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Artisan expands thanks to their innovative app-centric platforms

Old City's Artisan is changing the way companies connect to mobile customers. The company -- creators of Artisan Optimize and Mobile Experience Management (MEM), a combined self-publishing and analytics platform for app-builders -- is releasing new features that turn app design into a science. 
 
Through Optimize, businesses can perform "advanced targeting," a practice that used to be exclusive to websites. When testing out new design changes, this option allows clients to curate their audience according to demographics and location. Additionally, they can use "confidence scoring" to track when these tests have grown large enough to yield trustworthy results.
 
"We want to give users the ability to really understand what's happening on their app," says CEO Bob Moul. "Small changes can really make a big difference in click-through rates."
 
The response to this new information has been dramatic. One Optimize client improved their app's click-through rate by 50 percent simply by changing the location of a button. Another discovered that using red instead of green increased their app's engagement by 30 percent.
 
"Part of this is taking the guess work out," says Moul. "It's not always about what aesthetically looks right."
 
Of course, higher click-through rates mean more revenue -- over 40 of the top 100 retail sites are experimenting with Optimize and MEM. In its first quarter since releasing Optimize, Artisan (formerly known as AppRenaissance) has hired 10 new employees -- rounding out a team of 25 -- and expects to add up to 15 more within two years. They have also received a total of $7 million from FirstMark Capital and angel investors.
 
Source: Bob Moul, Artisan
Writer: Dana Henry

Amid unprecedented growth, DuckDuckGo, the 'anonymous' search engine, releases mobile app

DuckDuckGo isn't as ubiquitous as Google, but it's getting there. Just weeks after the National Security Agency (NSA) scandal made headlines, traffic to this alternate search engine has skyrocketed from 1.8 million to 3 million searches per day.

DuckDuckGo launched in 2008 in response to mounting concerns over online search privacy. The engine uses the old-fashioned ad-based revenue model -- meaning they don’t track Internet Protocol (IP) addresses or use cookies to record search histories.
 
Amid the spike, the Paoli-based company released their first mobile search app, available on iOS and Android. Unlike its desktop counterpart, searches field a user's questions and deliver relevant content from trusted sources instead of a list of links. The product also displays the day's top-shared "stories" -- which includes articles, videos, images and infographics -- by aggregating content-sharing sites like Reddit and Popcore.
 
"We wanted to make something that addressed the flaws of mobile search," says Gabe Weinberg, founder and CEO. "You're on the go, you want the answers."
  
Weiner attributes the company's growth to their open-source user community -- they provide source recommendations, new team members and even customer acquisition. Because the company rarely advertises, recommendations from their users are largely responsible for redirecting those additional 1.2 million daily searches to DuckDuckGo.
 
Source: Gabe Weinberg, DuckDuckGo
Writer: Dana Henry

Greenphire, a company offering clinical trials payment solutions, expands

On the path from breakthrough to cure, clinical trials present a conundrum: When one is successful, the next one gets bigger, more expensive and ultimately more challenging.  
 
Greenphirea company that first won big name pharmaceutical clients by helping automate payrolls for clinical trials, is continuing to mitigate that problem. The King of Prussia-based company is partnering with international corporations IMS Health and Oracle Health Sciences to bring payment management solutions to the rest of the workflow process.
 
"We're working towards developing a whole system," explains Shana Jalbert, director of marketing. "It's part of a broader strategy to meet the entire financial [picture] of clinical trials so clients can focus on the trials themselves."
 
The expansion couldn’t have come at a better time. Clinical trials are increasingly global and one trial can have hundreds of sites. Those in charge of operations must negotiate multiple currencies, taxation policies and regulatory compliances at a cost of up to $125 per payment. Additionally, the Sunshine Act now requires trials to track and report every expenditure.
 
Greenphire's software, eClinicalGPS (Global Payment Solutions), executes and records complex payments. When added to IMS-Health's budgeting services, the product provides a platform for spending analysis. If a certain number of MRIs are needed, for example, IMS-Health can set the cost expectation and Greenphire will deliver the reality. eClinicalGPS is also expected to round out Oracle Health Science's remote data capturing services -- used to track real-time costs -- by automating necessary payments.
 
