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AlphaPoint, a local financial tech startup, rides the Bitcoin wave

The next wave of Bitcoin growth just got closer to shore with the announcement that AlphaPoint, a financial tech platform provider, has been selected by Bitfinex, a major digital currency exchange, to enhance its backend technology.

AlphaPoint, with offices in Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco, also recently announced $1.35 million in funding, including $250,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Bitcoin, the most widely used digital currency with an estimated market value of $5 billion, experiences about 80,000 transactions a day. Bitfinex claims to be the largest U.S. dollar/Bitcoin exchange.

AlphaPoint's Exchange Platform is capable of processing nearly a million transactions a second.

"By offloading some of the backend functionality to the AlphaPoint Exchange Platform, Bitfinex can focus on strategic goals and its most important asset: customers," says Vadim Telyatnikov, a Philadelphia-based serial entrepreneur who joined AlphaPoint as CEO this summer. "As the digital currency market matures, our solutions allow organizations -- from powerhouse players like Bitfinex to startups looking to launch an exchange -- to remain one step ahead of the market."

The $1.35 million in funding will enable AlphaPoint to "significantly increase our development team and assist with our international growth; a large portion of those hires will be made in our Philly office," says spokesperson Natalie Telyatnikov. 

"The applications for digital currencies are just starting to take shape and we're at a key turning point," adds Vadim. "AlphaPoint will continue to help accelerate the growth of this industry by empowering businesses with the ability to provide every person in the world easy access to buy and sell digital currency.”

Source: Natalie Telyatnikov, AlphaPoint
Writer: Elise Vider

The Mobile Maker Cart brings the tools to the people

Public Workshop founder and director Alex Gilliam calls the blue Schwinn adult tricycle known as the Mobile Maker Cart a "cabinet of curiosities," but then admits that that’s not quite right.

"Cabinet of possibilities. That’s better," he says of the one-of-a-kind mobile workshop conceived and assembled with the help of $180 and a team of 16-20 year-old Public Workshop members at the University City Science Center’s Department of Making + Doing.

The cart’s young designers fashioned several surprising elements out of wood, including pedals, handlebars, a chain-guard and even a smartphone speaker. The Mobile Maker Cart has tools, storage space, an expandable workbench, a small battery-powered generator and a folding canopy, and it’s open to anyone in the neighborhoods it visits.

So far, these visits have included block parties in Powelton Village and Spruce Hill, and stops are coming up in November at various vacant lots on Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia. (Mobile Maker Cart activities are funded by ArtPlace America.)

"Humans are wired to copy one another," says Gilliam of the Public Workshop mission, and why the Cart, offering an opportunity to observe and participate in the creative process in public spaces, is a perfect example of it.

“We originally learn by touching and interacting with the world,” he adds, and we experience a remnant of this every time we absentmindedly put a pen in our mouth while thinking.

Youngsters might drive adults crazy with time-honored toddler activities such as banging pots and pans together, but "that is their way -- and originally your way -- of understanding what a pan is, and what acoustics are," he insists. Once we grow up, not everyone feels like an artist, writer, director, architect or designer. But given the opportunity, "everyone likes to build," and hands-on activities spark "a chemically different process" than sitting in a meeting or completing paperwork.

Whether it’s a shovel, saw or a sledgehammer, the chance to connect with others over a physical task releases endorphins, which foster a sense of teamwork and inclusion, a sharpened memory, and the tenacity needed to get things done, Gilliam continues.

Public space is "the original Internet," he adds, where we connect, learn and collaborate in the way we really evolved to. "People are tired of talking about stuff, they just want to do…We’re pushing all those buttons."

When Mobile Maker Cart visitors are impressed by the gear onboard, and learn that, for example, an item was made by a sixteen-year-old girl, "it changes the conversation very quickly. People think, if a teenager can do it, maybe so can I."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alex Gilliam, The Public Workshop


Startup PHL keeps local investments flowing with new Angel Fund

On November 12 at Philadelphia's Innovation Lab, PIDCFirst Round Capital and the City of Philadelphia announced the launch of the Startup PHL Angel Fund.

