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Job Alert: Holiday sales spike for Charity Gift Market

The preponderance of local gift guides, handmade marketplaces and gift-making workshops indicates that the buying public is ready for alternative ways to celebrate. It's in that spirit that the Camden-based Charity Gift Market was born. The online marketplace allows humanitarian nonprofits to sell handmade wares directly; the organizations keep 92 percent of the profits. (Most charitable marketplaces, by comparison, donate a percentage of the proceeds, usually less than 15 percent.) Halfway into their second holiday season, sales are up 300 percent and the new company continues attracting partners.
 
Purchasers select by "product," "charity" or "cause." Say your sister works in public health and just had a baby? Charity Gift Market might lead you to a quilt made from saris and stuffed with recycled clothes, created by a mother in India working from home to provide nutritious food and medical care for her family.
 
"It brings charity into the larger marketplace of commerce," says co-founder Lindsey Markelz. "People are generally quite selective in giving donations to charity, but they may find a product they like on Charity Gift Market and, thereby, provide additional support to that charity's work."
 
For the organizations-in-need, Charity Gift Market is generally their first and only means of online vending. A personal thank you letter from the charity—often including artisan and product information along with the backstory—accompanies purchases. In one year, over 15 percent of buyers have become repeat customers.
 
The site was launched in June 2011. Markelz—who is also founding director of UrbanPromise—met husband and co-founder, Andy Markelz, who teaches special education in South Philly, while working for the Peace Corps. The couple dreamed up Charity Gift Market during Christmas of 2010, when their hunt for perfect conscientious gifts proved cumbersome.
 
"We started toying with the idea of creating a marketplace for products created and sold by charities so that socially-oriented consumers could find them," explains Markelz.
 
Since then, fifty small-to-mid-sized organizations, including Ardmore-based Profugo, Prosperity Candle, Freedom Stones, and Women's Bean Project, have opened online shops. Many work internationally to support opportunities for women and families. 
 
Charity Gift Market is currently looking for a Chief Technology Office (CTO). As they grow, Markelz says they are proud to forge connections between customers and causes.
 
"Visitors love the story on each product page," says Markelz. "They know where their money goes and that their purchase directly helps others."

Source: Lindsey Markelz, Charity Gift Market
Writer: Dana Henry

Retrofit Reverb: Navy Yard's EEB Hub jumpstarts local energy economy

If you're a commercial or multi-family building owner dreaming of an energy efficiency overhaul, now’s your chance. The Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EEB) Hub is offering $150,000 grants to building owners, facility managers, tenants, service providers and engineering firms for integrated energy retrofits—projects addressing whole energy systems, not just individual parts. The Advanced Energy Retrofit Opportunity (AERO) Fund will finance 20 projects early next year, and has extended the deadline for first-round applications to January 30, 2013.

Laurie Actman, deputy director of EEB Hub, calls Philly a "testing bed" for energy innovation: "We want to take examples from the work done here and promote them nationally," she says.

Retrofitting identifiable candidates—nearly half our building stock—could spur the creation of 23,500 jobs and $618 million in spending for the Philadelphia region, according to the Econsult Corporation. These jobs include service providers, equipment providers, architects, engineers and systems vendors.

"We’re trying to stimulate a lot of activity in the [energy retrofit] market," says Actman. "It’s hard to get [industry professionals] to work together at the same time on a design. We’re trying to create demand for that approach so the industry will take a more integrated approach themselves."

Established by the Department of Energy as the nation's largest research and innovations center for the energy economy (and based in the Navy Yard), the Hub plans to repeat the grant program throughout the next five years, investing tens of millions in our local retrofit economy. They aim for a 20 percent regional reduction in energy use by 2020.

"We see [The AREO Fund] as a permanent part of the city and the region," says Actman.

