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Innovation + Job News

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

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


AmerisourceBergen expands to Conshohocken; 185 jobs to follow

AmerisourceBergen, a global pharmaceutical services company, is expanding into a new location in Conshohocken and expects to create at least 185 new jobs over the next three years.

"As a company, we just crested $100 billion in annualized revenues, and our growth in business is driving the opportunity to expand our presence in the Philadelphia area," says Brett Ludwig, the company's vice president of communications. "The company will retain 1,200 existing Pennsylvania-based positions, 850 of which are in the Philadelphia area, and has committed to creating at least 185 new jobs over the next three years. In addition to the new office in Conshohocken, AmerisourceBergen will maintain its presence in the Valley Forge campus location."

Ludwig adds that the new office will provide workspace for a variety of professional-level roles in finance, human resources and information technology.

AmerisourceBergen will lease and renovate Millennium III, an existing 70,000-square-foot office building in Conshohocken. The company plans to make a multi-million dollar investment at the site and the expansion is expected to be completed by end of 2014.

The company received a funding proposal from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, including a $675,000 Pennsylvania First Program grant that facilitates investment and job creation ,and $555,000 in Job Creation Tax Credits. AmerisourceBergen has accepted the funding proposal, applied for each grant and agreed to the terms prior to award receipt.

The expansion, said AmerisourceBergen President and CEO Steve Collis, "will give us the opportunity, in both our new and current locations, to make our associate work experience even more collaborative, rewarding and efficient."

Source: Brett Ludwig, Amerisource Bergen
Writer: Elise Vider

Make it to the Greater Philadelphia Manufacturing Summit

There are over 5,000 small, medium and large manufacturers in greater Philadelphia, one-third of all manufacturers in Pennsylvania. They design and produce everything from chocolate to rocket launchers to medical devices to state-of-the-art helicopters, powered by high-precision machining, electronics and electrical-equipment-contract manufacturing. 

On Friday, October 3, the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC) is hosting the Greater Philadelphia Manufacturing Summit to demonstrate the vigor of this essential sector.

According to DVIRC, "manufacturing is a healthy and diverse economic powerhouse that supports over 150,000 jobs, and contributes millions to the regional economy."  

"DVIRC’s entire focus in on helping manufacturers to grow profitably as they are a critical component of our regional economy in terms of jobs, technology and innovation," adds DVIRC president Barry Miller. "The goal of the summit is to share manufacturing best practices, particularly around workforce but inclusive of advanced manufacturing practices as well."

Miller expects about 250 manufacturers and those who support the manufacturing sector to attend, especially economic development professionals and representatives of the region's workforce investment boards.

The program will feature keynote speaker Adam Steltzner, lead landing engineer of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Project; his topic: "Breakthrough Innovation: Making the Impossible, Possible." Other programming will focus on strategies for growth, strategies for continuous improvement, innovation in workforce development and energy. 
The all-day summit will be held at Simeone Automotive Museum (6825-31 Norwitch Drive) in Philadelphia. 

Source: Barry Miller, DVIRC
Writer: Elise Vider

Philly startup Grand Round Table brings technology to medical ritual

Grand rounds are a medical ritual -- regular conferences held at academic medical centers, where doctors, med students and other health care professionals convene to discuss challenging cases, share experiences and talk about relevant research.

Now, with the mass adoption of electronic health records (accelerated by the Affordable Care Act), a Philadelphia startup is aiming to modernize the grand rounds model by sharing best practices through technology.

Eric King, a former medical student and self-described data nerd, launched Grand Round Table (GRT) with co-founder John Schaeffer "because I saw the potential to enhance patient care with the same big data technologies that touch our everyday lives with Google and Amazon," he explains.

GRT's software both enables hospitals and health systems to fulfill upcoming government mandates requiring the implementation of clinical decision support solutions, and saves clinicians time digging for patient-centered resources.

Accorind to King, the company "is using the latest big data technologies to make it possible to continuously connect health care providers in any setting with the collective intelligence of the whole health system for any patient when it’s needed at the point-of-care... Our clinical decision support software automatically transforms the information that clinicians enter into the electronic health record about their patients into actionable insights based on the latest medical literature."

In a partnership with Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center, the company is performing at 70 percent accuracy making correct diagnoses on past cases, and two-thirds of residents report that the software enhances their educational experience during daily clinical conferences.
Within the next six months, GRT expects to launch a closed beta of its electronic-health-records application at several outpatient primary care sites in the Philadelphia area. Further along, GRT plans to expand into other kinds of health records and inpatient sites, and to launch another product for health plans.