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger, who spoke at the event, said that many people have asked him whether investments like this are a risk the City should be taking.

"The answer is simple," he said, speaking to a large crowd of local startup leaders, packed with aspiring millennial entrepreneurs. To continue transforming Philadelphia into a notable draw for the country’s best ideas, "we cannot afford to do nothing."

Two years ago, the City of Philadelphia, PIDC and First Round Capital teamed up to launch the Startup PHL Seed Fund, and at this event, leaders announced the Seed Fund’s latest investment: $400,000 for Velano Vascular, a medical device company based in Philadelphia and San Francisco, that has pioneered a way to draw blood without needles.

Startup PHL has many other facets, including its Call For Ideas grant program and Startup PHL Funds, the latter of which has given a combined $1 million in seed or angel investments to six companies over the past year.

Mayor Michael Nutter, First Round Capital founder Josh Kopelman and PIDC president John Grady were all on hand to help announce the latest addition to the Startup PHL initiative: the Startup PHL Angel Fund, which will dole out investments of $25,000 to $100,000 dollars to "very early-stage companies."

The inaugural Angel Fund recipients briefly took the microphone. Jason Rappaport's Squareknot is a new app that applies the principle of Google Maps -- where users can see and compare different travel routes -- to the creation of crowd-sourced step-by-step guides for other tasks.

Locating in Philly was "a very deliberate bet" that it was right atmosphere for his startup, said Rappaport, who also considered Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston.

This year's other Angel Fund recipients are Tesorio, a service that helps companies self-finance their daily operations, and VeryApt, a new app that combines user reviews with "big data analytics" to streamline and personalize the apartment-hunting process.

"If we’re going to ask the private sector to do something, 99 times out of a 100, the public sector’s going to have to jump in too," said Mayor Nutter. "If you're an entrepreneur, Philadelphia is the place for you…and we want you right here."

The evening also included an announcement from the Commerce Department -- the third round of Startup PHL’s Call for Ideas grants is now open; over $200,000 has already been invested in ten different initiatives and organizations.

Greenberger urged attendees to apply with their most robust ideas. The deadline for applications is Friday, January 2, 2015.

 Writer: Alaina Mabaso

Ninth Annual Philly Startup Weekend comes to Drexel

Bringing a new concept from pitch to actual business is intense enough, but how about attempting it all in one weekend? That’s the idea behind Philly's ninth annual Startup Weekend, coming up November 14 through16. That’s fifty-four hours, to be exact, for participants to muscle their entrepeneurial ideas "from concept to launch."
The Startup Weekend, a Seattle-based nonprofit, got its start in Boulder in 2007. Thanks to a grant from the Kauffman Foundation, Startup Weekend is now an international name that has reached almost 30,000 aspiring entrepreneurs at over 325 events. This November, Philly is far from the only spot hosting a Startup Weekend. Cities such as Accra, Ghana, and Auckland, New Zealand, will join in, along with many U.S. cities.
In an exciting twist, this is the first year local winners will go on to compete for a shot in the 2014 Global Startup Battle, which is welcoming 30,0000 participants to events in 100 countries.
Philly Startup Weekend spokesperson Alisha Hettinger says this year’s incarnation, taking place at Drexel’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law (3320 Market Street), is expected to kick off with "anywhere between 100 to 150 pitches."
Attendees will listen to the one-minute pitches and then vote on which ideas they like most. The most popular concepts will get an instant team of advisers, designers and developers for two fast-paced days of work. (In past years, web and mobile applications have gotten the most play.)
On Sunday evening, the teams will make a five-minute pitch to a panel of three judges, including Drexel University’s Charles Sacco. The top three teams will win access to a host of business services and move on to compete in regional Global Startup Battle events, which offer a range of major support services as prizes.
For more information or tickets to the pitching event or the Sunday night presentations, click here.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alisha Hettinger, Philadelphia Startup Weekend


A wet and wild happy hour with The Academy of Natural Sciences

Like a little water science with that happy hour beverage? The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is re-launching a "science café" program, previously held at the Cherry Street Tavern, at Old City’s National Mechanics.