Source: Laurie Actman, EEB Hub
Writer: Dana Henry

Graduation day at Good Company Ventures, supporter of socially-minded startups

It’s great to hear a company wants to "go green" or pay a "living wage," but for the startups at Good Company Ventures social capital is at the core of their operations. The 2012 graduates—a group that features low-cost geothermal technology, a social crowd-sourcing platform and a green laundry service with an eye towards workforce development—are in the midst of first-round fundraising, and at least one company has gained nearly $1 million in investment. These innovators will join leaders of the public and private sector on Tuesday November, 20 at First Round Capital, for a public graduation reception and networking event.

Regalii, one of the graduating businesses, enables Latino immigrants to send remittances in the form of store credit via text. While their service has a clear social value—it protects the sender from predatory fees and the receiver from robbery—the stores lose value because they sell credits to Regalii in bulk. According to Zoe Selzer, executive director of the Good Company Group, this kind of value proposition triangle (where the purchaser is not the benefactor) can make the social venture business model tricky.
 
“We look for companies where the market strategy is not necessarily intuitive," Selzer says. "A lot of accelerator programs focus on the development of the product. We assume that people in our incubator have a product of pretty good value and what they really need to focus on is how to translate their good idea into something really valuable in the marketplace."
 
Good Company merged with Green Village Incubator in March 2012. The ventures are operational when accepted into the accelerator program and spend each week working through issues a potential investor would raise. They get feedback and advice from a panel of business and venture capital experts as well as their peers. The process often results in a complete reworking of the company’s value proposition. Edi Bikes, which relocated from Chicago, entered the program expecting to provide bike customers roadside assistance. They now focus on commuter-centric engineering.  
 
"[These companies] can’t just assume that their social mission is going to carry them forward," says Selzer. "You have to answer all [investor] questions if you want to be considered for a second meeting. We’re not giving any passes because you're trying to save the world."
 
Over the past three years, Good Company Ventures graduates have raise over $30 million of investment. This year, Wash Cycle Laundry will graduate and hire its sixteenth employee. Other startups, including Start Some Good, continue attracting venture capital and national press, proving companies that do good can also do well. 

Source: Zoe Selzer, Good Company Ventures
Writer: Dana Henry

The Corzo Center cooks up a new batch of creative entreprenures

In 2011, Michele McKeone, a teacher and University of the Arts alum, entered the Corzo Center for the Creative Economy at the University of the Arts intending to market her specialized curriculum. One year later she launched the beta version of Autism Expressed, an interactive web-platform that helps autistic students develop digital skills. McKeone and three other 2011 Corzo Center/Wells Fargo Fellows will share trials, mistakes, successes and plans from their creative ventures during What’s Cooking at Corzo on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

Like many artistic entrepreneurs, McKeone, a former media design student, struggled to turn her passions into something marketable. Many creative startups also have difficulty appealing to traditional funding sources.

“When the politicians talk about ‘job creators,’ they are not talking about the small businesses created in the creative economy,” says Neil Kleinman, Senior Fellow for the Corzo Center for the Creative Economy. “As we know, though, a thriving economic community requires that we have a creative culture.”

The Corzo Center provides workshops, mentorship and consulting to meet the specific needs of creative startups and offers select entrepreneurs a $10,000 grant. The presenting 2011 Corzo fellows demonstrate a diverse range of business concepts rooted in creative education. In addtion to McKeon, presenters include:

ADMK:  As a graduate student at UArts, Andrew Dalhgren, a master crafter, spent a year investigating the state of textiles in Philadelphia. He developed a vision for scalable production of handmade knitting enabled by advanced technology, and plans to launch Knit Lab as a shared workspace.
 
Bonded Forever Jewelry: This company designs jewelry that “bonds” cancer patients with their loved ones. Cassandra Hoo, a writer, filmmaker and recent Alliance for Women Entrepreneur (AWE) fellow, developed the concept after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Bonded Forever Jewelry is sold in local shops and helps fund cancer research.

Bioskin: Eric Zola is an industrial designer developing new forms of environmentally sound insulation using biomimicry—sustainable design based on biological forms.