"We're making that connection between the different phases of clinical trials, from planning one to actually running one," says Jalbert. "Clients have access to all the analytics, so they can actually see how it's going."
 
In their sixth year, Greenphire has acquired over 300 clients, including several top 20 pharma companies. The company has grown its revenue by 300 percent in the past three years; they recently opened an office in London and are actively seeking Python developers for their Philly team.

Source: Shana Jalbert, Greenphire
Writer: Dana Henry

Greenstreet Coffee Roasters open cafe in Center City

For Greenstreet Coffee Roasters, the ascent has been rapid. Two and a half years ago, the local company set up their first roaster in a commercial kitchen on Temple's Campus. Now their product is sold at Metropolitan Bakery, Whole Foods and Mariposa Food Co-op, and served at dozens of local coffee shops including Rocket Cat Café. Last month, Greenstreet opened their first café in Center City.
 
"After doing wholesale, we started to look at what's next," says Chris Molieri, who cofounded Greenstreet with his brother Tom. "It's great to have the final consumer get a cup of coffee directly from our hands."
 
Instead of purchasing from a distributor or middle man, Greenstreet researches and selects small independent farms in South America, Africa and other parts of the world. Customers can learn more about these growers through the company's blog.
 
"We want to highlight the impact of buying from a specific farm in Colombia, for example, and then celebrate it as local coffee roasted here in Philadelphia," explains Molieri.
 
Those relationships allow Greenstreet to assess flavor and seasonality with the source, which is particularly useful when a farmer experiments with new plants or processing. The brothers have even purchased a micro-plot on a farm in Southern Colombia.
 
"We're trying to work directly with farmers to focus on quality," says Molieri. "We're trying to develop direct relationships, to channel our energy towards sourcing coffee that we think tastes awesome."
 
Source: Chris Molieri, Green Street Coffee
Writer: Dana Henry

Inventing the Future: Drexel students grow Dragon Fund to $1 million

It's a big year for Drexel University's LeBow College of Business. The school is gaining a brand new twelve-story 177,500-square-foot building, launching an innovative student investment program and fostering the Dragon Fund, now one of the largest student-managed investment portfolios in the country.
 
The Fund -- which launched during the 2007 to 2008 school year with $250,000 from Drexel's Office of Endowment -- is managed by about 20 students enrolled in advanced finance classes. The group changes each academic quarter. Over the past five years, these student-analysts have earned over $200,000 in returns, despite the recession.
 
With additional contributions from the University, the fund now controls a record $1 million.
 
"It's very difficult to get experience in investment," says Daniel Dorn, associate professor of finance at LeBow. "Industries look for people with experience already. We wanted the students to get exposure."
 
To make the most of their gains, Lebow held ArchiTECH, a competition that paired students with faculty to develop best-uses for the new building. The winning team -- which included Dorn, Ed Nelling, a professor of finance, and David Hunt, a senior finance major-- created a program where student-analysts teleconference with investors from New York, Orlando and further abroad. They can also post their investments online for review by the broader finance community.

"We thought of ways to intensify this experience with industry," says Dorn. "We wanted to extend the classroom."

Such innovations are examples of "reverse mentoring," a new approach wherein students advise academics. "The Office of Endowment considers the Dragon Fund to be one of their investment managers," says Dorn. "It's the students who pitched their services to the university."
 
Source: Daniel Dorn, LeBow College of Business
Writer: Dana Henry

Common Market's Philly Good Food Lab supports local entrepreneurs

In the journey from farm to table, the role of the processor -- the baker, the fermenter, the cheesemaker -- is often overlooked. Common Market is in a unique position to change that. The regional foods distributor recently bought a 70,000-square-foot industrial building in North Philly, and they're using it to launch Philly Good Food Lab, a partnership program that helps food entrepreneurs scale up their operations.
 
