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Science Center's Graphene Frontiers finds applications for a new wonder material

First isolated in a lab in 2004, graphene is an atom-thick layer of carbon with remarkable properties. It is stronger than steel, an efficient conductor of heat and electricity, and nearly transparent. But only a year ago, the New Yorker asked, "Graphene may be the most remarkable substance ever discovered. But what’s it for?"
 
Graphene Frontiers, a University City Science Center company, has been hard at work answering that question. They have developed proprietary and patented techniques for manufacturing, handling and making devices with graphene, notably biosensors that can diagnose a wide array of diseases, with other potential applications in homeland security, defense, health and fitness, food safety, environmental monitoring and more.
 
The company was founded in 2010 at the UPStart program at the University of Pennsylvania and moved to the Science Center in 2012, where it employs 11 and occupies three laboratories.
 
The company's core innovation, according to CEO Mike Patterson, is the ability to "grow" graphene and efficiently transfer the material onto a silicon wafer to create devices called graphene field effect transistors (GFETs) that are effective sensors for chemicals and biomolecules.
 
"The GFET is a relatively simple electrical device with a strip of graphene (‘channel’) as the key element," he explains. "This channel is about 10 microns in length, which is 1/10 the width of a human hair. Using biochemistry, we can attach things like antibodies to the graphene to make the GFET specifically sensitive to only one thing."
 
To make a GFET a sensor for, say, cancer, Graphene Frontiers can attach antibodies for cancer biomarkers.

“When we expose the sensor to a sample like blood or saliva, the target molecule will bind to the antibodies on the graphene," he continues, "and we can see a change in the properties of the GFET sensor." 

So far, GFETs have effectively measured the bacterium that causes Lyme's Disease, Salmonella and others. GFETS can also be assembled in a sensor array to simultaneously perform multiple tests.
 
Patterson says the company is currently in pilot production for the devices, and expects to have sensors on the market for research use as early as next year. Graphene Frontiers is also developing a vapor-phase (gas) sensor that uses single-strand DNA instead of antibodies.
 
"Our mission," he adds, "is to make the world safer and healthier with graphene technology."

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

Philly tableware mavens Felt + Fat earn fans far and wide

Port Richmond ceramics company Felt + Fat was founded in 2013 by Nate Mell and Wynn Bauer. In May, over 200 Kickstarter donors raised $26,256 for the young Philly business, which provides custom-made tableware to restaurants such as Fork, High Street on Market, South Philly’s Laurel and other fine dining spots in Brooklyn and beyond. They also offer direct sales to individual consumers through their website and wholesale distribution through shops across the country.

According to Mell, Felt + Fat would have continued without the Kickstarter infusion, but it helped them grow much faster than they could have on their own, adding a new kiln to their studio, acquiring other smaller pieces of equipment and bringing on board a paid employee.

"It’s been full-time since day one," says Mell of the hours he and his partner have put into the business; that said, they also worked part-time elsewhere while the company grew. Mell spent about seven years in local restaurants, which helped him connect with chefs who were looking to showcase their locally sourced ingredients on custom Philly-made tableware.

This past summer the founders were able to quit their part-time jobs and focus exclusively on Felt + Fat.

The name is a homage to mid-20th century German sculptor Joseph Beuys -- they liked his artistry and use of materials, most notably soap and animal fat.

"We were just trying to make a name that could exist in a few different realms of craft and art and design," explains Mell.

The founders have perfected a slip casting method for their unique wares, which feature different textures, finishes and colors, including a distinctive swirl. They also make their own porcelain.

"To a degree, it’s kind of like cooking or baking something. It’s a recipe," says Mell of the specially "tweaked" clay and mineral combo they use. Initially, they were mixing the ingredients themselves, but now a distributor does this for them; they then add water and the necessary materials to cast their plates and cups.

In slip casting, the liquid clay -- or "slip" -- is poured into a plaster mold. Wherever the slip meets the moisture-wicking plaster, a hard edge forms. When that layer is thick enough, the excess slip is poured out of the mold. What’s left forms the body of the cup or plate. When dry, it's removed from the mold and fired in the kiln.

All that takes time and space, which Philadelphia has in spades.

"Philadelphia is a particularly good place right now to be an artist and a creative person, because of the rapid growth of the moment," argues Mell. He appreciates the large client base a Philly location offers, without the living and studio costs of New York City.

