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Germantown's 'Racism is a Sickness' project seeks subjects and supporters

On August 2, Germantown photographer, blogger and activist Tieshka Smith formally launched a project she calls "the most important work that I have done to date.”

The kick-off discussion for that effort, "Racism is a Sickness," took place at Maplewood Mall’s G-Town Radio space. It drew so many interested locals over the course of an hour that the place was packed.

A combination of portraits and interviews conducted by the artist on how racism has affected her subjects, "Racism is a Sickness" is an extension of work Smith did over the last year through a residency at the Painted Bride Art Center. There, her portrait series titled "Private Pain, Silent Struggle," documented people of color with the objects and activities that help to insulate them against the pain of prejudice in everyday life. Smith wanted her subjects to have a say in how they were portrayed because "people of color are not given the agency to find their own imaging."

The current photo project has similar themes, but the portrait style will be more uniform: They’ll all be taken in the lobby at G-Town Radio in front of an upside-down American flag. That flag represents "a country in distress," she explains -- it’s like "shooting up a flare" for racial injustice in modern America.

Each subject (five of whom had already been photographed as of early August) will wear a medical mask with a word written on it representing something they hope to protect themselves against such as "shame," "fear," "stereotyping" and "suspicion." Ultimately, Smith hopes to include 25 subjects in the project. She aims to raise $5,000 to support the work through an Indiegogo campaign.

Beyond finding and photographing her subjects, the artist’s next step will be broad community engagement, an exhibition of the portraits and lots of associated programming developed out of the themes of the interviews. Smith is on the lookout for a final exhibition space and plenty of "co-investors" -- she is hoping to connect with a wide range of community groups who want to combat the social, economic and sometimes life-threatening dangers of racism.

For more information or to find out how you can participate in this project (open to people of all colors), e-mail racismisasickness@gmail.com or follow along on Twitter @RMUS2015.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tieshka Smith, “Racism is a Sickness” 

A cafe start-up helps foster-care youth get on their feet

Lisa Miccolis worked for a long time in coffee shops. She found a lot of pride and enjoyment in the communities she found there, both among her co-workers and the customers. But she didn’t feel that she was really fulfilling her life’s goal until she had a “lightbulb moment" -- the idea for a nonprofit café specifically designed to employ and mentor young people aging out of the foster-care system.

Miccolis first became aware of this problem on a trip to South Africa several years ago. She met residents of an orphanage who were facing the sudden loss of their support system when they were no longer legally children -- they didn’t have the network or skills to forge an independent life. She realized that the same problem exists in Philadelphia as youngsters lose access to a host of resources at age 18 (or, if they meet some criteria in Pennsylvania, age 21). Without family support or education and job prospects, they don’t know what to do.

"Generally, as soon as one thing goes, everything goes with it," she explains. "If your housing is unstable, chances are you’re not going to be able to hold a job. And if you don’t have a job, good luck getting a job."

Her answer is The Monkey & the Elephant, a non-profit café/mentoring program that hires youth who have aged out of foster care. It launched in late 2012, with pop-up locations in three spots over subsequent years: the Italian Market, Manayunk’s Transfer Station and Impact Hub (from March to December of last year).

In February 2015, The Monkey & the Elephant opened its first permanent location at 2831 W. Girard Avenue in Brewerytown. It’s open seven days a week, 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Eight youngsters have been employed in the program so far, ranging in age from 19 to 25. And it’s not just about food service -- the M&E team helps employees think through career and educational decisions, offers support in the housing process, and even helps out with schoolwork.

"What I’ve noticed is changes in how they think about things," explains Miccolis. "When they’re talking about what they want to do, we’ve been able to reframe the direction they’re taking to get there." It’s not about a rush to the "perfect job," but a practical, encouraging and achievable long-term path. Typically, the program takes on its participants for eight months, but the mentorship is ongoing. "When they finish with us and they are ready to work towards that job or get back into school or whatever it is, they have more of a foundation for it and they’re better able to support themselves.”

Monkey & the Elephant recently received an unexpected honor: a Startup of the Year nomination from the annual Philadelphia Geek Awards. "Geek" has a broad definition these days, and in Philly it’s a coveted label.