McKeone, who since completed the Good Company Ventures accelorator and was awarded a 2011 AWE fellowship, is currenlty testing Autism Expressed at area charter schools. She credits Corzo for pushing her to incorporate entrepreneurial thinking into her vision.

"At the time, I had no clear business model, just an emerging vision," she says. "After working through the incubator, attending its workshops and open office hours with experts in the areas of law, business, marketing, etc., I emerged with not only a well-defined vision, but a scalable product and business model."

In the past three years, six of the ten total Corzo Incubator fellows launched startups that continue to progress. Nonetheless, Kleinman says the ultimate focus is not about success.

"We have emerging entrepreneurs with remarkable stories," he says. "Their time with Corzo was intended to be a learning process—the first stage along a path that may lead to new ideas and new ventures. Each started at a very small spot on the road and has begun to move out into some delightful, surprising forms of recognition.”

Source: Neil Kleinman, Michele McKeone, Corzo Center
Writer: Dana Henry

Creekside Co-Op promises to revive Elkins Park East, hiring

For the past decade, the Elkins Park East commercial corridor, home of the once thriving Ashbourne Market, struggled to retain businesses. With help from Weavers Way and considerable investment from the Cheltenham community, Creekside Co-op will open where Ashbourne once stood. They are hiring a financial controller and several store positions.

“The Ashbourne Market operated for over 30 years and was a destination for many folks from all around Philadelphia looking for quality food,” Max Minkoff, Creekside Board President, says.  “We hope that Creekside will be an anchor for the great businesses [of Elkins Park East] and boost the entire area.”

Previous attempts to reopen the Ashbourne site were less than successful. The comercial district, however, is revitalizing with a newly beautified High School Park and several emerging businesses including Shakti Yoga, The Stitching Room, Fresh From Provence, and The Whistle Stop Café.

Creekside Co-op will operate as a full service grocer offering local, gourmet, and all-natural selections. Most co-ops attempt a few hundred memberships, but CreekSide already has 1,500 members, who provide over $200,000 in equity and $330,000 in loans to the new market. In recent years, Mariposa expanded, Weavers Way opened a second store and  Fishtown organized a co-op, proving cooperative neighborhood food stores are succeeding in Philadelphia. CreekSide Co-op opens mid-November with a grand opening celebration in January.

“Turning an empty building dragging down the neighborhood into a thriving, tax-paying business is something that is easy to get behind,” Minkoff says. “Some are motivated by the opportunity to buy local, quality food, some by the ability to have a food market within walking distance, some by revitalizing the neighborhood, and some by increasing property values, but we can all get together and create this business that makes sense for these and so many more reasons.”

Source: Max Minkoff, Creekside Co-op
Writer: Dana Henry

ModSolar closes costly loophole for the solar industry, experiencing rapid growth and hiring again

Since launching last June, ModSolar facilitated over $5 billion in solar transactions, with thousands of proposals generated every month. Their app helps installers cut down on “soft cost” associated with creating sales, and allows solar companies to pursue more leads. They are designing new product features and hiring developers.
 
The ModSolar concept came to Mike Dershowitz, the company’s co-founder and CEO, while investigating solar options for his new home. The former design manager for JPMorganChase, discovered the solar industry was stuck in antiquated methods of appraisal. He got to work building an experimental mobile solution, later used by an emerging sole installer during a home trade show.
 
“The big [solar] companies generated 15 or 20 leads, but [our client] generated 113 leads by using the iPad app we developed,” Dershowitz says. “At one point there were lines at his booth of people wanting to get a solar quote. We knew that we could apply sales technology to the solar industry and really make an impact.”
 
“Previously, the sales person would have to visit a home, get up on the roof, take some measurements,  do a [solar] panel design, figure out how many [solar] panels they needed—you have to do all this by hand—then [the salesperson] went back to the office, crunched the numbers, and put a proposal together. We've eliminated all that. You can actually do a design for a solar system from your office before you get to the homeowner, pushing the designing and quoting down to the salesperson,” Dershowitz says.   
 
