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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

Philadelphia's TowerView tests its high-tech pillbox, a device that helps patients track meds

For the chronically ill, managing multiple medications can be an ongoing challenge. One-third to one-half of all U.S. patients do not take their meds as directed, jeopardizing their health and running up nearly $100 billion in annual hospital bills, according to Independence Blue Cross (IBX).

Hoping to solve that problem, TowerView Health, a Philadelphia startup, is testing its high-tech pillbox in a six-month study with Independence and Penn Medicine

"TowerView has two brilliant engineers that have developed the pillbox technology almost entirely in-house," explains company CEO Rahul Jain. "Our team has been working for over a year to provide patients with a pillbox that can sense when they miss a dose of their medication and send the patient and/or their caregiver an automated phone or text message reminder."

The company was established in 2014 when co-founder Nick Valilis was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia during his first week of medical school. Later that year, TowerView participated in the DreamIt Health program to fine-tune its business model and meet potential customers. 

Qualified individuals covered by IBX will be provided with pre-filled medication trays, each containing a week’s medication. The tray fits inside TowerView's Internet-enabled pillbox. For those without cell phones, the pillbox is equipped with lights and alarms. Penn Medicine researchers will use an integrated software platform to monitor members' compliance and call to offer additional assistance. 

"Each member will participate in the pilot for six months," says Ron Brooks, IBX senior medical director for clinical services. "The goal is to evaluate the efficacy of TowerView’s system in hopes of launching it to a larger patient population of [IBX] members next year."

Jain also invites individuals -- especially those managing five or more medications -- to email the company directly. 

Source: Rahul Jain, TowerView Health; Independence Blue Cross
Writer: Elise Vider

ContactMyDoc aims to be the Expedia of healthcare

With the goal of becoming the Expedia of healthcare, ContactMyDoc has developed a platform that allows patients to comparison shop for healthcare services based on cost, quality and proximity. For now, the IT startup -- based in suburban Philadelphia -- is limited to radiology, but other specialties are on the way.

"The impetus for founding ContactMyDoc was to offer price transparency to patients so they could make more informed decisions about where and how to spend their money on healthcare," explains CEO and co-founder Harsh Singh. "ContactMyDoc offers both price and quality transparency directly to the consumer through an easy-to-navigate online platform that looks and feels similar to Expedia. After entering three basic pieces of information, the patient has the ability to easily compare cost and quality data for radiology services of local providers and request an appointment online. With the price of MRI’s varying from $300 to $3,000 for the same exam, the response from consumers who are saving money without sacrificing the quality of their care has been overwhelming."

The platform, which includes a mobile app, SMS messaging, email and automated voice, also helps healthcare providers increase revenue and employers decrease costs. 

Headquartered in Montgomeryville, ContactMyDoc has about 75 clients located across eight states and is expanding aggressively. One early client was Progressive Radiology, which services Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The company has also partnered with two electronic medical record providers for patient notifications and patient engagement. 

Looking ahead, the company is in talks with electronic health and medical record companies as well as large healthcare providers in order to expand into other specialties.

"Over the next year, we will be focusing on areas such as outpatient surgery, colonoscopy and other healthcare specialties where there is a large variation in cost and quality," enthuses Singh.

Source: Harsh Singh, ContactMyDoc
Writer: Elise Vider

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
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