"I was pretty shocked and honored to have that nomination," says Miccolis; the ceremony that will take place on August 15 at the Academy of Natural Sciences. "I wouldn’t have thought of a coffee shop or a non-profit as a geek-centered organization... It’s pretty cool that it’s not just for the sciences or technology."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lisa Miccolis, The Monkey & the Elephant

An urban farm sprouts in Chinatown thanks to Grow Where You Live

Meei Ling Ng, a Singapore-born, Philly-based artist, designer and urban farmer, has taken on a multifaceted project in Chinatown North. The initiative features a vertical urban farm, a job-skills program for people in recovery from addiction or homelessness, and a new fount of fresh food for the partnering Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.

The impetus for Ng's new project grew out of Grow Where You Live, her year-long Social Practice Lab residency at the Asian Arts Initiative. It was supposed to wrap up in June, but the current urban garden project has proven so successful that Ng's Asian Arts residency has been extended at least until the end of this year.

"Ideally I was looking for a vacant lot around the neighborhood," says Ng of a long search for an appropriate urban farm space and partner organization. Such a space -- open to the work of an artist and farmer -- was hard to find, partly because of recent gentrification in the area.

A tour of the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission late last year proved extremely propitious: Ng learned that the organization, which provides a range of vital services to the city’s homeless, was in the process of a parking lot space swap with their neighbors to the west, Roman Catholic High School.

The switch would leave a large space along Sunday Breakfast’s kitchen wall -- about 20 feet wide and 100 feet long -- empty of cars by law.

"This is amazing. This is exactly what we want," Ng recalls thinking on seeing the space; she envisioned a specially designed and built vertical urban farm. "We can use a whole big empty wall with asphalt under…this could be an awesome, awesome project."

The artist spent a month on a meticulous rendering of her idea, then pitched it to Sunday Breakfast. The project became reality through support and donations from Asian Arts, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Orchard Project, City Harvest and South Philly’s Urban Jungle, a landscape design firm.

Since then, the little farm has provided pounds of produce that go directly into meals served at Sunday Breakfast.

The partnership also has a human component: The farm runs with help from workers at Overcomers, an intensive 16-month program for men in recovery from addiction and homelessness. They reap a wealth of skills -- not only the ability to grow their own healthy food in an urban setting, but practical job training in a rapidly growing industry. The formal part of the Overcomers project is finished, but a few participants have stayed on as official apprentices and volunteers.

"This is very exciting that we have a team now to work on the farm," says Ng, adding that she has high hopes the project will continue in future summers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Meei Ling Ng, Asian Arts Initiative

BFTP/SEP invests $2.8M in 14 early-stage tech firms

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) closed fiscal year 2015 with $2.8 million in investments in 14 early-stage companies in sectors ranging from information technology to digital health to advanced manufacturing.

American Aerospace in Montgomery County provides endurance, beyond-line-of-sight, unmanned aircraft system products and services to oil and gas, electric transmission and emergency management customers.

BioBots in Philadelphia builds 3D bioprinters and bioinks, producing 3D living tissues out of human cells.

Montgomery County's Core Solutions is a progressive leader in transforming the behavioral, medical and social services experience for behavioral health providers, consumers and state agencies.
Philadelphia’s DECNUT provides healthcare organizations with dynamic point-of-care solutions designed to improve clinical decision-making. 

Defend Your Head in Chester County has developed an innovative protective helmet cover that reduces head trauma for all contact sports.

Philadelphia's Gencore offers a revolutionary cloud application analytics solution that provides high-fidelity performance analytics and monitoring. 

Grand Round Table in Philadelphia provides innovative clinical decision support solutions integrated into electronic health records.

Montgomery County’s KickUp aims to end the intellectual, physical and geographic isolation that educators face by providing access to quality coaching, collaboration and mentorship opportunities. 

MeetBall in Bucks County offers a location-sharing platform that helps fans navigate the crowd and improve their experience at large events such as NASCAR races, football games, concerts and festivals. 

Philadelphia's Optofluidics is enhancing particle analysis with state-of-the art, nanotechnology-enabled instrumentation. 