Next up, the duo are hoping to expand into lighting fixtures and furniture accessories; they eventually aim to open a local showroom for their wares. They’ll certainly have more space to experiment: In January, Felt + Fat (currently at 3237 Amber Street) will expand to a second location in a Kensington studio building at the corner of I and Venango Streets.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Mell, Felt + Fat 

Kiva City Philadelphia celebrates one year of boosting local small businesses

When Flying Kite last looked in on Kiva City Philadelphia, the crowdfunding platform had disbursed $200,000 to 50 local independent businesses. Now as the initiative celebrates its first anniversary, that has jumped to 71 loans totaling $318,000 – and manager Alyssa Thomas (who works out of the City’s Department of Commerce) estimates the program will approve up to seven more campaigns by the end of the year.

Kiva is a micro-loan service that caters specifically to aspiring entrepreneurs who lack access to traditional banking and fundraising avenues. Many of them have low incomes or are new arrivals to the United States. The Kiva system utilizes trustees -- such as local community development corporations (CDC) or neighborhood stakeholders -- to discover and sponsor recipients. Crowdfunding campaigns are then run through the Kiva site for $500 to $5,000.

This fall, Thomas has been taking a lot of “corridor walks,” touring commercial stretches throughout the city alongside CDC corridor managers.

"We talk to the businesses that we already know are in need of financing and would be good fits for Kiva," she explains.

A current campaign that stands out for Thomas is Cambodia native Chany's new venture Angela’s Boutique at 454 Wyoming Avenue (between Olney and North Philadelphia).

Chany and her nine siblings pulled together to support the family very early in life. Her father died when she was 12 and her mother, who was disabled, couldn’t support them on her own. The kids worked before and after school at a corner store they launched themselves.

After Chany married a U.S. resident and arrived here at 21, she and her husband had almost nothing. He worked in a factory; she used her sewing skills and took ESL classes. She also operated a Chinese food stand for a few years, but in 2008 decided to purchase the dry cleaner’s on Wyoming, which she and her husband now operate in addition to working four other jobs between them. Six months ago, with the help of the nonprofit Esperanza (one of Kiva’s new collaborators), Chany decided to pursue a longtime dream: opening her own custom formalwear boutique named after her daughter Angela. A campaign now live on Kiva’s site aims to raise a loan of $5,000 toward new signage, lighting and security for her storefront. 

On December 4, an anniversary party at the Center for Architecture honored the New Kensington CDC as Kiva City Philadelphia’s most valuable trustee of 2015 -- they sponsored the highest number of loan recipients, with a repayment rate of 100 percent.

According to Thomas, one continuing struggle is connecting an online micro-finance platform to entrepreneurs who may not have digital fluency or access to the Internet, an issue many low-income Philadelphians face.

"We’ve definitely seen the toll of businesses not being connected to the Internet," she says. Those that aren’t on Yelp or Google Maps suffer. "You don’t know they exist and it really stunts their growth."

Philly’s Kiva pays special attention to the trustees’ role of shepherding loan recipients through the online application and repayment process.

"It’s difficult, but we’ve learned now to work through it so it’s no longer a hurdle," adds Thomas. And ultimately, helping these business owners take their first steps online will benefit them in the long run. "[This] will inspire them to want to figure out how they can utilize those resources to grow their businesses.”

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

Calling all Lunchers, Loungers and Food Truck Lovers: Science Center opens new pocket park

At long last, the University City Science Center is opening its Innovation Plaza, a landscaped pocket park that offers a spot to relax, socialize and consider Philadelphia's rich history of innovation.

A key feature of the new park -- situated on a pedestrian-only stretch of 37th Street between Market and Chestnut Streets -- is the Innovators Walk of Fame, an evolving installation that honors individual visionaries. 

"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," Science Center spokesperson Jeanne Mell explained earlier this year. "Instead [we’ve gone] with an arrangement of cubes with metal panels etched with the honorees’ names."

The Plaza also features café tables and chairs, game tables and can accommodate food trucks, creating a flexible space for local office workers and residents alike.

"Fostering a live/work/play environment in the heart of University City is a key goal for the Science Center," says Science Center President Stephen S. Tang. "[Especially] as we expand our footprint and rebrand our physical campus as uCity Square."