The new monthly program is called Tapping Our Watershed. The first presenter (6 p.m. Monday, November 17) is Carol Collier, the Academy's senior advisor for watershed management and policy and director of Drexel's Environmental Studies and Sustainability program. These "happy-hour-style lectures" on the science of local rivers will happen on the third Monday of each month and be similar to the existing Science on Tap events run through the Academy and other local partners on the second Monday of the month.

Collier’s presentation is called "The Future of the Delaware River Basin: Why We Need to Think Holistically." It’ll be a chance to learn about what’s stressing our modern waterways, and what we can do to help.

"What I’m hoping for mostly is for people who are experts to talk about these issues in a supportive environment…and for those who are less experienced to realize there is so much work being done," says Meghan O’Donnell, a staff scientist at the Academy who manages the Tapping Our Watershed seminars. "I think that a lot of this goes under the radar for people." 

O’Donnell coordinates field research for the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, funded by a $35 million commitment from the William Penn Foundation. It’s a "really expansive" project, she explains, monitoring the waters and ecosystems flowing from the headwaters of the Delaware River, up in the Poconos, all the way to Philadelphia. Partnerships with about 40 other organizations help to monitor 35 different sites four times a year.

"We’re pretty much on the go all the time," she adds. "We just finished our algae and fish surveys, and now we’re moving on to fall chemistry."

O’Donnell appreciated the original Cherry Street venue but is looking forward to the facilities at National Mechanics, with its larger space and A.V. accoutrements. She hopes the expert commentary in the informal setting will help "people to feel relaxed and grab a beer after work, and still keep themselves informed on what’s going on in the watershed."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Meghan O’Donnell, The Academy of Natural Sciences


Detroit revitalization leader tapped to head Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

Just after the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance released its 2014 Portfolio report, an in-depth study of the attendance, programming, administration and finances of 473 regional organizations, it announced the appointment of a new president.

Maud Lyon is coming to Philly from Detroit -- she's been executive director of CultureSource (an organization modeled on the Cultural Alliance) since 2008.

The Ithaca, N.Y. native is enjoying getting to know Philadelphia.

"Already in my brief time coming back and forth, I’ve been to four [arts and culture] festivals of some kind," says Lyon. "These really add to the vibrancy of the community. I think the Philadelphia arts and culture scene is one of the most amazing collections of arts and culture opportunities…in the country -- it goes far beyond the visual and performing arts to encompass history, tourism, art education, science, community development and more."

The Cultural Alliance’s 2014 Portfolio found that local nonprofits are "slowly recovering from the Great Recession," with overall attendance at cultural organizations between 2009 and 2012 up 3 percent and overall revenue also up by 3 percent. The region saw 17 million visits to cultural institutions last year, with cultural nonprofits spending over $1.1 billion annually. That includes 24,000 jobs, from full-timers to independent contractors.

Challenges remain, like dips in local individual and corporate giving (art philanthropy across the country at large has increased by more than 20 percent). But a 17 percent increase in Philly-area school kids’ visits to cultural institutions is a hopeful sign for the future.

Reports like the Portfolio are a big part of why Lyon is excited to helm the Cultural Alliance, an organization she calls a "national leader" in the field because of the "quality and consistency of their research," which is used as a real agent of change in local communities.

"Both Philly and Detroit are hotbeds of innovation," insists Lyon. They’re both "urban centers going through big transitions," with similar problems in public education.

"I understand and have a passion for what it takes for these organizations to cooperate and do well,” she adds. Her biggest goal is to help member organizations “thrive and be sustainable community assets” through effective fundraising, outreach and collaboration.

Her experience in Detroit as it emerges from bankruptcy will be valuable in Philadelphia. She sees arts and culture -- with their important role in a city’s image -- as vital to Detroit’s recovery, and, according to the Cultural Alliance, she played a key role in protecting the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts from city creditors.