Dershowitz estimates 40 percent of the price of installing solar is “soft costs” or transactions that don’t include parts and labor. He says discrepancies between federal and municipal electric codes and inconsistent building codes contribute to soft costs for American buyers, which is more than double the expense paid in Germany. By comparison, Germany now gets 30 percent of their power from the sun.  Soft costs are a major setback to the industry’s domestic growth and our energy future.
 
ModSolar developed a complex “matching system” that automates current codes, utility rates and financing options for individual sites and has helped small and national companies produce accurate quotes in a third the time. With shorter sales, clients report a 10-20 percent increase in customer acquisition. The number of ModSolar clients and the size of their purchased subscriptions continue to grow.
 
“With the same amount of resources, [solar installers] can approach more opportunities,” Dershowitz says. “The home improvement industry is ripe for someone to help these folks who may not be digitally oriented, handle their business.”
 
The company, which recently moved from Malvern to Ardmore, looks forward to releasing finance and e-commerce solutions, including a platform that connects home owners to inventory providers.  According to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, photovoltaic installations quadrupled in the United States between 2005 and 2010. With deflating soft costs, and increasing sales, ModSolar is providing disruptive technology that will make solar an increasingly affordable option for years to come. 

Source: Mike Dershowitz, ModSolar
Writer: Dana Henry


Shift_Design's DIY green roof product, Living Tile, exhibited at DesignPhiladelphia

The foliage blossoming from the roof of the Shake Shack at 20th and Sansom in Center City is the work of Mario Gentile and his company, Shift_Design. Their portable 'living tile,' aka green roof tile, offers urban homes and storefronts a DIY method of adding rain-absorbing shrubbery to any impervious surface, be it a concrete patio or any of the countless flat roofs in Philly. Their latest edition, the Fairmount Living Tile, will be demoed at the Design Philadelphia event, Up and Dirty.

“A green roof for the masses is not easily accessible yet,” Gentile says. “The costs associated are exorbitant. We wanted to solve larger issues—stormwater management, heat island effect, and air quality—by offering an accessible, well designed living tile kit that makes it easy for the end user. No need for a structural engineer, landscape architect, contractor, roofer, installer, etc.”

The tile, a rectangular aluminum tray, includes specially formulated Gaia soil, which is half the weight of typical soil, but absorbs twice its weight in water. According to the company’s structural assessment, Gaia soil can be supported by the roof of a row home during maximum snowfall, but it’s so light weight it easily blows away. Shift_Design includes burlap casing, made from La Colombe coffee sacks, to mimic natural ground floor covering and keep the soil in place.

Shift_Design was founded in 2008 when Gentile—who currently teaches biomimicry architecture at UPenn—pulled a few of his former Temple design students for a residential rain barrel project. The company has since graduated from Good Company Ventures as experts in elegantly designed passive stormwater management technologies—ie raised gardens, living walls, rainwater collection etc. Their work is installed at Shake Shack, Urban Outfitters Headquarters, and countless homes across the city.

Sure, it looks pretty, but greening also serves an impending urban need. Sixty percent of Philly’s sewers are “combined" sewers meaning they carry both sewage and rain water. As climate change increases the east coast’s annual rainfall, combined sewers carry the risk of overflow, creating a potential citywide sanitation hazard. The Philadelphia Water Department has proposed a $2 billion plan to catch excess water before it hits the sewer using greening and other passive technologies—it’s a lot cheaper than building new pipes.

In addition to stormwater reduction, green walls and roofs support dwindling pollinators, remediate air and water pollution and lower household energy consumption by regulating temperature. In their market segment study, Shift_Design found east coast cities, including Philly, New York and Baltimore, have a profusion of impervious surface ripe for alteration.

“Flat roofs are abundant and they’re doing nothing for these cities,” Gentile says. “Adding just a little bit of greening, a little bit of life, to your home reduces stress. If many households do it, the added benefits [for the city] are incredible.”