The Science Center inducted its second group of Walk of Fame honorees, a group of storied women, in October. They are Rebecca J. Cole, the second African American woman to receive a medical degree in the United States (from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in  in 1867); Stephanie Kwolek, who invented the technology behind Kevlar, a virtually bulletproof fiber that has saved the lives of countless first responders and military personnel; Judith Rodin, former University of Pennsylvania president, who is credited with spearheading programs that transformed the campus and its surroundings; Judy Wicks, whose renowned West Philadelphia restaurant the White Dog Café became a national leader in promoting local food, community engagement, environmental stewardship and responsible business practices; and Kathleen McNulty Mauchley Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Elizabeth Holberton, Marilyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum -- these "Women of ENIAC" were responsible for the first all-electronic, programmable, general-purpose computer, which debuted in 1947 at the University of Pennsylvania. 

The Plaza was designed by ex;it and landscape designer Andropogon, both of Philadelphia.

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

 

Sixth annual State of University City celebrates 75,000 new jobs

On November 18, University City District (UCD) hosted its sixth annual State of University City event at World Café Live. The headline of the night was the 75,000 jobs created within this 2.4-square-mile neighborhood, home to some of Philly’s premier education, healthcare and science institutions. According to UCD, the area is on track to add an additional 1,000 jobs in 2016.

Craig Carnaroli, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania and UCD’s board chair, noted that this density of jobs is among the highest of any neighborhood in the country. Speaking at World Café Live, he cited the impact of startup hubs like the Enterprise Center and Drexel’s ic@3401, which now hosts 50 technology entrepreneurs from 30 member companies.

Carnaroli also noted the groundbreaking work of companies like Spark Therapeutics, which will soon seek FDA approval for its gene therapy; studies indicate they can achieve restored vision in people blinded by certain retinal diseases. Another University City breakthrough made national news this year when eight-year-old Zion Harvey received the world’s first pediatric double hand transplant from Penn Medicine.

Carnaroli touted "the power of community and institutions coming together in partnerships to produce results."

UCD Executive Director Matt Bergheiser spoke about why 75,000 jobs is a "magic number" for the area. Businesses and institutions are "feeling the growth of the regional economy" with a substantial spike in well-paid jobs, he insisted. According to UCD, between 2008 and 2013, the neighborhood saw a 79 percent increase in middle to high-wage jobs -- wage growth far above the city’s overall average. It’s exciting news, especially paired with a ten percent jump in University City’s population since 2013 and expansions in the restaurant, hospitality, retail and real estate sectors.

Another way to look at the job density in University City, Bergheiser pointed out, is to count 30,000 jobs per square mile. He also emphasized some essential ingredients in the neighborhood's success: entrepreneurial, civic and "opportunity" infrastructure. 

Because innovation needs places for people to come together, entrepreneurial infrastructure flourishes at cutting-edge hubs like the Science Center and Wexford Science + Technology.

Civic infrastructure -- which Bergheiser called "splendor at the ground level" -- includes elements such as new parklets, the Porch at 30th Street, a revamped Market Street Bridge and the upcoming $2.1 million transformation of the 40th Street SEPTA portal, slated to open in 2017.

"Opportunity infrastructure" is paying attention to an equity of opportunities, or "how we connect the talent in our West Philadelphia neighborhood" to meaningful jobs, he explained.

That led naturally to talk of UCD's West Philadelphia Skills Initiative -- many participants are low-income residents who struggle with longterm unemployment or a criminal record that prevents them from getting a foot in the door with job applications. Bergheiser said that 91 percent of Skills Initiative graduates succeed in landing a job, with an average starting wage of $13.60 per hour.

It all adds up to "a new first and lasting impression" for our metropolis, he concluded.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: University City District

Exciting new partnerships will boost Philadelphia's startup scene

The startup stars are aligning in University City, where a quartet of major players has announced several new partnerships aimed at boosting the burgeoning community of entrepreneurs.
 
First up, Drexel University and Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania are teaming up to create the Drexel Ventures Ben Franklin Seed Fund, a $10 million early-stage seed fund that will support spin-off companies from the university. The fund will initially invest in enterprises that have licensed technologies from the university and have already taken advantage of Drexel's extensive commercialization programs. Its candidate pool will eventually be expanded to include startups founded by alumni and students. 
 
Concurrent with the launch of the new fund, Ben Franklin will join Drexel and the University City Science Center’s efforts to strengthen the offerings at Innovation Center @3401 (ic@3401). Ben Franklin will establish a physical presence at the collaborative workspace on Market Street, providing member companies a variety of services and support including industry consulting, market analysis and access to capital.
 
At the same time, Safeguard Scientifics is joining ic@3401 as its first "sustaining member." The Radnor-based private equity and venture capital firm specializes in healthcare and technology companies, and will help to recruit and mentor member companies while bringing in new industry collaborators, providing critical resources and offering perspectives on the evolving economic landscape.  
 
