continue in that role while former Trust Executive Director Lucy Strackhouse has transitioned into the title of senior director of preservation and project management. 

Bringing the two groups together was a long process.

"We started talking about merging in 2007," recalls Strackhouse. A lot of meetings took place, but "then 2008 happened," and city-wide financial pressures caused by the recession led the organizations to table the talks until 2010.

But once the discussion was back on track -- with the help of pro bono legal services from Pepper Hamilton -- the boards reached a memorandum of understanding in mid-2014, with official notice of the merger reaching both offices at the end of the year.

While the January merger was no secret, the delay of a formal public announcement until late April had to do with getting the new organization’s branding and website up to speed.

"What we’re really going to be looking at is not just preserving these resources for history’s sake, but really thinking about how the historic properties are activated in new ways," says Lovell. "What you’ll see from our combined entities are some really exciting announcements about historic properties reimagined."

Between PennPraxis' plan The New Fairmount Park, the Civic Commons, and other initiatives, "City government can’t manage on their own," says Lovell of the Conservancy’s increasingly important role in Fairmount Park stewardship.

These plans encompass the natural, historical and cultural assets of the park, she adds, "reinforcing the fact that the merger is a really positive thing for both organizations, but ultimately for the park."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Kathryn Ott Lovell and Lucy Strackhouse, the Fairmount Park Conservancy

'Partnering' revolution in biotech comes to Philly along with international conference

When we think of the human element in medicine, we might think of the doctor who interacts with the patient in need of treatment. But thanks to a burgeoning revolution in the biopharmaceutical industry, there are thousands of other face-to-face meetings that need to happen long before any drug even reaches a trial, let alone the market.

In the biotech industry, these connections are called "partnering," and it’s a vital piece of the Biotechnology Industry Organization's (BIO) 2015 BIO International Convention, coming to the Pennsylvania Convention Center June 15-18. The Washington, D.C.-based BIO is the world’s largest trade association for biotech companies, academic institutions and government science centers, and organizers say the convention will draw about 15,000 people from 30 countries (about one third of attendees will come from outside the U.S.).

"The 2015 BIO International Convention is where the global biotech community meets," explains BIO Director of Partnering Sougato Das.

Das calls Partnering "biotech-pharma speed-dating," and this year, it’s happening thanks to BIO’s new propriety software system, One-on-One Partnering, developed by BIO and INOVA.

The BIO convention will be packed with CEOs and other executives from biotech companies all over the world, working to advance everything from medicine and human health to industrial, environmental and agricultural technology, as well as biomanufacturing, genomics, nanotechnology and more. Picture an area the size of a football field, outfitted with hundreds of cubicles for face-to-face meetings. 

That's where the One-on-One platform comes in. Companies or institutions that want to pitch their promising biotech advances can use the software to connect with companies looking to invest in and/or develop and market their innovations. The system allows participants to enter their companies' details, their individual conference schedules, and invitations to the people they need to meet. The software automates the rest, generating a schedule for everyone that maximizes the crucial face-to-face time that powers the modern industry.

During the June conference, organizers estimate that over 29,000 meetings will take place among the 6,000 or so attendees who will participate on the Partnering platform. That means over 1,100 different meetings per hour at the conference’s peak times.  

Why are these meetings important? According to Das, to understand that you have to understand how the biotech and biopharmaceutical industries have changed since the 1950s and 60s. Back then, the massive companies of today like Merck and Pfizer were getting started, employing tens of thousands of in-house scientists and researchers who developed relatively simple drugs with mass-market applications.

Today, what Das dubs the "low-hanging fruit" of new drug development is gone and researchers are working on more complicated molecules, compounds and drugs for more targeted consumer audiences. Instead of discovering and developing new drugs or other biotech innovations in-house, throngs of scientists, researchers, academics, investors and businesses participate in a much broader-based search for the next big breakthrough. But that takes meetings -- lots of meetings.

"There’s more variety out there," says Das. "All they have to do is meet with these people who have these new biotechnology innovations out there and say, show me what you got -- let’s see if it’s a fit for my company."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sougato Das, Biotechnology Industry Organization

Penn's ThirdEye uses technology to help the visually impaired navigate the world

Being chosen to present at this year's Wharton Business Plan Competition Venture Finals was a surprise to at least one of the eight teams participating in the April 30 event: The founders of ThirdEye are not even Wharton students (yet) -- they’re freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania. But their technology, an app joined with a wearable Google Glass-type device, has major potential for helping those with visual impairments live more independent lives.
 