Besides King, the company has two other employees and hopes to make two more hires in the next year. GRT is a graduate of the inaugural DreamIt Health program. The company stayed in Philadelphia, and is now located at the co-working space Indy Hall. Earlier this year the company received a $50,000 investment through the Technology Commercialization Fund of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Source: Eric King, Grand Round Table
Writer: Elise Vider

Invisible Sentinel and Victory Brewing join forces to defeat the evils of bacteria in beer

Flying Kite has twice shared the story of Invisible Sentinel, a local life sciences firm that develops low-cost and user-friendly diagnostic tools for the food and beverage industries.
The company's most recent breakout success was the result of a partnership with Sonoma County's Jackson Family Wines -- a novel and fast-acting product known as Veriflow BRETT was developed as a way to detect a yeast strain that commonly affects both the taste and aroma of wine.  
According to Invisible Sentinel co-founder Ben Pascal, that technology has since been adopted by large sectors of the wine industry.

"We've been so successful in the food safety [sector]," says Pascal. "And so we started asking ourselves, 'What other groups have the same types of problems with these organisms that can affect quality?' And naturally, we came to beer."
More specifically, they came to beloved local brewers Victory Brewing Company. The heads of the two companies met during a dinner party, and when Pascal and his business partner Nick Siciliano began talking to Victory's Bill Covaleski about the success of their Veriflow BRETT technology, "I think it got his wheels turning," recalls Pascal.  
Following a few months' worth of meetings with Victory's brewers and quality control team, a decision was reached to partner on the development of a new rapid molecular diagnostic tool, Veriflow brewPAL, that will quickly detect two types of bacteria that can spoil the taste of beer, leading to spillage at brewing companies that can't afford to lose inventory.
"There isn't any [similar] technology that exists today that's easy to use, and that's accurate and cost-effective," explains Pascal. "And with a partner like Victory behind us, I think this product is really going to be a paradigm shift, and a big game-changer in the industry."
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Ben Pascal, Invisible Sentinel 


Spartan Hackathon Tour comes to Citizens Bank Park

In a city like Philadelphia, where the startup and technology industries have become so well-established that we now have a boulevard known as NERD Street, there might not seem to be anything unusual about the announcement of yet another hackathon.    
But thanks to a partnership between Hackfit, a Boston company that arranges events where entrepreneurs create health and fitness technologies, and Spartan, organizers of extreme obstacle races across the country, a decidedly unusual hackathon will kick off inside Citizens Bank Park on September 19.   
Only 60 total spots are available for the event. Teams of developers and designers will be tasked with pitching fitness industry-relevant business ideas, prototyping them, and then demonstrating the results of 24 nonstop hours of work on the idea. (Sign up here.)
RFID timing sensors, Sony Smartbands and other wearable technology devices will be made available to hackers, says Hackfit founder Justin Mendelson, who adds that most former participants have focused on building mobile applications.
"A few of [the teams] focus on hardware-oriented devices, like wearable trackers," says Mendelson. And during past events, "Other teams have even focused on timing technology, which is very important to the [obstacle race] experience."
Philly is one of four locations where Spartan Hackathons are happening this summer. Some of the winning teams will be flown to Spartan headquarters in Boston, where they'll have an opportunity to pitch their business ideas to company executives, perhaps earning a partnership or investment capital.
Here in Philly, however, even team members who don't succeed at building the quantified self movement's next big app will still have a chance to celebrate: After the Reebok Spartan Race Stadium Sprint wraps up on Saturday, hackers will be allowed to run the obstacle course at their own pace.
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Justin Mendelson, Hackfit 


No sweat! Philly's Fairwear keeps bike commuters cool and office-appropriate

Riffing off Benjamin Franklin, inventor, founding father, quintessential Philadelphian and all-around cool dude, Fairwear, a Philly startup, promises freedom to pursue an active lifestyle while staying comfortable. 

Founder Louis Pollack says the idea arose from the challenge of staying cool and presentable in everyday clothes while biking around Philadelphia, his adopted city.

Fairwear uses performance-based materials to create garments that are moisture wicking and highly breathable.

"Our apparel doesn't have a glossy lycra-like flair, nor does it have awkwardly placed pockets or technical trim," explains Pollack. "Fairwear is meant for a clean and comfortable transition from bike to boardroom to bar, in no particular order."