ROAR in Philadelphia is developing fashionable jewelry that doubles as an alarm and alert system to protect women from attack. 

Rocker Tools in Bucks County is an innovative designer, manufacturer and distributor of specialty construction tools. 

Philadelphia's Yorn is a real-time data platform that links patient-generated feedback with associated health data. 

Philadelphia’s ZSX Medical is a medical device company whose Zip-Stitch offers a rapid surgical closure platform. 

Source: BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider

Worked Up: Philly’s biggest-ever Early Childhood Education jobs convention is coming

In response to a proposed $120 million bump in the Pennsylvania budget for Early Childhood Education (ECE) from Governor Tom Wolf, Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) and partners are hosting the largest career fair of its kind ever to hit the Philly region.

If the new funding becomes law, that means 1,400 new jobs could open up in the industry statewide, and up to 400 in Philadelphia. Local childcare centers are already gearing up to hire more teachers, assistant teachers, administrators and directors; the jobs could start as early as September. To that end, the non-profit PHMC is bringing its Early Childhood Education Workforce Transformation (ECEWTI) Career Convention to Centre Square East (on the Lower Mezzanine of 1500 Market Street) on Friday, July 31 from 12 - 4 p.m.

"This is a completely free event," enthuses PHMC program officer Lizette Egea-Hinton -- there will even be childcare on hand for job-seeking parents who need someone to watch the kids. The event will feature a mix of the region’s premier ECE service-providers -- some will even interview qualified candidates on the spot -- and activities from partnering organizations that allow the Convention to cast a broader net.

PHMC is teaming with the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children and the Montgomery Early Learning Centers for the convention; training organizations such as 1199c and some local universities will also be on hand. They’ll offer interview workshops, resume tips and what the ECE industry calls "career lattice therapy."

Not familiar with the term "career lattice"? Egea-Hinton explains that it’s a multi-layered metric for childcare workers that encompasses factors including your degree level, your training and how many years of experience you have. Those who want to enter or advance in the industry should start by understanding where they are in the ECE lattice, and what they need to do to obtain the jobs they want.

Egea-Hinton notes that filling jobs in the sector can be challenging because of a consistent gap in pay between what ECE professionals earn and what their counterparts in schooling for older kids make. Addressing that is one reason PHMC partners with the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) -- the organization is a Win-Win Challenge grantee.

"A part of our work through JOIN is to see how we can remedy this issue," she says. "We do need the staff, but our biggest barrier is pay. So what can we do to bridge that gap?"

Despite the challenges, this remains a growing field in the education sector, and Philly has to be ready to meet the needs of its youngest citizens (and their parents).

"We’ve never had [an event] like this before," enthuses Egea-Hinton. "We’re offering a lot of things and we plan on it being really large. We hope that it’s very successful, so we can have more in the future…it shows it’s a need."

The Convention will also boast refreshments, raffles and "swag bags." Any questions? E-mail ecetraining@phmc.org
The Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) has partnered with Flying Kite to explore how good jobs are created and filled in Greater Philadelphia. For more on the Win-Win Challenge, click here.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lizette Egea-Hinton, Public Health Management Corporation

The School District puts $30 million to work boosting early childhood literacy

Big news for books in the School District of Philadelphia: $30 million in combined investments from the District and major foundations, announced this month, will spur a major literacy initiative for the city’s elementary schoolers. Plans are also afoot to put about 2,000 individual classroom libraries into Philly schools (about a million books in total).
It’s a three-year, three-pronged effort, funded in part by $4.5 million from The Lenfest Foundation and $6 million from the William Penn Foundation. The programs will focus on kids in kindergarten through third grade; it's part of District Superintendent Dr. William Hite’s longterm plan to boost early childhood literacy, a particular challenge for our city.
According to a statement from the District and the partnering foundations, Philly has 48,000 kids in kindergarten through third grade. Eight-five percent of them are members of low-income families, 14 percent have special education needs and 10 percent don’t speak English as their first language. A little over half of Philly's students can read at grade level by the end of third grade, an issue the District has already been tackling with its READ by 4th! Campaign (the new efforts will be an extension of this work).
According to William Penn Program Director Elliot Weinbaum, this investment has been in the pipeline for a while. The District had been working with the foundations for almost a year prior to the announcement; the foundations were impressed by the scope and specificity of the District's plans.
For the first part of the new initiative, 2,000 of Philly’s K-3 teachers (about 65 percent of them overall) will receive a week-long intensive summer training program on research-backed literacy instruction, institutionalizing new evidence-based approaches. Dedicated literacy coaches will support teachers throughout the school year.
Finally, the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia will spearhead a campaign for $3.4 million in matching funds from public donors over the next three years. The money will go towards customized in-classroom libraries.
"The classroom-based library is very much meant for the child to take agency over his or her learning," says Weinbaum. Students will be able to take volumes home with them for reading outside the classroom, and school staffers will help select the books, customizing the individual collections.