"Together the Science Center and Drexel have built a strong foundation for startups at ic@3401," explains Science Center President and CEO Stephen S. Tang. "Adding Ben Franklin to the partnership and Safeguard Scientifics as a sustaining member strengthens the ecosystem that is in place at ic@3401 and allows us to draw on our collective assets and expertise to attract and support a critical mass of high-growth startups and a diverse set of members."
  
Drexel President John A. Fry is also excited about the partnerships.

"Teaming with a visionary organization like Ben Franklin, a group with a proven track record of fueling Philadelphia’s innovation economy, will not only empower our entrepreneurs, but also attract others to University City and serve as a model for the type of partnerships that will form the foundation of the Innovation Neighborhood," he enthuses.
 
Source: University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

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

From Startup to High Impact: The latest Exchange PHL Breakfast talks nonprofit innovation

On December 2, wake up with more than just coffee at the latest installment of the Exchange PHL Breakfast Series. At Wednesday's event, regional leaders in innovative social good will tackle "the Path from Startup To High Impact." 

"I think there is something that’s profoundly shifting among nonprofits and their openness to look at these possible changes in how they do business," explains Nadya K. Shmavonian, director of the newly formed Nonprofit Repositioning Fund, who will be speaking at the breakfast.

Hosted by nonprofit-centric co-working space The Exchange, located in Center City’s Friends Center, the event will shift the conversation from entrepreneurship to operations, and discuss how great programs become part of the fabric of the city, touching on sustainable revenue models, evaluation and adaptation.

"We just launched on October 7, so it’s a very new effort," Shmavonian says of the Fund. "We have been pleasantly surprised at how much interest there’s been."

The seven founding members include North Penn Community Health Foundation, Samuel S. Fels Fund, Scattergood Foundation, the Barra Foundation, the Philadelphia Foundation, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, William Penn Foundation and Arizona’s Lodestar Foundation.

The Fund targets nonprofits in transition in the greater Philadelphia area, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia and Montgomery counties. Hosted and administered by the Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia, seed awards and grants will support nonprofits as they explore and formalize new collaborations, joint ventures and consolidations.

In rare instances, the Fund will also help with dissolution planning for individual organizations outside of a merger or acquisition. That, along with the work of "repositioning" nonprofits, can lead to questions about the Fund’s goals.

"How do foundations work with nonprofits in a way that is not threatening?" asks Shmavonian. "Because obviously there’s a power imbalance there. This isn’t about thinning the herd. It really is about finding ways to allow a nonprofit to…deliver on their mission in a sustainable high-performance way."

That can include tweaks like merging back office realms or making an informal partnership an integral piece of an organizations’ structure, allowing the pooling of resources and best practices.

"There’s a whole array of arrangements that people are looking at that stop far short of a formal merger or acquisition," she adds.

Shmavonian is looking forward to the December 2 conversation, which will also feature Lauren Fine of the Youth Sentencing and Re-entry Project. She thinks the next several years will bring very interesting deals for regional nonprofits, and that the Fund will grow a portfolio of creative models for participating organizations.

"It’s a fast-changing environment out there," she argues. "I’m as much about shifting the culture and dynamics around this as I am the actual individual deals that we’re going to engage in." 

The latest Exchange PHL Breakfast Series is happening Wednesday, December 2 from 8:30 - 10 a.m. at 1501 Cherry Street. Attendance is free; click here to register.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nadya K. Shmavonian, the Nonprofit Repositioning Fund
 
 

Indy Hall opens its own retail arm with KINSHOP

Artist, maker and entrepreneur co-working hub Indy Hall is launching its first-ever onsite retail venture, and just in time for holiday shopping.

Indy Hall staffer Sean Martorana, who focuses on the arts community and curatorial side of things, says KINSHOP -- which officially opened on November 6 and will probably run until February 2016 -- places no restrictions on the kinds of goods for sale from the Indy Hall community.

“It was really cool to see and celebrate the things that people have made here,” he enthuses.

Dubbed "a collective boutique and small-retail experience in the Indy Hall Gallery," KINSHOP features wares from over a dozen members. The name came out of the group’s recent successful KIN collaborative exhibition, which kicked off this fall’s arts season.