Fairwear’s line of men's button-down shirts is priced between $75 and $85. 

The company sources everything domestically from Philadelphia or New York, and manufactures at a factory in Northeast Philadelphia.

"When I started I knew I wanted to source everything locally," recalls Pollack. "My desire to keep production nearby is partially patriotic but also makes sense logistically. Local factories offer a much higher level of craftsmanship because you can maintain close input on the process. Sending your stuff overseas to be made is scary because you instantly lose control and are trusting someone you’ve never met before."

Fairwear is sold at a handful of Philly-area bike shops, craft and high-end flea markets like Philadelphia’s Franklin Flea and Phair, and at trade shows such as the upcoming Philadelphia Bike Expo

Pollack comes from a garment industry background and established the company earlier this year. As the company grows, he hopes to take Fairwear to larger national shows, and eventually open a brick-and-mortar location.

"We are always improving and tweaking details," he insists. "Stuff like material, fit and finish can always be made better. Our immediate reaction has been very positive. We want to continue supporting our early adopters, while sustainably growing Fairwear’s presence."

Source: Louis Pollack, Fairwear
Writer: Elise Vider

Nominations now open for Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs' 2015 Fellowship program

In 2009, when Jeanne Mell took a position with the University City Science Center, a colleague and friend -- Victoria Burkhart of The Burkhart Group -- gave her a powerful piece of professional advice: "If you're going to be [working] in Philly, you have to join [the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs]."
Today, Mell serves as the Fellows Committee Chair for the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a nearly 20-year-old organization "dedicated to fostering high-growth businesses founded or led by women," according to its mission statement. It's the largest group of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic.
Along with a schedule of educational and networking events, AWE also runs the annual Building Bridges Fellowship Program. Each year, up to four female early-stage entrepreneurs are selected to participate. The fellowship includes extensive one-on-one business coaching and professional mentoring from an AWE mentor-liaison, who helps to integrate the fellow into the larger AWE community.
Nominations are now open for the 2015 Building Bridges program, which will kick off this November.   
"What we're really looking for is a fellow who is committed to her business -- that's No. 1," says Mell. "We want somebody who will participate in the coaching sessions, and take full advantage of the fellows program. And it's not right for everybody."

The current fellowship class of 2014 features three women who not only operate three very different companies, but are also at very different stages of their careers and lives.

Still, "it's really interesting to see that these women share a lot of the same challenges and experiences, regardless of what sector they're in," she muses. "And I think that's really the value of the AWE Fellows Program: being able to help these women entrepreneurs on that level."
To access nomination materials, click here.
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jeanne Mell, AWE Fellows Committee

Drexel aims to improve arts and cultural opportunities in Mantua and Powelton

As Drexel research director and assistant professor Neville Vakharia points out, university-level faculty members always have their own research agendas, regardless of their fields of study. But in 2013, three faculty from Drexel's Westphal College of Media Arts & Design -- Vakharia included -- discovered a subject they could all agree on, and one they felt warranted immediate attention.
That was the arts-and-culture ecosystem of Mantua, Powelton Village and West Powelton -- three neighborhoods adjacent to the Drexel campus. Vakharia and his colleagues were intrigued by the reality that while their neighbor communities are home to large concentrations of artists, they've somehow failed to transform culturally.
In an effort to discover what might be holding back the growth of cultural opportunities in Mantua and Powelton, Drexel dispatched a nine-member research team to conduct six months of community focus groups, interviews with neighbors on the street, and brainstorming sessions with various arts-based organizations and cultural stakeholders in the area.  
The group has since compiled its findings into a 12-page public report, "A Fragile Ecosystem," which can be accessed here (PDF). And while much of the report explores the breadth of cultural opportunities that already exist in the neighborhoods, it also offers possible solutions that might better tie the local arts community together.
In late August, "A Fragile Ecosystem" was distributed throughout West Philadelphia, where it's now in the hands of many of the area's artists, arts organizations, and cultural and civic groups.
"There are a lot of strong [arts] players in the neighborhood," explains Vakharia. "What we're hoping is that this report will allow them to understand what the needs are when it comes to arts and culture, and to [help them] move forward on developing some solutions that can benefit the community."    
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Neville Vakharia, Drexel University

Philadelphia Honey Festival offers three days of buzz-worthy culture and education