The new building boasts 6,000 square feet of cooler storage, vast warehouse space and several offices. Lab partners can rent any of these resources. In addition, tenants (as well as off-site food entrepreneurs) can access the organization's comprehensive transport system, which covers an area bound by Lancaster, Baltimore and mid-New Jersey.
 
This month, Mycopolitan Company, local mushroom cultivators, became the Food Lab's first partners.

"There’s definitely some great kitchen incubators in the area for people who are just starting out," says Leah Pillsbury, director of development at Common Market. "We're looking for the next level and ready to increase their production."
 
Before purchasing their new building, Common Market was operating from a 3,000-square-foot incubator space at Share Foods inc. The move is a testament to their rapid growth -- this year, they’ve gone from 13 to 16 employees and created $2 million in local foods sales -- and their evolving role in the regional food economy.
 
"We want to help the local foods infrastructure," says Pillsbury. "Part of that means helping other local foods companies to develop products that can reach the market."
 
Common Market is currently hiring a procurement manager and a customer outreach manager.
 
Source: Leah Pillsbury, Common Market
Writer: Dana Henry

Coleman Technologies creates revolutionary seed counter

Seeds, chemical drops, pharmaceutical drugs, nuts and bolts -- much of the world's economy relies on tiny objects. Thanks to the Ball-Coleman Seed Counter, created by Newtown-based Coleman Technologies, keeping track of those pieces just got a lot easier.
 
Coleman Technologies specializes in hardware and software for vision systems -- camera-enabled machines that rapidly translate visual images into data. It's a key resource for quality control. Because the camera has a single viewpoint, the typical vision system can only "see" objects that pass by in a flat or two-dimensional stream (think conveyer belt).  

The Ball-Coleman, however, bounces the camera's viewpoint off a mirror angled at 90 degrees. This allows the machine to capture and compare different sides of the same image, and to count objects in a thick or three-dimensional stream. With a Ball-Coleman, a long flat Marigold seed, for example, can't hide behind another. While the typical seed counter averages 100 seeds per second, the Ball-Coleman can recognize up to 2,000 objects per second.  
 
"Seed counters look at the seeds straight on," explains Paul Falkenstein, vice president of Automated Inspection Systems. "We're looking at seeds dropping in two directions instead of one, and can count in much higher volume."
  
Coleman Technologies spent four years developing the machine in partnership with Chicago-based Ball Horticultural, a company that now owns exclusive sales and distribution rights to the product. Coleman is currently investigating additional partnerships and wants to apply their technology to a range of industries. With the enhanced machine, the mining industry, for example, wouldn't have to sift through their findings -- in addition to counting, the Ball-Coleman can also identify different types of objects or materials.
 
The company has grown from two to eight employees in the past four years. They are hiring LabView Developers with software engineering experience.
 
"There's a lot of possibilities out there," says Falkenstein. "We already have one partner who loves it."
 
Source: Paul Falkenstein, Coleman Technologies
Writer: Dana Henry

Inventing the Future: Breadboard announces public art residency program, seeks applicants

Breadboard currently seeks applicants for its first Art Along the Avenue of Technology (AAAT) Artist
Residency
program. The selected artist will collaborate with the University City Science Center and the surrounding West Philly community to create tech-based public art projects for the campus' Market Street corridor.
 
The program is part of Percent for Arts, a Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) initiative wherein building developers set aside funds for public art projects. Percent for Arts began in 1959 and has funded 400 projects, mostly large outdoor sculptures (including the clothespin at 15th and Market Streets). David Clayton, Breadboard's program manager, says AAAT will depart from that convention.
 
"With the traditional public art process, the artist really could be anywhere when they design the work," says Clayton. "A big part of the [AAAT] program is that the artist will really be here, working in the community and developing their work as an open process."
 
According to Clayton, AAAT projects -- funded through the recent construction of 3701 and 3711 Market Street -- could take a variety of forms, including video projections, electronic music installations, performance art, interactive sculpture or educational workshops. The Science Center will partner with PRA's Fine Arts Committee on the selection process.
 