"It won’t be a one-size-fits-all library," adds Weinbaum. "We have a very diverse student body, both in terms of cultural and ethnic background," at a range of reading levels. Because of that diversity, the span of classroom interests and needs is "much broader than you would find in other schools and districts around the country. There’s plenty of research out there that shows when kids are interested in a topic, they are more likely to engage with the books."
Members of the public interested in supporting the libraries effort can call The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia at (215) 979-1199.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elliot Weinbaum, The William Penn Foundation

A new indoor wayfinding app works to grow an industry

Once upon a time, we humans were content to sail ships across oceans with nothing but the sun and stars to figure out where we were, but things are a little different today. Chet Dagit, founder and managing director of the Radnor-based RTP Holdings, says that nowadays, satellite GPS can help us locate ourselves on this round earth within three meters of a given spot, but for a lot of industries, even that’s not enough.

"Micro-location solutions" is what RTP has been working on since its genesis three years ago; the company now has one year of operations under its belt. The technology is also called "augmented GPS"  -- it works with the help of a radio tower on the ground. On a large outdoor site such as a golf-course, plugged-in users can locate themselves to within a single meter with the help of a map in the cloud.

This technology is crucial for the modern aviation and maritime industries, says Dagit, but RTP is also helping to develop the next wave of micro-location: GPS that works through a specialized app indoors, helping users navigate their way through large buildings and attractions such as college campuses or museums.

The apps use WiFi and now Bluetooth Beacon for ground references, and RTP’s services to their clients come in two main parts: the positioning of these devices and the actual indoor mapping. They survey buildings to ensure the right number and location of WiFi access points, input those spots to a three-dimensional grid of the space, and then get the building’s floor-plan mapped into the app-accessed cloud.

To imagine an immediate and urgent application, picture calling 911 on your cell phone from inside a huge building and letting the app guide EMTs right to you. Or you can simply figure out what museum exhibit is a two-minute step from where you’re currently standing.

RTP recently held its first public demonstration of its trademarked Lokita Solution system for indoor micro-location mobile apps. It was a big success: Their new beta app, The @UPenn Xperience (now available in the Apple iTunes App store) took first place at the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies (PACT) Wayfinding App Challenge in late June, hosted by PACT and co-sponsored by Penn and Independence Blue Cross.

"The new app helps students and visitors to Penn’s campus navigate and discover the art-filled campus and surrounding city," said RTP in a statement about the win, which came with a $30,000 prize.

"It really makes our solution tangible, so [people] can see it in action," says Dagit of the presentation and the prize. The company put their competition team and demo together in less than a month.

"That really shows our prospective customers how quickly we can get things done, and the quality of our work on a certain timeline," he adds.

"Philly is one of the leading cities in the country for indoor mapping," he continues, expaining that we're second only to Las Vegas in the number of buildings using this type of technology. "I just think we’re progressive with technology, maybe a little bit more early adopters, and we’re all about these great public venues that we have."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chet Dagit: RTP Holdings

The Cultural Alliance hits the ground running with a new arts and tech residency

Fresh from its victory helping the Philadelphia Cultural Fund secure stable funding for 2016, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance is on the trail of innovations that spark deeper collaborations between the local arts and technology sectors.
2014 saw the launch of the organization’s TechniCulture Initiative, and president Maud Lyon says this year’s TechniCulture Innovation Residency Awards, announced in June, further that work.
Local cultural groups invited to apply for the residencies must have an annual operating budget of $1 million or less. The hard part isn’t necessarily finding the solution to a problem, but trying to frame what you need in the first place.