Items on sale range in price from about $100 to $125 for sculptures and $10 to $12 for small arts and crafts items such as prints, wrapping paper, holiday greeting cards, music, pillows, jam, wineglasses, terrariums, tote bags, scarves and more. Thirty percent of each purchase goes directly to arts programming at Indy Hall, funding things like classes and workshops, and gallery and store upkeep. The rest goes to the makers.

The goods will rotate throughout the season -- as soon as one item sells out, something else made at Indy Hall goes on the market. That means the shop will be worth multiple visits for the assiduous locally minded holiday shopper.

“As we sell we’re just going to keep putting stuff in," explains Martorana. "We have so much stuff in our community that we’re not going to go empty."

Indy Hall’s usual weekday hours (9 a.m. - 6 p.m.) are a good time to check out KINSHOP; if you need to make it an evening outing, Martorana recommends Night Owl hours (Tuesdays, 6 - 10 p.m.).

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sean Martorana, Indy Hall 

Startup Central: Five Questions for BioBots

Movie aficionados may remember when Woody Allen kidnapped the disembodied nose of an evil leader in 1973’s Sleeper

Forty-two years later, BioBots, a startup that moved to the University City Science Center in June, is developing a desktop 3D printer that builds living tissue out of human cells. Yes, noses, and eventually organs for transplant. 

We asked Madeline Winter, BioBots' vice president of operations, five key questions about this ambitious company.

What is your big idea?

At BioBots, we create 3D bioprinters and bioinks. Imagine an ordinary 3D printer, but instead of printing plastic, our 3D bioprinters create living tissue. No, this is not science fiction -- currently our devices are used for research and pre-clinical screening such as drug testing. You can use our devices to build 3D living tissue models using human cells that are better able to recapitulate the function of the body. These models can be used to develop compounds for clinical settings and catch false positives before they get to clinical trials. Our long-term goal is to print custom replacement organs from a patient's own cells and eliminate the organ donor waiting list.

What is your origin tale?

Our co-founder and CTO Ricardo Solorzano created the prototype in his dorm room after being frustrated by the high cost of equipment for the University of Pennsylvania lab where he worked. Ricardo entered the prototype in an investor competition with Danny Cabrera, then a Penn senior. They ended up winning first place, pumping the prize money back into further development of the device and deciding to spend the summer seeing what they could build before starting grad school. Danny took on the role of CEO and they were accepted to the DreamIt Health Accelerator

What is your timeline?

We launched our beta program in January and quickly sold our first 50 printers to some of the best researchers around the world. When we started designing the next generation device, we reached out to our amazing community of customers for feedback on how to refine the design. We took all of their comments and used that data to design the BioBot 1, which is more precise and is able to print multiple materials at the same time. We start shipping the first BioBot 1 bioprinters this month to our growing list of customers. We aim to have a BioBots 3D bioprinter on every lab bench in the world. 

Why does the marketplace need your company?

While biofabrication has been around for a while, the other 3D bioprinters on the market are expensive (costing up to half a million dollars), large and difficult to operate. It was for these reasons that only a small number of institutions had the resources and abilities to use them. We set out to democratize that technology by developing the most sophisticated desktop 3D bioprinter on the market. By reducing the price of entry, we are able to get our devices into the hands of more researchers who are accomplishing amazing strides in their research using our devices and biomaterials. 
 
What is your elevator speech?

Our goal at BioBots has always been to create standards and modular systems that can engineer biology to cure disease, eliminate the organ waiting list, reverse climate change and push humans to live on other planets. Our devices will help to advance research, develop drugs and push the human race forward.
 
Source: Madeline Winter, BioBots
Writer: Elise Vider

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

Philadelphia is America's first World Heritage City

While the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance was fighting to maintain the city's Cultural Fund budget -- which faced steep cuts for the next fiscal year -- Philly was on track to become the United States’ first World Heritage City. The designation, announced last week after a vote from the World Congress of the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) in Arequipa, Peru, went up like a firework in local news feeds.

Philly is the 267th World Heritage City, having logged one major qualification back in 1979, when Independence Hall became a World Heritage Site.

"Philadelphia is the largest and most complete fulfillment of the kind of model city envisioned by Enlightenment architects," OWHC notes on our city’s new page.

It’s an exciting first for a city already spreading its wings on the national and global stage, hosting Pope Francis in September and the Democratic National Convention in summer 2016.

Cultural Alliance president Maud Lyon is excited about the possibilities of Philly’s new distinction, but notes that our identity as a city with strong ties to the rest of the world is not a new one.