The annual Philadelphia Honey Festival, a celebration of the importance of bees and the honey they produce, has been in existence for just five years now. But to hear Suzanne Matlock of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild explain it, the three-day festival -- running September 5 to 7 at three historic locations throughout the city -- can trace its genesis back to Christmas Day 1810. That was the day Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth was born at 106 S. Front Street.
Widely known as the "Father of American Beekeeping," Langstroth is the man responsible for inventing the Langstroth bee hive. Consisting of movable frames and resembling a stout wooden cabinet, the Langstroth is still considered the definitive beehive for keepers worldwide. So important was his contribution to beekeeping that on the 200th anniversary of his birth, a historical marker noting his accomplishments was raised outside his former Front Street home.  
The first annual Philadelphia Honey Festival was also celebrated that year, largely to honor Langstroth's memory and his significant impact on the craft. Only 500 people took part.

But in the seasons since, the event has evolved into a family-friendly educational and cultural celebration promoting urban beekeeping. It aims to "increase awareness of the importance of bees to [the] environment" and "the impact of local honey on our economy," according to a release. Last year, over 2,300 bee-curious locals showed up. 
Organized by the Beekeepers Guild and hosted at Bartram's Garden, the Wagner Free Institute of Science and Wyck Historic House, the festival's free events range from bee bearding presentations and open beehive viewings to a honey-themed happy hour and honey extraction demonstrations.

For a complete schedule, click here. (Don't miss the Beekeeping 100 panel on September 7.)
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Suzanne Matlock, Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild

MilkCrate, a Yelp for local sustainable living, launches on Indiegogo

Morgan Berman was living in West Philadelphia when she experienced what she calls her "first burst of sustainability consciousness," and began attempting to live a life that was aligned with her newfound values.

She joined a neighborhood food co-op, took a job as Grid magazine's director for community engagement, and slowly became more involved in the local sustainability scene.
"But there wasn't a central hub where I could go and understand what sustainability means," recalls Berman. "It didn't feel like anyone had quite created the tool that people need to answer their quick questions about [sustainable living]."
Berman's new app for Android and iOS, MilkCrate, aims to fill that void -- initially here in Philadelphia, and if the app takes off, nationally.
Described by its nine-person team as a digital hub for sustainability, MilkCrate currently exists as a database-style listings service -- not unlike Yelp -- with a collection of more than 1,600 Philly-area businesses that operate sustainably and promote economically responsible practices.

"Everything from fashion to food to furniture [to] energy," explains Berman in a video created for the app's current crowdfunding campaign. "Anything you could possibly want that fits into your local, sustainable lifestyle."   
At the moment, MilkCrate-approved businesses are organized in both listings and map layouts. But with the infusion of the $20,000 Berman hopes to raise through an Indiegogo campaign (launched on August 25), users will be able to write reviews, add news businesses, and search by keyword and neighborhood.      
Perks for campaign funders include MilkCrate T-shirts and tickets to the app's upcoming launch party. Click here to donate. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Morgan Berman, MilkCrate

The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians receives $692K to establish high-skilled immigrants

The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians -- an organization that helps recent immigrants with job-placement assistance and English-language classes, among other services -- has received $692,000 from the Knight Foundation and The Barra Foundation to launch the Immigrant Professionals Career Pathways Program.
According to Welcoming Center Director of Outreach Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, the new program represents a sea change for the nonprofit, which was founded 11 years ago by a physical therapist who had immigrated to Pennsylvania from Ireland. Incredibly, it took her three full years to become professionally relicensed in the Keystone State.   
And so while The Welcoming Center was technically launched to help immigrants who have legal work authorization find jobs of any sort, "it's always been a dream of ours to not just serve people looking for their first American job," explains Bergson-Shilcock, "but people who are looking to rejoin their profession in the U.S."  
"It's one thing to get your foot in the door [as a recent immigrant] and be working for $9 or $10 an hour," she adds. "It's another thing to get your first professional job with a white collar salary."
With that philosophy in mind, The Center's new program will work not only to help immigrant professionals reestablish their industry credentials in Pennsylvania. It will also offer them a range of new services that Bergson-Shilcock likens to an a la carte menu for striving newcomers. Test-prep classes for licensing exams will probably be an option. Immigrants who need assistance having their university transcripts transferred to Pennsylvania schools will also find help through the program.
Ultimately, "[the] program is really about giving people the tools they need to fill in whatever gaps they have, so they can transition to a professional-level career," says Bergson-Shilcock. "That's the mission."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians

Two new Philadelphia government and academic initiatives support innovation agenda

Two new Philadelphia initiatives are underway, with related missions for supporting the city’s rapidly expanding innovation ecosystem, entrepreneurship and business development.