"One of the things that’s both fascinating and intimidating for technology is that you don’t even know what questions to ask," explains Lyon. 
That’s what these unique art/tech residencies, each seeded with $2,000, are going to help three local organizations accomplish. Winners will be paired with a technologist or a digital agency who will work in-depth with them for months to help them achieve something they don’t have the resources to develop on their own.
"What really is an issue for a lot of organizations is that they sort of have an idea that technology could help them with something, but they don’t know what that is," says Lyon. On the other hand, "the technology people can create an app for anything, but they need to understand what the organization’s really trying to accomplish."
What those projects will be is still an open question, but Lyon points to challenges such as better management of existing data, better audience and consumer services, new organizational capacities, new forms of art, or more efficient, effective business models.
A specific timeline is in place. On July 16, the Cultural Alliance is hosting a free orientation session for interested organizations (register online); August 21 is the deadline for applications. Three winning organizations will receive their new tech residency partner on September 30.
The first phase will include 80 hours of work from the participating tech professional or firm between October and December, developing an actionable concept. In early 2016, a "design challenge" will follow in which volunteering technologists, marketers, and communications and development experts create grant-ready road maps for implementation of the three residencies’ concepts, pinpointing the platform or medium and estimating costs. (The Alliance has an open call for TechniCulture design challenge partners; interested professionals or firms should contact grants and program manager Tracy Buchanan at tracyb@philaculture.org.)
The TechniCulture Innovation Residency Awards will culminate in a public presentation on April 29 as part of Philly Tech Week 2016. An audience vote will award one of the concepts further dollars for implementation, but all three organizations will walk away with a concept ready for funding.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Maud Lyon, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

A new partnership promotes healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship

Independence Blue Cross (IBX) and Thomas Jefferson University have embarked on a new collaboration "designed to boost innovation in healthcare across the region and help both organizations improve the quality and value of healthcare," said the partners in a statement.

The new Independence Blue Cross – Jefferson Health Innovation Collaboration will be jointly and equally funded up to $2 million by IBX and Jefferson. The program will be run through the Independence Blue Cross Center for Health Care Innovation and Jefferson's Innovation Pillar

According to Jefferson's Donna Gentile O’Donnell, details are still being worked out, but the effort will include an entrepreneur-in-residence program for clinicians and researcher who have promising discoveries that need more dedicated time and proof-of-concept support, including prototyping. 

The entrepreneurs-in-residence will also participate in education curriculum in entrepreneurship and an innovation engagement speaker series.The collaboration also plans to host health hackathons with participants working intensely to "hack" usable solutions to important healthcare issues such as reducing hospital readmissions, designing wearable devices that improve healthcare delivery and other cutting-edge technology applications.

"We anticipate that the entrepreneur-in-residence program will be a pivot point for moving new ideas forward and changing what we do and how we do it in multiple aspects of healthcare," enthused Stephen K. Klasko, president and CEO of Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.

Gentile O’Donnell says that specifics of the selection process are being worked out, but that for year one "we are looking for areas of practice research and clinical applications that may need proof of concept, but [whose hypotheses] point in the direction of improving care, decreasing care risk and decreasing hospital readmission."

Established in February 2014, IBX's Center for Health Care Innovation houses a wide range of initiatives and champions healthcare entrepreneurism in the region. Jefferson's Innovation Pillar is an initiative designed to elevate and encourage innovation as a mission for the university and the health system.

Source: Donna Gentile O’Donnell, TJU and Independence Blue Cross
Writer: Elise Vider

Designer Amy Devan is making fashion waves from Philly

Most fashion designers dream of living and working in New York, London, Paris or Milan, where the big fashion weeks happen. But Amy Devan made a different choice.