With over $160,000 in funding set aside, Breadboard welcomes applications from candidates both in and outside the Philadelphia region. They are releasing a Request For Qualifications and don’t expect artists to submit proposals.
 
"We don't have a defined outcome in mind," explains Clayton. "We're putting the ball in their court in terms of creativity."
 
Source: David Clayton, Breadboard; Jeanne Mell, the University City Science Center
Writer: Dana Henry

Smak Parlor launches its 'fashion truck,' a retail experience on wheels

For most businesses, "finding your customer base" means tracking them online. Smak Parlour, an eclectic women's fashion store in Old City, has an alternative method: They're putting their next shop on wheels.
 
The 18-foot "fashion truck" -- a concept that started in Los Angeles -- resembles a high-end brick-and-mortar operation. The space has French doors, hardwood floors, eight-foot ceilings, dressing rooms and air conditioning. Cofounders (and Drexel alums) Abby Kessler and Katie Lubieski recently secured a coveted vending spot at 40th and Locust Streets.
 
"It's a great way to expand and strategically sell your product," says Lubieski. "You go to where your customers are."
 
The boutique -- which specializes in merchandise by independent designers sold below $100 -- will stock the truck with top-sellers from their established location. Because it costs less to run than a storefront, the mobile shop will feature reduced prices.
 
In eight years, Smak Parlour has evolved from a locally produced clothing line to a full-fledged retailer (they still produce their branded garments locally). In 2008, they began expanding their inventory and reduced the price point to accommodate the unstable economy. The strategy has helped annual sales grow by 30 percent over the past two years.
 
The partners have already showcased their collection at the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention, the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C., and the Holiday Pop-Up in King of Prussia. To track the fashion truck, customers can use Twitter and Facebook.
 
"The possibilities are endless," says Kessler. "I picture a fleet of fashion trucks all over the country."
 
Source: Abby Kessler and Katie Lubieski, Smak Parlor
Writer: Dana Henry

Jarvus Innovations grows Slate, online portal for high schools, into separate company

Sometimes a product is so compelling that it's worthy of its own brand. Take Slate, an online portal for high schools, for example. The platform, which centralizes data and digital tools, was created by Northern Liberties-based software company Jarvus Innovations and has garnered more demand than the company can keep up with. As a result, Jarvus is developing Slate into a separate company, with the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) and the Sustainability Workshop as clients.

Slate was created by Chris Alfano, Jarvus’s CTO and SLA's Director of IT. The product has been developed through partnership with SLA for three years. The students, teachers and administrators at SLA had been using multiple networks including Google Apps, Moodle and SchoolNet -- and had separate accounts for each. Jarvus links those networks into a single database which users access through their Google account.

"Schools usually have four or five different systems that they use," says John Fazio, CEO of Jarvus. "Slate offers central access to connect different systems."

The program streamlines communication for both students and staff. In the past, when a teacher tried out a new digital grading book, for example, those numbers had to be exported to an Excel spreadsheet. With Slate, administrators can access information as the teacher adds it, regardless of what app the teacher uses. Likewise, teachers can maintain a history of their lesson content as they experiment with new digital programs.   

"There's this flood of education technology tools," says Fazio. "Trying out new tools has a big adoption factor. Slate acts as that underlying dashboard system because we have their data centralized."

Jarvus recently enrolled Slate in Good Company Ventures. They are hiring developers and senior software engineers, and will consider adding product managers with development backgrounds.

Source: John Fazio, Jarvus
Writer: Dana Henry

Campus Philly's Opportunity Fair plugs students into the regional economy

The Campus Philly Opportunity Fair, taking place June 20 at Penn's Houston Hall, isn't just about jobs. In addition to featuring over 40 of the region's largest and fastest growing companies -- including Bentley Systems, Monetate, Artisan and Urban Engineers -- the event will host local civic organizations and a series of workshops aimed at helping recent grads. The big picture goal: keeping students in Philadelphia.