ThirdEye co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Rajat Bhageria (author of What High School Didn’t Teach Me) isn’t wasting any time in the quest to build world-changing technology. He teamed up with Ben Sandler (ThirdEye founding head engineer and a computer and cognitive science major), Philippines native David Ongchoco (founding head marketer and media maven), and founding engineer Joe Cappadona (an "athlete, musician, and computer programmer") to develop the technology and business plan almost as soon as they arrived at Penn.
 
"I want to leave a dent in the universe by creating things that people want," explains Bhageria, a Cincinnati native and computer science engineering major. "We believe in empowering visually impaired individuals."

There are a lot of people who could use their technology -- there are about 300 million visually impaired people in the world; they generate over $41 billion in spending on assistive technologies annually.
 
The ThirdEye glasses and app work by verbally identifying common objects for wearers who can pick them up, but can’t see them. For example, its camera and voice can tell blind people what denomination of money they’re handed or what kind of pill bottle or household item they’re holding. (Check out the ThirdEye website for a video demo.)

Other uses include identifying street signs and even being able to read books, menus and newspapers. Bhageria says future updates could incorporate facial recognition software, language translation for travelers, and recognition of individual medications and foods.

They’re already partnering with the National Federation of the Blind to bring the product to market.

Though the young men aren’t enrolled in grad school yet, "we have been leveraging every opportunity at Wharton we can get our hands on," enthuses Bhageria. The team talks to professors weekly, joined Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program startup incubator, participates in Wharton events and competitions, and takes Wharton classes.
 
All that learning and networking -- and the intense time put into current competition -- is already paying off. The company began building their product last September and are already in beta testing with visually impaired individuals. They’re heading for a clinical study this summer with up to 20 participants, with a national beta launch in view for later in the year.
 
As for the April 30 pitch-fest itself, initially the team "had no expectation of doing well considering that most of the participants -- MBA students -- have years of industry experience over us," says Bhageria, but their confidence has been growing.
 
"Now we’re not just in it for the experience," he insists. "We’re in it to win it."

There’s $128,500 in cash and in-kind awards at stake, including the $30,000 Perlman Grand Prize. That would be a great boost to the team as they head into clinical trials, and "could be fundamental in opening doors for insurance to cover our product."
 
The Wharton Business Plan Competition Venture Finals featuring 20-minute presentations from the "Great Eight" finalists is happening 1 - 6 p.m. Thursday, April 30 at the Wharton School.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rajat Bhageria, Third Eye

Community College of Philadelphia makes tuition free for eligible students

Earlier this month, Community College of Philadelphia announced its 50th Anniversary Scholarship program -- the school is offering associate's degrees at no cost to eligible Philadelphia high school graduates. And that was only the beginning of the good news.

On April 16, word came down that Philly native and Community College of Philadelphia graduate Deesha Dyer has been named White House Social Secretary. According to a statement from the White House, before starting as an intern in 2009, Dyer worked for the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust for nine years; she also worked as a freelance journalist from 2003 through 2010. Dyer returned to college at age 29 to get an associate’s degree in Women’s Studies.

"It really is great news," says Greg Murphy, vice president for institutional advancement and executive director of the Community College of Philadelphia Foundation. The national limelight seems perfectly timed to shine a light on the school's new program, which jump-starts a college education for motivated local students who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

"Basically, it’s meant to eliminate barriers," he explains, adding that these are "last dollar scholarships." That means eligible students file a FAFSA and those dollars get added to any state help available (including Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance) and funds from applicable grant programs. But if there’s still a gap in the tuition owed, Community College of Philadelphia can now step in with a scholarship to cover those costs, putting an associate’s degree within reach for the cost of the textbooks.

The program covers any Pell-eligible 2015 graduate of a Philadelphia high school who wants to enroll this fall. They must satisfy the college-level academic placement requirement and be enrolled full-time (at least 12 credits per semester) in a degree program of study.

The scholarship, which the students will apply for annually along with their FAFSA, is good for up to three years or through the completion of an associate’s degree, whichever comes first. To remain eligible for the dollars, students will need to maintain a 2.5 cumulative GPA at the end of each year and meet a few other requirements, including at least one campus or community-based extra-curricular activity.