The creative director of Naveda, a two-year-old luxury womenswear brand, spent most of her childhood in Philadelphia and earned her MBA at Drexel University. She founded her brand in 2013 while living in New York City. Six months ago, she made the move back to Philadelphia because she recognized it was a great place to be. Now she has a studio near Rittenhouse Square where she meets with clients for custom couture and works on her ready-to-wear line, which is sold online and in boutiques across the country.

"I thought it was really good timing to move to Philadelphia," she explains. "There's so much creativity here. I really wanted to be part of that."

Devan designs for the woman she is and wants to be: a free spirit who loves the best in materials and details. Her brand has two divisions: ready-to-wear and custom couture/bridal. Her customer tends to be a Free People customer, later in her life, and with more money to spend.

"Even though there are two segments, it's the same aesthetic, the same customer," says the designer.

Her clothes look like one-of-a-kind vintage pieces -- flowing silhouettes, beaded accents and intriguing colors. Devan has captured the attention of American and international media, and has shown her collections at New York and London Fashion Weeks in the last two seasons. Her brand is growing and she currently has a team of ten, some of whom work remotely.

Up next for Naveda is launching a ready-made couture collection, and merchandising the Fall 2015/Winter 2016 ready-to-wear collection. 

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Amy Devan, Naveda


Pew dollars launch Germantown's 'Elephants on the Avenue'

With a major new grant in excess of $100,000 from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Historic Germantown (HG) is tackling the "Elephants on the Avenue" – i.e., long-standing issues of race and class.

"The impetus for the project really was continuing Historic Germantown’s vision to contribute to the cultural and economic development of this community,” explains HG executive director Trapeta Mayson of the newly-funded "Elephants on the Avenue: Race, Class, and Community in Historic Germantown."

That means respectfully interpreting Germantown’s deep and diverse history on a few main themes, including slavery and abolition, inclusion and exclusion, and tolerance.

"I don’t think people can always easily find themselves in some of these stories, so we feel that some of the responsibility of our historic site is to make this information accessible and relevant to today’s public," says Mayson.

The project, which will launch in October and last two years, will pair local artists and historians to "collaboratively curate text and image-based public art and educational workshops about race and class" with the help of member sites and community partners.

The project boasts four historians: Dr. Abigail Perkiss, Dr. Matthew Countryman, Dr. Molefi Assante and Dr. Thomas Sugrue. Participating creative types include visual artists, educators and poets: Barbara J. Bullock, Ife Nii Owoo, Diane Pieri, Sonia Sanchez, Yolanda Wisher and Benjamin Volta.

Pew dollars will let HG compensate the artists and historians, Mayson explains, and cover materials for workshops, festivals and other community events. "Elephants" will also have a dedicated part-time project manager.

And it’s not just about reckoning with the past -- exploring the full potential of Germantown’s historic fabric has economic importance, too.

"Economics is something that people tend to forget when we think about historic sites and how important they are to a community," insists Mayson. "People come to a neighborhood, they spend money, they become interested."

That means Germantown has a lot of growing to do, from upping the number of available restaurants to improving walkability and transit -- that’s why HG already partners with several non-historic community organizations, meeting monthly with Germantown United CDCGermantown Community Connection and others.

"We’d be missing a great opportunity if we didn’t realize we were just as essential to economic development and community planning," adds Mayson.

"Elephants on the Avenue" will culminate in a final performance/exhibition curated by iMPeRFeCT Gallery co-founder and Germantown resident Renny Molenaar.

Source: Trapeta Mayson, Historic Germantown
Writer: Alaina Mabaso

AWE Ventures—Powered by Ben Franklin aims to raise capital for women-led businesses

In 1995, a small group of Philadelphia-region women entrepreneurs got together for mutual support and access to capital. Now, 20 years later, the group -- renamed the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) -- is the Mid-Atlantic's largest organization dedicated to fostering high-growth businesses founded or led by women. 

Still, according to Executive Director Victoria Burkhart, "there is a sense…that now is the time to 'move the needle' on women and entrepreneurship, and for AWE to take a more active role in connecting women to capital. AWE approached Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP), a longtime partner, to brainstorm strategies for aligning efforts in support of funding for entrepreneurial enterprises founded by women."