Gentile, who has a track record of hiring his employees directly from Philly schools including UPenn, Temple and UArts, will also launch a kickstarter campaign for manufacturing toolage during Design Philadelphia. With advanced equipment, Gentile says, Shift_Design can increase production and lower the price point even further while adding a few green manufacturing jobs to our area.

Source: Mario Gentile, Shift_Design
Writer: Dana Henry

A different State of Young Philly aims to create tangible outcomes

Young Involved Philadelphia (YIP) kicked off its third annual State of Young Philly on Thursday with a standing-room only crowd at the Kimmel Center’s Innovation Studio and full-fledged ambition.

“State of Young Philly, for all intents and purposes, is totally redone from the previous two installments,” says Jason Wolfson, YIP's Programing Committee Chair. “The first two have been very positive in terms of getting people excited, getting people to want to do more, getting people more involved in their community. What we really want to do now is make that tangible.”
 
Drawing support from over 50 participating change-making organizations, this year’s catalogue offers 12 total events from “key issue” areas: Economy, Education and Sustainability.  

Instead of simply listening and networking, participants are guided by action-oriented questions. Sophie Hwang, YIP's Outreach Coordinator, offers an example from the Education Track: “Not everyone has a computer but most everyone has a mobile device. So how can we use mobile technology to better inform parents?”
 
Last year’s State Of Young Philly gave birth to the educational nonprofit, Philly Core Leaders. This year’s installment encourages similar results, offering $1,000 in seed money to winners of the YIP Challenge.

“People can get inspired by attending the first couple of events, meet new people, build teams and submit a proposal,” Hwang explains.
 
It’s passion and drive balanced with fun. One night, City Councilman Bill Green’s office hosts a pitch competition for educational entrepreneurs. The next, DIY experts give how-tos on composting, making all natural cosmetics, and altering refrigerator coils to save energy.
 
“We’re going to have events for everybody, regardless of how knowledgeable you are in a particular field.”  Wolfson maintains.
 
When else can you visit the home of an internationally-renound orchestra and leave with your very own homemade deodorant?

Source: Jason Wolfson, Sophie Hwang, Young Involved Philadelphia
Writer: Dana Henry

Ben Franklin Technology Partners' mapping initiative gives state energy economy visibility

For years we’ve been hearing of the “new energy economy,” a vision of a diversified and cooperative energy industry amalgamation promising cleaner air, lower energy bills, and more green jobs. The recent release of Energy Economy Map by Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ statewide network is evidence that it's actually happening.

Using open-source, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the map exhibits over 2,000 Pennsylvania energy companies, research programs, and related resources, largely concentrated in Greater Philadelphia.

“The intent of the map is to drive economic development, collaborative opportunities and partnership across the state," says Jim Gambino, Vice President of Technology Commercialization at Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “It gives companies and universities an opportunity to present their projects.”

According to Gambino, sustainable building design and materials, clean energy storage, and smart grid technology are areas of continued market growth. Some of the map’s projects have intriguing titles, including Drexel University’s Human-electric Hybrid for Urban Commuting and Temple’s Multiple Stream Waste-Derived Energy Production.

The Energy Economy Map was piloted at the Navy Yard by BFTP-Southeastern Pennsylvania and funded by the state's  Department of Community and Economic Development and tghe Governor’s office.

It’s not the typical stagnant, end-of-the-year-let’s-evaluate-how-we’re-doing report. The map, created in partnership with Philadelphia-based Azavea, evolves as users update entries on their energy work. 

“It’s really up to the registrant to enter the kind of information they see as important,” Gambino says. “We’re really looking for the users to provide the additions to improve the map.”

Eventually, BFTP-SEP expects the dynamic resource will attract more capital to the region.

“Early on we had determined in our analysis that we had significant energy assets here in southeastern Pennsylvania,” Gambino says. “[Outside companies and investors] will get a sense of the relative strength and vibrancy of both traditional and alternative energy communities in Pennsylvania.”