"It’s really important for us to focus on being a global city," she argues. "We have been from the very beginning, and I think it’s important for us to have that perspective. 

"I think culture is always the first ambassador that goes out for a city,” she continues, noting the success of a world tour for the Philadelphia Orchestra in the past year. "Those concert halls were packed everywhere the Orchestra went."

It’s a good time to be getting our world-class cultural offerings out there because according to a Global Philadelphia study cited in the Inquirer, the city could be looking at a significant tourism boost: a one to two percent increase in domestic visitors (generating an economic impact of up to $200 million), and a rise in foreign visitors that could reach 15 percent, or the addition of up to 100,000 tourists annually.

Lyon is excited by the possibilities of more visitors from overseas, particularly a growing population of middle class travelers from throughout Asia, especially China and India.

"I think that we will in the next ten years be seeing more people coming from that part of the world who want to tour Philadelphia, and we absolutely want to be a destination for them," she adds.

The next ten years will be important ones for America, too, as the 250th anniversary of the country's independence approaches.

Culture is "the most approachable and welcoming and inclusive way of being an ambassador [for a] city," says Lyon, and the influx of international visitors -- and hopefully more collaborations between foreign artists and Philly institutions -- will be "the kind of cross-fertilization that you need between cultures.”

From Philly’s history as the United States’ birthplace to our musical tradition to our scientific and educational institutions, our city has plenty to offer. In considering the World Heritage designation, Lyon says we need to take pride not only in the international visitors we attract, but in the longtime diversity of our home. It’s not just about honoring the framers of the Constitution.

"Certainly the diversity of ethnic heritage that’s part of this city and this region is very rich and very important to who we are," she explains. "It’s important for us to remember that and to really own being a global city."

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

Science Center gives Philly schoolkids 'FirstHand' look at science and technology

Take a lab full of middle schoolers, dress them in lab coats, give them a pile of plastic bags, tools, equipment and enthusiastic instruction and, just like that, they’re transforming recycled plastics into new materials.
 
"Polymer Play" is just one aspect of FirstHand, the University City Science Center’s expanded-and-rebranded initiative to expose kids from under-resourced Philadelphia schools to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. With its new name, a dedicated lab and an expanding roster of participating schools, the program employs creative exploration to teach kids about science and expose them to an array of career opportunities.
 
The new space offers scales, micropipettes, glassware, electronic sensors -- just the kind of hands-on goodies not generally available in a traditional classroom. Equally important is how FirstHand capitalizes on the vital innovation ecosystem at the Science Center. The lab is down the hall from emerging technology companies working out of the Port Business Incubator; they commit to hosting student groups at least six times a year. Among the companies serving as FirstHand mentors are Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, Integral Molecular and Invisible Sentinel
 
By exposing young students to real scientists working in careers they might never have known about, the program sends a clear message that these jobs are not limited by gender or ethnicity.

"The reason the [STEM skills] workforce gap exists is because there is an exposure gap," explains FirstHand Director David Clayton.
 
On the day Flying Kite visited, students from West Philadelphia’s City School were using soldering and sealing irons and a heat press to fuse plastic bags into pencil cases, hats and pre-Halloween mustaches. On the surface, they were learning about the chemistry of plastics but there was a subtler lesson, too: how to take a project from initial idea, through brainstorming, design and prototyping to completion. And according to Program Manager Danielle Stollak, that process is exactly the same as the one employed by the companies down the hall.
 
More than 400 7th and 8th graders from the Alain Locke Elementary School, Belmont Academy Charter School, the City School and KiPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School are participating in FirstHand; additional schools are expected to join later this fall and another two schools next semester. The program is also expanding to a full year and launching a high school initiative. For now, the students spend 25 hours a semester at FirstHand, culminating with a series of project fairs in December.
 
Source: David Clayton and Danielle Stollak, FirstHand
Writer: Elise Vider

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

Wharton study finds that socially conscious investing can also be profitable

Do people investing money in companies geared for social or environmental good have to give up the prospect of market-rate returns in exchange for working towards a better world?

No. At least according to the first systematic academic research to address the young but extremely broad field of "impact investing," the Wharton Social Impact Initiative's (WSII) new report, "Great Expectations: Mission Preservation and Financial Performance in Impact Investments." In some arenas, socially or environmentally conscious investors can see their returns hit market-rate performance.

"It’s difficult to talk about the report because there is so much nuance in it," explains co-author Harry Douglas, a full-time impact investing associate at WSII, who continues to follow the data of this growing field. However, he hopes that the findings will be accessible enough to spread the message that, contrary to longtime perceptions, impact investing doesn’t "necessitate a concessionary return."