The resulting AWE Ventures—Powered by Ben Franklin is a crowdfunded, donation-driven initiative to raise $250,000 -- to be matched dollar-for-dollar by BFTP/SEP -- for seed-stage investments in women-led enterprises in the Philadelphia region. The new program will also provide hands-on support for entrepreneurs from both partners’ shared networks of capital, counsel and connections, and events, workshops and published content to empower entrepreneurs and celebrate successes.

“As much as it is our goal to help support the growth of female entrepreneurs, AWE Ventures will also provide an opportunity to mentor future women investors," explains Burkhart. "Programming offered by both AWE and Ben Franklin will be as much about ‘how to invest’ as it will be about entrepreneurship. Fostering increased participation of women in early-stage or angel investment is equally important to increasing the diversity of our technology ecosystem here in the Greater Philadelphia region; really, in the nation at large."

"AWE and Ben Franklin will identify potential entrepreneurs for investment, with full management of the due diligence and investment processes to be handled by Ben Franklin," explains RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, BFTP/SEP’s president and CEO. "Like all other Ben Franklin investments, companies will commit to being located in Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware or Chester counties for at least five years, or until repayment/exit. The number of companies to be funded remains flexible and will depend upon the amount of funds raised."

"AWE does a great job in creating events and programs to connect and advance women entrepreneurs, providing opportunities to share experiences, insights, best practices and lessons learned," she adds. "Ben Franklin does as well, actively working to bring insights from its investors, portfolio companies and regional partners into the mix. There's really no end date or fixed total hours for what AWE Ventures—Powered by Ben Franklin can provide. That's what so great about our two organizations working together on this initiative."

Source: RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, BFTP/SEP and Victoria Burkhart, AWE
Writer: Elise Vider

Philly Music Lab connects local musicians to each other and to gigs

A year ago, Samantha Wittchen and her friend Alexandra Cutler-Fetkewicz were discussing the state of music in Philadelphia. Wittchen is a professional harpist (and occasional Flying Kite contributor) and Cutler-Fetkewicz a professional violinist. They attended music school together, and saw how different things were in the real world versus the traditional world of music education. 

"We were chatting about the fact that a lot of people were playing music that crossed genres," recalls Wittchen.

She and Cutler-Fetkewicz saw these artists struggling to build audiences, book paid performances and run their businesses. They thought, "Maybe we should do something about this." Several months later, the pair founded Philly Music Lab, a registered LLC that will operate almost like a nonprofit to help musicians meet each other and get gigs. They hosted their first happy hour event on May 28 at Bottle Bar East in Fishtown. 

Philly Music Lab will generate income for its three founders -- Wittchen, Cutler-Fetkewicz and "Chief Polka Officer" Dan Nosheny -- and fund its continued works in the local music scene by booking gigs for musicians. Not only do musicians struggle to find those perfect-for-them performances, but those looking to hire cross-genre or small genre musicians -- for something like a party or wedding -- didn't really have a place to find them. 

"More of these organizations and individuals doing bookings were looking for these kinds of artists, and we saw there really isn't any other infrastructure for these people looking for cross-genre musicians," explains Wittchen.

There is a third component planned for Philly Music Lab: an education arm that will allow musicians to learn about other genres and the business of being a musician. The organization needs to find and fund a space in which to teach these classes. Wittchen anticipates they will cost some money but much less than music courses at local colleges. 

"One of the holes we see in the musical education system in Philly is a lack of programming to teach musicians about unusual genres," she argues. "If you did happen to find a program, you'd probably have to matriculate at the cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars."

For now, Philly Music Lab is focused on figuring out its schedule of happy hours and quarterly showcases to introduce musicians to those booking gigs. Up next is another event planned for July. Stay tuned to their Twitter feed for details.

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: ?Samantha Wittchen, Philly Music Lab

Philadelphia's University City Science Center plans to double its campus

As Philadelphia's University City Science Center points out on its website, when it was founded in 1963, "the war on cancer had not been declared, the Apollo astronauts had yet to walk on the moon, and the first commercial microprocessor was eight years away."

Now the renowned urban research park -- already the oldest and largest in the U.S. -- has announced plans to double the size of its campus and accelerate the creation of a globally recognized innovation district for science and technology in West Philadelphia. 