"The idea is you really want to fund students who are making progress," insists Murphy. "All of that contributes to a student who is eager and ready to enter the workforce or further their education. It’s truly part of what the city wants. The city is looking at a future where they need many workers with higher-level skills, and so we are trying to match what the city needs in terms of creating skilled workers."

The college's 50th Anniversary Scholarship dollars are philanthropic not public. According to a statement, the program is projected to cost $200,000 in year one, $300,000 the following year and $350,000 in year three.

"I don’t think anything before has excited the Foundation board to raise money as much as this has," adds Murphy. "They’re really inspired by this scholarship and what it can do for the City of Philadelphia."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Greg Murphy, the Community College of Philadelphia

 

Update: Lancaster Avenue's Neighborhood Time Exchange makes a difference

Winnipeg native and Montreal resident Kandis Friesen loved the two months she spent in Philly this year as part of Lancaster Avenue's Neighborhood Time Exchange (NTE) residency, which offers studio space and a stipend for hours of service the artists contribute to community-based projects.

The intitative, continuing with multiple artist cycles until the fall, is a partnership of the Mural Arts Program, the Ontario-based Broken City Lab and the People's Emergency Center.

An interdisciplinary artist who works with media including sound and video, Friesen, in her mid-30s, has been working as an artist only for the last five years or so.

"Before that, I was doing social justice-based and community-based work," she explains. "I’ve always seen it as part of my life, whether I’m making art or working a different job."

During her NTE stint (which ran from February 1 through April 1), she offered some of those project-manager skills to her peers: negotiating time, projects and space. In a program connecting residency artists to community service requests, that meant "working with really diverse groups of people who might have really different ideas, or similar ideas but…really different personalities," she explains.

Her own contribution to the neighborhood had many facets. She worked with the New Africa Center on a walking tour of Black History in West Philly, focusing on the saga of the self-identified Black Bottom Tribe, a thriving 19th-century African-American community living where University City stands today. The Tribe suffered forcible evictions under city development plans and university expansions in the early 1900s, alongside redlining laws that made it nearly impossible for African Americans to obtain mortgages.

This especially touched on Friesen’s interest in archives and memorials -- and how they’re made and maintained.

She also did a lot of work for the Artistic and Cultural Enrichment (ACE) Program at Martha Washington Elementary School.
ACE instructor Hope McDowell had written a script called More Than Martin, and enlisted Friesen to help her shoot and edit it. In the film, now available online, Martin Luther King, Jr. comes back to say, as Friesen explains, "I’ve been carrying Black History for myself for too long…I would like to introduce you to all these other people in African-American history, and you also might make history."

"It’s a great film, in line with my own practice as well," enthuses the artist. "People being able to tell their own histories."

She also led a variety of arts workshops for Martha Washington students, and collaborated with her fellow NTE artists on other projects, including time with the Earthship Philadelphia project and the New Bethlehem Baptist Church.

"We all helped each other in different ways, and that was also really nice to have a collaborative environment for our community work," she adds. "I think the strength of this residency was that it really was an infrastructure created." The artist residents didn’t operate on any assumptions about what they were bringing to the neighborhood: instead, they listened to hear what needed to be done, to "reinforce or connect what is already happening."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Kandis Friesen, Neighborhood Time Exchange

 

A North Philly grant leaves no excuse for litter

Earlier this year, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) announced a new micro-grant program to help local community organizations boost safety, walkability and commerce through resident-led clean-up programs. The first round of grantees included the North 5th Street Revitalization Project, which received $1000. The dollars are already going a long way on a range of initiatives.

The North 5th Street Revitalization Project has been operating since 2008 with funding from the Commerce Department. While their umbrella organization is the Korean Community Development Services Center, they have their own branding and offices.

The initiative's service area covers about a mile and a half of the Olney neighborhood: It runs from Roosevelt Boulevard to Spencer Street, and then a block on each side of N. 5th Street. The organization runs a sidewalk cleaning program (including two staffers who work five days a week to keep litter off the streets), removes "bandit signs," logs and repairs dozens of 311 issues each month and leads neighborhood cleanups, like April 11's city-wide Philly Spring Cleanup Day, which drew about sixty neighbors to volunteer.