The City of Philadelphia's new Innovation Lab is a state-of-the-art 1,600-square-foot space modeled after the research-and-development and co-working facilities found in the private sector and academia. The lab, which overlooks City Hall, provides a central space and technology resources to host classes, meetings, workshops, hackathons and more; it will hopefully encourage collegiality, innovating thinking and creative problem solving in an atmosphere new to City government.

"The Innovation Lab serves as an important symbol to all stakeholders that we are truly in the innovation business," says City Managing Director Richard Negrin, whose office initiated and oversees the lab as part of a larger emphasis on innovation.

Meanwhile, a few miles away in West Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania has launched its Penn Center for Innovation, a new initiative to provide the infrastructure, leadership and resources needed to transfer promising Penn-developed research, inventions and technologies into the marketplace. 

"Most major universities have technology transfer practices that focus predominantly on patenting and licensing," says John Swartley, the new center’s executive director and Penn’s associate vice provost for research. "As we have become more involved in advancing technologies into the development sphere, we’ve also started to engage more and more in complementary activities such as new venture creation and corporate partnering around collaboratively sponsored research projects. What we’ve decided to do at Penn is to combine all those activities into a single organization -- to be a one-stop shop for our faculty, staff and students as well as members of the private sector."

Source: Philadelphia Office of the Managing Director and the University of Pennsylvania
Writer: Elise Vider

Mural Arts unveils Shepard Fairey mural in Fishtown

In yet another powerful indication of the City of Philadelphia's extraordinary commitment to public art, Mural Arts recently unveiled a new piece by a world famous artist.

On Friday, August 8, Mural Arts Executive Director Jane Golden appeared in a vacant lot near the corner of Frankford and East Girard Avenues in Fishtown with the iconic street artist Shepard Fairey, who earned widespread recognition after creating the Barack Obama "Hope" poster during the 2008 presidential campaign. The occasion was the dedication of an enormous Fairey mural, titled Lotus Diamond, commissioned by Mural Arts and brought to life over the course of just three days.
By far the largest Fairey piece in the city, the 29-foot-square Lotus Diamond can now be seen on the side of 1228 Frankford Avenue, a currently unused structure that may eventually become a 125-room boutique hotel, according to its owner, Roland Kassis of Domani Developers.  
Kassis, who's been responsible for a number of recent developments in Fishtown and Northern Liberties, suggested that more wall-sized works of public art may make appearances in the neighborhood sometime soon.

"We're gonna keep on going from here," he says, referring to the momentum generated by Fairey's mural. "We have a lot of walls. We want artists to come."   
According to Golden, more large-scale work from Fairey himself will be appearing locally at some point in the near future. Mural Arts has already commissioned the artist "to do two other projects in the City of Philadelphia that are hugely exciting."
"We're called the Mural Arts Program," sais Golden during her dedication speech, "but [we're] really [about] community-based public art. [Mural Arts] is about tapping into that creative spirit and putting it to work on behalf of citizens everywhere. And that's really what makes our hearts sing."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jane Golden, Mural Arts Program


Germantown United CDC hiring its first commercial corridor manager

In a neighborhood as historic as Philadelphia's Germantown, the Germantown United CDC (GUCDC) is an anomaly: The organization isn't yet three years old.
When it formed in late 2011, the community was still reeling from allegations of severe mismanagement on the part of Germantown Settlement, a social services agency. During its formative months, Germantown United's main goal involved becoming known as a trusted and transparent community partner.
To a large degree, that goal has been accomplished. GUCDC regularly hosts well-attended events and forums, and recently undertook a business district tree-planting campaign.
Now, according to Executive Director Andrew Trackman, the organization is hiring its first commercial corridor manager. The position's first-year salary will be covered as part of a reimbursable $75,000 grant from the Commerce Department.
The corridor manager's responsibilities will mainly involve working as a liaison to the business and property owners of the Germantown and Chelten Avenue business districts. They might listen to retailers' complaints, for instance, or help them apply for development grants such as the Commerce Department's Storefront Improvement Program (SIP).    
"We're looking for this corridor manager to be kind of a defacto business association head," explains Trackman. The new employee will also be heavily involved in business corridor cleanup efforts in coordination with the Germantown Special Services District.
"[Local businesses] need help with capacity and technical assistance," he adds. "We're just trying to improve the overall business climate of the district."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Andrew Trackman, Germantown United CDC
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