The experience taught Lyon a lot about how local conversations on arts and culture can spark nationwide discussion on social and economic issues vital to any city’s future.

"The power of art is not always directly economic," she says. "It’s about unifying people around a common cause."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Maud Lyon, The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance


Social media meets personal trainers in a Philly-funded fitness app

Malvern native Matt Madonna is getting only four hours of sleep a night -- when he’s lucky. That’s what happens when you start medical school at the same time your groundbreaking fitness app is preparing to launch.

The Northeastern University graduate majored in health sciences and worked in New York City as a personal trainer with Equinox. But Madonna discovered a big problem: most people couldn’t afford the service. On average, a starting session with a personal trainer can cost $110 to $130.

"It’s crazy," he says. "Who can afford that? There’s got to be a better alternative. The people who needed the training the most weren’t getting it, because they don’t have that [room] in their monthly budget."

Madonna, who rowed crew at Northeastern, began to research fitness and training apps, but couldn’t find anything that was easy-to-use and accessible to a wide range of sports and workout needs. That’s when he got the idea for Athlee, an app he plans to launch in Philadelphia next year.

"We’re like a fusion of Instagram and a really well laid out fitness map," he explains.

Athlee is a one-of-a-kind social network dedicated to fitness, where users (without ads or a monthly fee) can sign up and find other gym mavens or sports players who are sharing training programs. If you like someone’s training methods, goals or results, the app can provide "a standardized library of exercises," demonstrations and tutorials tailored to that workout, all vetted by health professionals.

The app’s platform allows for as much or as little gym-time sharing as you please.

"You can share your program if you want to," says Madonna. "If you don’t want to, it’s completely fine, you can be by yourself."

For those who choose to, the ability to share your progress with other users is a "double motivation," he adds, because you can get inspired by someone else’s workout, and then show your friends you’re doing it.  

An in-app store will let athletes access advice from a specific trainer. Madonna is currently signing up as many as ten trainers per week, each with at least six years professional experience. They’ll help with programs as diverse as weight loss, body-building or figure competitions, or sports from hockey to cross-country.

He designed the whole thing himself, spending countless hours mastering Photoshop on his own to create the platform. Then, something happened.

Seeking funders for his venture in late August, Madonna reached out to the author of rowing magazine story, a former teammate and alum of the University of Pennsylvania. Two days later, they sat down together, and Madonna got the dollars to move ahead with full development of the app -- an initial infusion of $50,000, with $20,000 more pending -- by the following week.   

Athlee will do select beta testing through the end of this year, and Madonna hopes to launch it in January 2015 (prime New Year’s resolution time). The date and location of the launch are TBA, but Madonna thinks Boathouse Row would be the perfect spot.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Matt Madonna,
 Madonna Technologies LLC

Three biotech companies and a legal tech startup land at the University City Science Center

Four early-stage companies, including one making its first foray into the U.S. market, are settling in at the University City Science Center's Port Business Incubator. 

CETICS Healthcare Technologies is a medical device company based in Germany. With its analysis technology and digitalization of sample profiles, the company's products drastically simplify how in-vitro diagnostics are used, opening new application areas in quality control, chemical stability testing, toxicology, and process optimization and control.

In Philadelphia, the company is launching a new product for genotoxicity testing. The TOXXs Analyzer is an automated method for fast quantification of DNA strand breaks and DNA repair capacities. 
In the longer term, CETICS is developing a new generation of breakthrough in-vitro diagnostic products known as "Spectral Biomarkers" that can provide early, non-invasive diagnoses of Alzheimer Disease, prostate cancer and liver fibrosis.

HaRo Pharmaceutical, another new Port company, is conducting research and development focused on the treatment of high-risk neuroblastoma, funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). HaRo was the only small molecule therapeutic company -- out of 75 startups nationwide -- admitted to the Innovation Corps Team Training Pilot Program (ICORPS),  an NCI/National Institutes of Health-sponsored intensive commercial development course.
Hyalo Technologies is a biotech and pharmaceutical company developing an innovative nanotechnology drug delivery system that promises to drastically reduce systemic side effects and increase patient compliance. Potential applications include cancer, pain management, wound healing and dermatology.