What does that mean?

Investors who choose to put their private equity dollars into companies with missions like micro-finance, healthcare in low-income regions, education technology or green energy don’t have to accept smaller returns than folks who put their money into more traditional profit-driven avenues.

The study tracked the performance of 53 impact investing private equity funds that represent 557 individual investments, and debunks the widespread assumption that lower investment returns are inevitable when investing in socially focused funds.

How do we define impact investing? According to the Global Impact Investing Network, the receiving company’s intentionality of impact (meaning their bedrock commitment to the good outcomes they espouse), the measurable impact the company makes, and the expectation of a financial return.

So since impact investing is such a broad field, with many investors valuing a specific social interest over maximized profits, how did WSII identify a stable of funds to follow? WSII asked participating fund managers to self-identify in one of three categories: those seeking to simply preserve the capital invested, those seeking below-market-rate returns, and those pursuing market-rate returns.

"Our report doesn’t make any type of value judgements about what’s appropriate there, because there’s important work to be done in each of those three segments of the financial expectation," says Douglas. But this study focused only on the latter group of investors: those whose fund managers were seeking market-rate returns.

They did this because they wanted to get the best understanding possible of what the industry’s going to look like over the next couple of years, given the typical five-to-seven-year life cycle of a private equity investment. Funds launched around 2010 are nearing the time that fund managers will exit the companies involved. So there are the questions of whether those investments will prove profitable, whether the companies' missions continue after the exit, or if fund managers seeking higher returns abandon the ideals when mission protections aren’t built into the language of exit agreements.

"We focus on this market-rate seeking segment because we felt the tension would be greatest in this group," explains Douglas. "They would be trying to balance these competitive market-rate returns with preserving portfolio company mission."

This research is just the beginning.

"We’re really hoping to grow this sample size, so we can make more definitive statements about the industry," adds Douglas. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Harry Douglas, Wharton Social Impact Initiative 

A Commerce Department pilot program funds security cameras in two Philly neighborhoods

The Philadelphia Department of Commerce has a dedicated program to cover 50 percent of the installation costs of outdoor security cameras at city businesses, but it recently realized that in some neighborhoods that isn’t enough.

"We have been finding that businesses in low-income areas are not as prone to be able to take advantage of that," explains Karen Lockhart Fegely, the Commerce Department’s deputy director of neighborhood & business services.

So, with help from Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) dollars, the Department launched a pilot program to fund the entire cost of outdoor security cameras in two targeted neighborhoods.

One of those areas is a stretch of the Germantown business corridor: the 5600 to 5900 blocks of Germantown Avenue. According to Germantown United CDC Corridor Manager Emaleigh Doley, the Philadelphia Police Department helped to identify the right locations. 

"Once this project is complete, there will be at least 25 businesses on this area of the corridor…that will have new security cameras" facing the street, she explains. This is "exciting" for those investing in Germantown’s business corridor. "Not to get all 'Big Brother' on people, but shoppers like knowing that the corridor is safer, so I’m really hoping that helps set a new tone in that area."

The other spot getting new security cameras through NTI funds is the N. 22nd Street commercial corridor of Allegheny West, which the Commerce Department chose because it’s already the site of streetscape upgrades through a capital improvement project.

Allegheny West Foundation's Thera Martin-Milling is the N. 22nd Street corridor manager, and she did the legwork of securing plans and estimates from camera companies. The Commerce Department, again with input from the Police Department, hopes to install the devices at evenly distributed intervals along the stretch.

The corridor managers on both 22nd [Street] and Germantown Avenue contacted the business and property owners at strategic locations to solicit their approval to have the cameras installed and to maintain the cameras.

So what is the effect of putting more eyes on the street?

"At this point, we do not have hard evidence on return on investment in terms of increase of foot traffic and sales revenue," says Fegely, but the basic goal is to support commerce through increased public safety. To receive Commerce Department reimbursements for the cameras, participating business and property owners must register their cameras through the PPD’s SafeCam program.

"It is widely accepted that the first step to revitalizing and sustaining a corridor is to make it clean and safe," adds Fegely.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Emaleigh Doley, Germantown United CDC; Karen Lockhart Fegely, Philadelphia Department of Commerce

Kensington Quarters celebrates one year; owners bringing new dining spot to Point Breeze

A year after launching Frankford Avenue's Kensington Quarters -- a restaurant with its own on-site butcher shop sourcing whole, sustainably and humanely raised animals -- owner Michael Pasquarello has been pleasantly surprised. (Here’s the Flying Kite look at KQ’s opening.)