The Project also focuses on public safety, holding twice-yearly meetings with police representatives and local merchants to discuss issues of crime and security, and helping participating businesses install security cameras through a dedicated city program. And it provides a wide range of business assistance, from helping locals get business permits or apply for eligible grant programs, to facilitating a business association and offering financing help.

"We have 340 active businesses on North 5th Street," says Program Director Philip Green. Most of them are small "mom and pop" stores, and many are "immigrant-owned and operated, so it’s really hard for them to obtain traditional bank loans."

Finally, the Project promotes the corridor in general through events such as open mic nights, community clean-ups and seasonal programming.

The KPB dollars funded a fun DIY photo-shoot for Philly Spring Cleanup Day volunteers, which the organization will share throughout the coming year, keeping the spirit of the clean-up alive and reminding people that maintaining the neighborhood is a year-round activity.

Leftover dollars will go to projects such as revamping the Project’s existing brochure on responsible homeownership and neighborhood maintenance, and translating it into multiple languages for Olney’s diverse community. Green also hopes the money will help buy more "Keep 5th Clean" tee-shirts -- like the ones teen clean-up crew captains wore on April 11 -- as well as decals for neighborhood recycling bins.

"Community clean-ups aren’t really about the trash ending up in a trash bag and going away to the dump," explains Green. "It’s really about the message that community residents cleaning up sends to other people."

Teenagers working in festive matching shirts are particularly motivating, he hopes.

"People will see that and realize that they have absolutely no excuse to litter, and no excuse not to take pride in their neighborhood."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Philip Green, North 5th Street Revitalization Project

 

A cure for Alzheimer's? Penn State launches crowdfunding site to boost brain-repair research

A Penn State team has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support its promising research on brain repair.

"Our revolutionary technology holds promise as a potential treatment for many brain injuries and disorders," explains Gong Chen, a biology professor and the Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences, who heads the research. "We recently discovered a way to transform one type of a patient's own brain cells -- called glial cells -- into healthy, functioning nerve cells that can replace those damaged by Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, brain trauma, spinal-cord trauma or stroke. For the first time in history, our revolutionary technology now can reverse glial scars back into functional neural tissue inside the brain."

According to an article written by Penn State spokeswoman Barbara Kennedy and originally published in the Centre Daily Times, Chen’s team has published research describing its success: "Even in very old mice with Alzheimer’s disease, [they were] able to regenerate many functional neurons from the internal glial cells of these mice and to replenish the lost neurons in the brains of the mice. This research raises the hope that neural-replacement therapy might someday help human patients."

The new month-long crowdfunding campaign has a $50,000 goal and ends at the end of April. The money will allow the lab to purchase critical equipment and materials, and to proceed more quickly to clinical trials. 

"It will take at least an estimated $1 million per year to hire highly skilled people and to carry out vital tests on several specific disorders," says Chen. "With [funding] we can move our lab research to human clinical trials much faster, perhaps shortening the delivery of drug therapy to patients from 10 years to five years."

Source: Barbara Kennedy, Penn State University
Writer: Elise Vider

Calling all Makers: NextFab opens second location in Fishtown

 NextFab, a "gym for innovators" that provides members access to a variety of fabrication tools, celebrated the grand opening of its second location on Friday. The new outpost is on the first floor of Impact Hub Philadelphia, a socially-minded co-working space in Fishtown.

While the pairing of a business space with a workshop may seem odd to some, the match was well-made. The lovingly restored building at N. 4th and Thompson Streets was formerly occupied by 3rd Ward, a Brooklyn-founded (and now defunct) maker space.

"We learned that 3rd Ward had left a fair amount of equipment and some spaces fit out as workshops, and that Impact Hub was pondering what to do with them," explains Evan Malone, president of NextFab. "Our working together seemed to be a logical solution."

In addition to taking over unused space and equipment, Malone is also excited to be close to where people live and work -- there is a large community of artists, designers and tinkerers in the Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Kensington communities.

"It's not as large as our Wash Avenue location, but it provides well-rounded wood and metal shops, and a very quiet and comfortable CAD and electronics lab," enthuses Malone. "We are most excited that North 4th has NextFab's first shop dedicated to jewelry making and we have a professional jewelry designer on staff."
 
Keep an eye on the NextFab website for special offers throughout the month in celebration of the new space and for partnership projects with Impact Hub later this year.

Writer: Hailey Blessing
Source: Evan Malone, NextFab
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