In a joint venture with Wexford Science + Technology, a Baltimore-based biomed realty company, the Center is exploring joint development opportunities for nearly four million square feet of office, laboratory, residential, retail and parking space over the next 10 years. These opportunities include development of the former University City High School site adjacent to the Science Center and the three remaining open parcels on the existing campus: 3400, 3800 and 3850 Market Street.
Wexford has a wealth of experience in this area -- they have already developed 4.35 million square feet across 11 knowledge communities built upon a foundation of research, discovery and entrepreneurial activity. Their projects offer the programs, amenities and activities attractive to life science and technology companies and their employees.
To date, the Science Center and Wexford have successfully completed three development projects at 3701, 3711 and 3737 Market Street. These projects include multi-story buildings with lab, office and clinical spaces, structured parking and ground-floor retail spaces. 

"Our strong partnership with Wexford enables us to take a proactive and engaged approach to the changing landscape of Philadelphia’s fastest-growing innovation neighborhood," explained Science Center President & CEO Stephen S. Tang in a statement.

"Combining the vision and commercialization success of the Science Center, the development and programming expertise of Wexford and the intellectual capital and research strength of the institutions in University City, such as Drexel, Penn and Children’s Hospital, this partnership is primed to create a new environment of innovation and collaboration that will expand University City’s role as the fastest-growing economic engine and destination for innovation in Philadelphia and the region," added Jim Berens, president of Wexford.

Source: University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

Philly-Based ZOOM Interiors walks away from 'Shark Tank' deal

A year ago, Madeline Fraser, Elizabeth Grover and Beatrice Fischel-Bock spent an hour in-studio with five investors on the set of ABC's Shark Tank. The three entrepreneurs were recent college grads who hailed from all over the country but came to Philadelphia to grow their online interior design consultation company, ZOOM Interiors.

They offered up a lively presentation to Barbara Corcoran, Robert Herjavec, Kevin O'Leary, Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner. The trio sought $100,000 for a 20 percent stake in their company. They came out of their pitch with a deal from real estate magnate Corcoran, who offered $100,000 for 33 percent of the business. The episode aired on May 8.

"I never thought they would be so invested in the company," recalls Fraser. "They were very kind and willing to give guidance. It was such a priceless experience to have these five people give their advice."

After five months of due diligence, ZOOM Interiors and Barbara Corcoran parted ways. While Fraser and her business partners sought more of a mentor to guide and shape the business, they felt Corcoran was too busy to give them the personal attention they sought. 

"She's such a busy lady," says Fraser. "I think it was a bit much for her to take on at the time. Her staff is really incredible as well. Through the process of due diligence, you're getting a business analysis from such wise people."

ZOOM Interiors was born while Fraser, Grover and Fischel-Bock were studying abroad in London. Meanwhile, their friends were getting first jobs and moving into grownup apartments -- and emailing to ask for interior design advice. The three design school students were always notably well-dressed and people liked their aesthetic. They answered questions, did some online shopping, and helped those friends transform blank spaces into stylish homes, all through email from thousands of miles away. Turning that process into a company was the next logical step.

Since filming their episode of Shark Tank, Fraser, Grover and Fischel-Bock have made some adjustments to the business model. They still provide a free 15-minute consultation to each person who fills out their survey. After that, customers can purchase a custom concept board (called a ZoomBoard) to start the design process for $199. If customers like what they see, they can take the next step and receive a detailed shopping list. There are other extras and room bundles available for purchase.

The biggest change to the model might be the elimination of commission on the pieces purchased. This cuts out the greatest risk with traditional interior design: that the designer is urging you to buy certain furniture and décor because they're getting a cut. ZOOM's business model has no hidden fees.

The company also sells furniture and décor through the "Shop" section of their website. The are pieces chosen because they fit the founders' high-style, minimal-effort aesthetic.

Fraser has been in Philadelphia for about a year now, and she's in love with her new city. 

"We visited a few times before graduation and fell in love," she enthuses. "This is a really great place for startups."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Madeline Fraser, ZOOM Interiors
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