"What’s been really awesome is the butcher shop has performed better than we expected," he says of the front corner of the space.

Pasquarello worried that his goal of reviving an old-fashioned butcher’s counter in the age of the supermarket would be tough, but a dedicated customer base has materialized. Thanks to that success, KQ offers a growing roster of locally sourced retail products including pickles, produce, dairy, cheese, salts and olive oil. With help from butcher Heather Marold Thomason, Pasquarello plans to expand this part of the business over the next year, "so people can come through and put their meals together."

He also hopes to better utilize the upper floor, which already hosts a range of cooking and butchering classes and events. KQ Executive Chef Damon Menapace plans on more collaborations with top local chefs, including one in November with George Sabatino.

The demonstration space has already hosted Rob Marzinsky, executive chef of 13th Street Kitchens Restaurant Group's latest venture Buckminster’s, a "neo-bistro" slated to open in November in Point Breeze. The resto group -- owned and run by Pasquarello and his wife Jeniphur -- also operates Café Lift (their first restaurant, opened in 2003), Prohibition Taproom and Bufad

Buckminster's -- which will boast design elements that honor local science legend Buckminster Fuller of geodesic dome fame -- aims to capitalize on a dining style that’s especially popular in Paris right now, with young chefs giving their own spin on small plates of casual bistro food. But according to Pasquarello, Buckminster’s menu isn’t defined by French cuisine. It will focus on locally sourced goods, with a seasonal menu changing every couple of days and complementing the beverages on offer. Plates ($2-$21) will join eight beers and six wines, along with specialty cocktails.

Pasquarello hopes that Buckminster’s (coming to 1200 S. 21st Street) will open sometime in November offering dinner seven nights a week, with brunch and lunch hours to follow as the restaurant finds its feet.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michael Pasquarello, 13th Street Kitchens Restaurant Group

New manager at Germantown United CDC has all the neighborhood news

Emaleigh Doley, a longtime community activist, has a new hat: she's one of two full-time employees at Germantown United CDC (along with executive director Andy Trackman). Thanks to support from the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, she started in late August as the nonprofit’s corridor manager, and is now nurturing and managing a slew of projects at the upstart community development corporation.

These include the latest round of GUDCD's Fund for Germantown grantees, who receive micro-grants for "community-driven beautification projects" in the neighborhood; those winners were announced October 1. The dollars come via local real estate developers Ken Weinstein and Howard Treatman, and have supported 17 initiatives (with amounts ranging from $100 to $1,000) since the program’s inception.

The latest grantees include photographer Tieshka Smith for her "Peaceful Places" public signage project, Maplewood Mall’s iMPeRFeCT Gallery, which will be installing an interactive sidewalk mural, and Susan Guggenheim’s Freedom Gardens, which connects local gardeners eager to share crops with those looking for homegrown produce. Other grantees include the Germantown elementary school Fitler Academics Plus, the West Central Germantown Neighbors, Men Who Care of Germantown and the East Germantown's Chew-Belfield Neighbors Club.

According to Doley, the Germantown Artists Roundtable, a previous grantee, stands out as a successful example of what the funds can do. The group recently mounted a display of information on current arts and culture events outside the Chelten Avenue train station, and plans to keep it updated as a community resource for happenings around town.

"We’re starting to see how that could be a really attractive feature in other areas of Germantown," she explains. "We’re learning from the project ideas that are coming through, and thinking about how we might like to build initiatives around some of them."

Applications for the next round of Fund for Germantown grants are due December 31, 2015.

Also looming large on GUCDC’s horizon is a new website for the neighborhood featuring a business directory. Doley notes that while Historic Germantown does a good job of providing online information about the area’s historic sites, residents and visitors alike often aren’t aware of other amenities, from parks and public spaces to hardware stores and restaurants. She hopes the new website will remedy that.

GUCDC is working with P’unk Avenue to develop the site. Input is being gathered via interviews and workshops with community leaders, residents and business owners. The site is on track to launch in early 2016.

Other projects for the commercial corridor in Germantown include the installation of new security cameras and a storefront activation initiative in partnership with local artists. Check back with Flying Kite as we keep up with the latest in our former On the Ground home.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Emaleigh Doley, Germantown United Community Development Corporation

 
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