Legal Science Partners (LSP), spun out of Temple University's Beasley School of Law in 2013, builds tools for the legal profession. LSP's knowledge management platform, The Monocle, allows easy, low-cost access to legal information across jurisdictions and topics. Meanwhile, products such as LawAtlas.org and Workbench convert unstructured legal text into structured question-and-answer formats.

LSP is currently building custom platforms in particular areas of law such as Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Laws for the National Institute for Drug Abuse and Everytown for Gun Safety, and is planning to release a prototype in the coming weeks of its 50StatUS, which will include pay-per-use statutory data in the business law sector.

Source: Kristen Fitch, University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia.

For three young entrepreneurs in Malvern, 'Maholla' means eco-centric products

Three young entrepreneurs, committed, they say, "to getting back to the basics of good business: high-quality innovative products, unparalleled customer satisfaction, social responsibility and having the smallest environmental impact possible," have launched Maholla Products, an eco-centric lifestyle products company in Malvern.

The company name comes from a mixture of the Hawaiian word "mahalo," meaning thanks or gratitude, and the slang greeting "holla."

"'Mahalo' is a really powerful word that encompasses how we approach people, life and our company," says co-founder Evan Hajas. "We chose 'holla'… to mean 'keep in touch' or 'see you soon.' The combination of the words, to us, is a respectful and friendly greeting. It sums up our company in one word. We respect our customers and our products, and want them to keep in touch. When we sell a product, that is just the beginning of our relationship with the customer -- we don't want it to be a cold 'see-you-never' sale."

Hajas, along with co-founders Andrew Lees and Jim McHugh, recently launched Grassracks, a line of easy-to-hang, bamboo racks that can be used to hang skateboards, bikes, skis, etc. Grassracks make a stylish statement and are made of 100 percent bamboo, a highly sustainable material.

Grassracks are manufactured in Malvern and Ohio, and sold online in a few brick-and-mortar locations around Philadelphia.

"Our product is unique in that brick-and-mortar stores buy them for use as in-store displays, but also to sell to end consumers,” explains Hajas. "That has allowed us to develop some creative referral programs that have worked out great for us and the retailers."

Maholla is currently developing some new home decor lines. "Even some that dip into the audio and accessory industries, but those are still a little hush hush," adds Hajas. "We started this company to live the American dream. We're three young guys that are committed to making high-quality products, being good to our customers, and doing what we can to protect the environment and raise the bar in terms of environmental awareness for companies."

Source: Evan Hajas, Maholla Products
Writer: Elise Vider

EFE Labs boosts local startups through Ben Franklin Technology Partners alliance

For many aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses, finding the money to design and prototype their ideas can be a tremendous challenge.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) helps bridge that gap through its various programs and grant offerings, and a new alliance with EFE Laboratories will provide young companies with even more of the connections, technical expertise and financial capital they need to bring their products to market.

Led by majority owner and engineer Kip Anthony, EFE is a leading manufacturer of controllers, communication tools, medical devices, and other electrical and mechanical engineering solutions.

With 35 employees and growing, the Horsham-based lab has already helped clients obtain matching Ben Franklin FabNet (BFFN) prototyping grants.

For example, its work with SureShade has allowed founder Dana Russikoff to both expand the company's market reach, and move the design and manufacturing of its retractable boat shades back to the Philadelphia area.

Not content to simply refer clients to the BFFN program, EFE actively reaches out to growing companies facing various developmental challenges and a lack of R&D capital.

"I’m trying to make sure that, through the network and connections I have, clients receive the help they need to move their manufacturing process forward," says Anthony.

An established engineer with an MBA, Anthony understands the vital role manufacturing plays in the economy, and is passionate about sharing EFE's capabilities and experience with the larger entrepreneurial community.