The fair is free to anyone who graduated from college in the past five years. To develop a diverse roster, Campus Philly partnered with the City of Philadelphia and 29 local universities.

The idea for the fair was first conceived in 2008. At the height of the recession, they wanted to help graduates find local employment. The event has since evolved to meet the demands of a changing job market.

"Students often come to us not knowing where to start," says Ashlie Thornbury, director of career programs for Campus Philly. "They want to know who to talk to and how to get plugged-in."

Organizations like Generocity, Young Involved Philadelphia, the Mayor's Office of Civic Engagement and the Citizen's Planning Institute will encourage new grads to get involved with local issues. Workshops cover topics such as managing social media identity and developing career paths through volunteering. There will also be representatives from local graduate programs.

In the past five years, Philadelphia has experienced a population bump after fifty years of decline. Much of this incoming population has been under 30.  

"The Opportunity Fair a great way to showcase all that our region has to offer a recent graduate," says Thornbury. "Philadelphia has become a destination." 
 
Source: Ashlie Thornbury, Campus Philly
Writer: Dana Henry

Springboard Collaborative expands its innovative summer reading program

Teachers call it the "summer slide." After three months of vacation, Philly public school students can take until late November to regain the reading comprehension they'd established in June.

Unwilling to accept the slide as inevitable, Alejandro Gac-Artigas, a former Teach for America fellow, developed Springboard Collaborative, a low-cost summer program that keeps kids reading, even when they're not in the classroom. Now entering its third year, the program has secured a vendor agreement with the Philadelphia School District, expanding their reach from a couple hundred kids to over 900 students at eight schools.
 
"My students were only expected to learn when they were sitting at their desks in front of me," says Gac-Artigas, who taught first grade in North Philly. "Springboard is figuring out how to give kids in low-income communities the same access to learning at home."
 
At an annual expense of $700 per student -- the average summer program costs $2,000 per student -- Springboard offers a cost-effective strategy that utilizes parents in lieu of outside tutors. The program trains teachers on grade-appropriate reading goals. Those teachers, in turn, hold workshops to help parents become reading coaches. If a student enrolls in the program  and meets achievement goals in the fall, Springboard gives them school supplies. If they exceed criteria, they get a laptop.
 
"In the short term, it gets parents and teachers behind the same goal," explains Gac-Artigas. "In the long term, if we want parents to stay involved, we need to make sure they have the right materials."
 
The program was piloted in 2011 with 42 students. In 2012, the program expanded to serve 340 students from area charter schools -- Pan American Academy in the Northeast, Wissahickon Charter School in Northwest Philly, Russell Byers Charter School in Center City and Belmont Charter School in West Philadelphia. Over ninety percent of parents who signed up completed workshops and some students nearly doubled their reading level. This year, Springboard will expand their reach to include the four public "receiving" schools.
 
According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, two-thirds of the inner city high school achievement gap can be attributed to cumulative summer reading loss. By entering a vendor agreement, Springboard will become one of the first early-stage companies to tackle this problem for the District -- a role usually reserved for chain corporations and national nonprofits.
 
"Typically it's been an all or nothing way of approaching contracts," says Gac-Artigas. "This is the first time the school district has really opened its doors to innovation."
 
Source: Alejandro Gac-Artigas, Springboard Collaborative
Writer: Dana Henry

MissionOG rethinks venture capitalism for the digital economy

For venture capitalists, good investing is all about assessing risk versus potential. MissionOG, a Berwyn-based investment firm, has found a smarter way: Identify the opportunity and then join the team.

The "OG" stands for "Operating Group," an ode to the team's background and company model. Previous to founding MissionOG, all four members were high-level operations managers (three worked together at Ecount). Since launching in September 2012, they've helped fast-track three of Philly's rapidly growing business-to-business companies: Cloudmine, Cloudamize and PeopleLinx.

"Our roots are in executing in early-stage companies and helping build them from the ground up," says Drew Kese, managing partner at MissionOG. "We wanted to take that to the venture community."

As the software revolution continues to build -- and produce cheaper and cheaper backend web solutions -- the cost of starting a company has steadily dropped. This presents a new challenge: How do you maximize know-how in a market that's rapidly changing? MissionOG works directly with clients. They help manage the logistical side, allowing companies to spend 80 percent of their time "pointing at the market," or probing the market problem as it evolves.

"It's almost too easy from the money side," says Kese. "We're trying to inject some expertise so the money people raise goes further."

The firm is closely connected to DreamIt Ventures. Three of four partners are mentors at the incubator, and two of the three initial companies are DreamIt grads. As they grow, MissionOG hopes to serve three or four companies at a time.

"The time we invest is a differentiator," Says Kese. "The only way to understand the market problem is to roll your sleeves up and understand it intimately."
 
Source: Drew Kese, MissionOG
Writer: Dana Henry

Philly's third Vendy Awards reward mobile culinary innovation

For the culinary entrepreneur, Philly is a great testing ground. In addition to our thriving BYO culture, the city supports a growing army of food trucks. To celebrate, the New York City-based Street Vendor Project will host the third annual Philly Vendy Awards at Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown on Saturday, June 8.   

While metal boxes carting cheesesteaks, fruit salad and breakfast sandwiches are nothing new, the new generation of Philly concessions are creating portable versions of national food trends -- Korean tacos, anyone? The Vendy Award finalists, selected thanks to thousands of public nominations, pay homage to the growing diversity.

"Vendors are giving us more options," says Helena Tubis, event coordinator for the Street Vendor Project. "They're creating a location-based experience. There's a fun factor that's just a little different than your traditional dining experiences."

The event will showcase six sweet trucks (offering frozen yogurt, baked goods and, of course, cupcakes) and 11 savory trucks (including Asian fusion, build-your-own mac and cheese and vegan delicacies). Attendees are given unlimited samples and will vote to decide the People's Choice award, Best Dessert and Messiest Food. There's also a judges' award determined by a panel of experts, including Paul Kimport, cofounder of Johnny Brenda's and Standard Tap, and Emilio Mignucci of DiBruno Bros. Ticket proceeds benefit The Food Trust.

Street Vendor Project has held the Vendy Awards in their home city for nine years. They brought the event to Philly because the local scene was booming: Over 15 trucks serve Love Park daily and The Food Trust has organized several packed Night Markets.

"There's just a huge influx in Philadelphia," says Tubis. "A tremendous amount of new vendors are doing unique offerings."

Source: Helena Tubis, the Street Vendor Project
Writer: Dana Henry

Inventing the Future: Department of Making + Doing earns $150,000 grant

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from ArtPlace America, the Department of Making + Doing (DMD), located at the University City Science Center, is embarking on an 18-month "placemaking" project. They hope to transform the 37th street walkway in University City into a tech-arts hub. The $150,000 is part of $1.2 million given by ArtPlace to placemaking projects in Philadelphia.
 
DMD will engage surrounding universities and greater West Philly, including Mantua and Powelton Village, in a series of events aimed at developing the walkway. The space connects the Science Center, International House, several local businesses and Lancaster Avenue's commercial corridor.
 
"We want to get as many people involved as possible and mix a lot of different communities," says Dan Schimmel, director of Breadboard, a DMD partner.
 
The project's centerpiece is a "pod," a temporary structure located at the Market Street intersection that will serve as a space to spearhead art projects. Group work will continue at the DMD and Esther Klein Gallery spaces.   
 
The engagement is part of the Science Center's larger efforts to encourage pedestrian-centric development. All four DMD partners -- Breadboard, The Hacktory, The Public Workshop and NextFab Studios -- have strong track records of engaging diverse communities in maker activities, often utilizing cutting-edge technologies. This will be their first opportunity to fuse those histories together.
 
"We're all loosely orbiting around the theme of 'placemaking,'" says Schimmel. "This grant gives us the opportunity to collaborate -- rather than coordinate what we already do -- and develop new programing."
 
Source: Dan Schimmel, Breadboard
Writer: Dana Henry

The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia through the "Inventing the Future" series.
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