"There are a lot of good people behind this," he insists, discussing how EFE's new alliance might help bring manufacturing jobs back to the region. "[There’s] a lot of shared passion, and a lot of drive and desire to succeed."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kip Anthony, EFE Laboratories


Mr. Milkman, an organic dairy delivery service, is now available in Philly

All it took was a single taste of Trickling Springs Creamery's premium ice cream to convince Dan Crump he had to leave his job at FedEx and follow his passion of supporting local farms and healthy organic eating.

Shortly thereafter, he purchased the Lancaster County-based organic dairy delivery service known as Mr. Milkman.

At the time, Mr. Milkman had a limited delivery area and only a few customers -- it was really more of a hobby than a business for its previous owner.

"I knew it would mean a pay cut," recalls Crump. "But I also knew I could use my FedEx [logistics] knowledge to make [the business] work."

Almost immediately after purchasing Mr. Milkman, Crump began to wonder whether or not he should expand services to Philadelphia. Without an advertising budget or established customer base, he figured the costs would be prohibitive. Fortunately, a fruitful visit to Reading Terminal Market convinced Crump to add Philadelphia-area delivery services a few months back.

Now, thanks to the airing of a spotlight piece on Lancaster County’s WGAL last week, Mr. Milkman’s business in Philadelphia has taken off.

Due to the spike in orders, the company has added new Philly-area routes. It delivers each Saturday, and is poised to continue its growth with a hiring push. Crump is also working with a gluten-free bakery and will be offering fruit and veggie boxes this spring.

In addition to Trickling Springs Creamery dairy products, Danda Farms organic meats, artisan cheeses, raw honey and a number of other organic goodies, Mr. Milkman also delivers raw milk from Swiss Villa.

"We’re dedicated to supporting our local organic farmers and their workers," says Crump, "while ensuring that busy moms, families, and other [Philadelphia] residents have access to healthy food."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Dan Crump, Mr. Milkman


Seed funding to expand labs and add jobs at Science Center startup Graphene Frontiers

If you've ever left a doctor's office with an order for lab tests, you’re likely familiar with the inconvenient and stressful experience of waiting days for results that may or may not provide a definitive diagnosis.

Fortunately, thanks to a recent $1.6 million series B seed funding effort led by Trimaran Capital Partners, Science Center-based nanotech startup Graphene Frontiers is poised to put an end to many such experiences by "creating a major paradigm change in medical diagnostics," says CEO Mike Patterson.  

That paradigm change will come from unique biosensor devices that can actually identify antibodies, proteins and other markers of infection and disease.

Graphene has already developed a proprietary and highly efficient process to produce the graphene used in the sensors. The upcoming product will allow testing from a single drop of blood that can be drawn and processed right at your doctor’s office, providing near-immediate results.  

Patterson explains that the company is also working on using its biosensors as a preventative tool -- doctors will be able to monitor changes to a patient’s specific health markers over time. 

While Graphene's early business model relied primarily on providing its namesake material to other researchers, recent seed funding will allow Graphene to "refocus and expand their efforts into more industry changing applications with the [ultra-thin graphene] material," says Patterson.

In addition to job growth and a lab expansion at the Science Center campus, the company plans to pursue opportunities in the consumer electronics industry through a new partnership with the Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Mike Patterson, Graphene Frontiers

Do you love kids and hate litter? If so, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful wants to talk

For the past 18 months, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful Executive Director Michelle Feldman has been spreading the organization's message of environmental stewardship to local public school students. From educational presentations and workshops to hands-on projects, Feldman has been tireless in her efforts to inspire and empower children to beautify their communities.

To date, the organization's programs have reached over 1,500 students, and they want to do more.

"We came to the realization that we could do so much more if we had volunteer teachers who were out there and passionate about this [work]," explains Feldman.

In an effort to achieve its goal, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful is seeking five volunteers willing to train with the organization and then work as part-time ambassadors in area elementary, junior high and high schools. 

Prospective volunteers should have a passion for recycling and other environmental issues, and must commit to two presentations per month, with each engagement lasting roughly an hour.

Volunteer teachers will be responsible for leading presentations similar to Keep Philadelphia Beautiful's signature program, "Litter-Free School Zone." Supplemental activities include field trips, local clean-up events and on-site recycling demonstrations.

Keep Philadelphia Beautiful also coordinates with community groups to create unique one-off learning opportunities such as DIY-style programs on creative reuse.

The organization will attract and engage with prospective volunteers through its website and social media channels, and additional details will appear in its upcoming October newsletter.

Interested in applying? Complete the online application by November 30.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Michelle Feldman, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful


South Jersey's Collingswood Book Festival celebrates its 12th year

It was on an autumn Saturday some 13 years back when Jeanne Brennan, a longtime trustee of the Collingswood Library Board, stumbled upon a modest outdoor book festival during a trip to New York City.

"It was on the small side, but it intrigued me," she recalls. "And I thought it would be something that would be beneficial for our area."
Indeed, South Jersey in 2001 was not a region known for its public celebrations of the written word, and that doesn't seem to have changed much. In the northern stretch of the state, Jersey City has an annual book fest. Newark hosts a respected biennial poetry event. The Princeton Public Library runs a children's book fest.
But for the past 12 years, the Collingswood Book Festival, which Brennan launched with help from friends and family less than a year after that trip to New York, has been the sole annual option for South Jersey dwellers with an interest in street fair-style literary entertainment.
The event has become a beloved fall tradition in the small borough of 14,000, which sits halfway between Camden and Cherry Hill (it's an easy trip on PATCO). The borough's commissioners and its mayor are staunch supporters, says Brennan, who adds that attendance has grown steadily over the past decade.

"The first [festival] was kind of bare-bones," she says. "We didn't have any tents or any audio equipment."

Still, roughly 3,000 people showed up to see 15 authors speak. This October 11, Brennan expects 8,000 attendees to converge on Collingswood's Haddon Avenue.

Fifty authors, some self-published and some relatively well-known (including Wesley Stace and Leigh Gallagher) will be on hand to read and sign books. Writing workshops and panel discussion will also take place. And an entire block, dubbed "Loompaland," will boast books and activities for children.

All events are free.

Correction: This year's Collingswood Book Festival takes place on Saturday, October 11; not October 15, as a previous version of this story incorrectly reported. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jeanne Brennan, Collingswood Book Festival

Tech entrepreneur teams with Drexel to launch a mobile audio tour experience for museums

If you've ever spent any time inside an art or natural history museum, there's a chance you've encountered the ubiquitous hand-held audio wand. Attached to a museum wall alongside an exhibit and stored in a charging station, audio wands share pre-recorded information about adjacent objects and displays.    
Now, with a bit of business development assistance from Neville Vakharia of Drexel's Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, local tech entrepreneur Cliff Stevens has created a game-changing audio-tour tool that is both less expensive and more convenient than the traditional museum wand solution.
Known as CultureSpots, the product exists as a free web-based mobile tool -- not an app -- that users can easily access on smartphones or tablets.
Vakharia, who studies the roles technology can play in building stronger and more sustainable arts organizations, helped Stevens develop a business plan for the audio platform, positioning it specifically as a solution for small and mid-size galleries and museums. Institutions, in other words, that can't necessarily afford expensive audio-tour infrastructure.   
"I immediately gravitated towards [his] idea," says Vakharia, who first learned about CultureSpots during a chance encounter with Stevens at a Drexel T3 tech event. "I realized that Drexel could bring the resources and expertise to really make this successful, and to really make a change in the museum field."   
After piloting a beta version of CultureSpots at 15 local museums and galleries, "we were really pleased to see that people wanted it, and people used it," explains Vakharia. "Overwhelmingly, the feedback was very positive."
CultureSpots will be officially launched at Drexel's Leonard Pearlstein Gallery on October 22 from 9 to 11 a.m., during which visitors will have an opportunity to test the platform.   
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Sources: Neville Vakharia, Drexel University and Cliff Stevens, CultureSpots

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