Source: Jim Gambino, David Cohen, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania
Writer: Dana Henry

Malvern's ModSolar moving, seeking investors and adding jobs

Solar power seems like a great idea, but design and installation of solar panels is complex. Every roof is different, and power needs can vary greatly. "I was surprised how little technology was used in home improvement sales," says Mike Dershowitz, founder of ModSolar, a new B2B technology company that supports solar panel installers.

ModSolar allows the installer to use a satellite snapshot of a customer's roof and design the ideal solar array on a mobile device or a web browser. Shoulder to shoulder with the client, ModSolar has been an immediate hit. "At this point we average $100 million a week in proposals quoted on the platform," says Dershowitz, who reports that since launch close to $4 billion have been quoted on ModSolar. 
 
Inspiration hit Dershowitz in 2010 at the Philadelphia Home Show. At that time he was an employee for JP Morgan Chase leading their mobile design department. Dershowitz knew about the iPad due out just a few months later. "I saw pretty early that the iPad was going to be a great sales tool. I felt like it could create an intimate experience between the customer and salesperson."
 
In early 2011, ModSolar teamed up with its first customer, who had a booth at the Allentown home show. "He generated five times more leads on the iPad app than his competitors," reports Dershowitz, who credits his CTO and co-founder Kevin Ilsen with the ability to work lightning fast on a budget."One thing ModSolar is lauded for is our pace of change compared to everyone else. I'm not 100% worried about copycats," says Dershowitz.
 
ModSolar, based in Malvern, is completely bootstrapped and has four full-time employees, as well as several full time interns, and is in the process of hiring. Dershowitz is looking to fill two junior positions: a front end and a back end person. The company has a patent pending on its panel layout technology, and is in the process of raising a friends and family round of funding to accelerate growth. The company is also set to move somewhat closer to Philadelphia and is now seeking space in Bryn Mawr.

Source: Mike Dershowitz, ModSolar
Writer: Sue Spolan

Seven startups rake in $1.375M in Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA funding

Geothermal, software, medical devices and smart grid technology are among the areas funded by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which announced $1.375 million in funding for seven Greater Philadelphia companies.

All seven recipients are based in the Philadelphia suburbs, according to a news release issued by BFTP-SEP on Monday:
 
ARB Geowell, West Conshohocken ($125,000): The company uses a unique design to promote heat transfer for its geothermal heating/cooling platform, which offers higher energy efficiency and eliminates significant construction costs for commercial buildings, schools and developments.
 
Brad’s Raw Chips, Pipersville ($100,000): Founder Brad Gruno wants others to discover the benefits of eating raw food like he did. He uses an advanced dehydration system to keep raw chips crunchy and tasty.
 
Drakontas, Glenside ($250,000): The company provides mobile collaboration software solutions for police, military, fire, emergency response and public service teams. Its flagship DragonFroce product utilizes geo-tracking and shared media and files to help those teams act faster and enhance public safety.
 
Kerathin, Chester ($200,000): The company previously received $150,000 from Ben Franklin for its PodiaPro nail debridement system for the diabetic population.
 
OneTwoSee, Devon ($150,000): Formerly Mobile Reactor, the company targets television broadcasters and producers to help them deliver interactive TV experiences through connected devices.
 
S4 Worldwide, Doylestown ($250,000): The company provides a variety of safety, security and regulatory solutions for drilling companies working in the Marcellus Shale.
 
Tangent Energy Solutions, Kennett Square ($300,000): Commercial and industrial companies can save up to 20 percent on energy costs thanks to Tangent’s grid optimization technologies.

Source: Jaron Rhodes, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania
Writer: Joe Petrucci

United By Blue's do-good approach to apparel working well, hiring 'several' in coming months

They do the work of a non-profit, but United By Blue is a for profit company. Started by Temple University grad Brian Linton, the clothing company, guided by a deep sense of social entrepreneurship, aims to clean up the world's waterways.
 
Linton, an American by birth who grew up in Asia, founded the eco-entrepreneurial venture in 2010. He says, "We sell sustainable apparel that leverages technology, social media and environmental activism."
 
Now 200 stores in the US and 60 stores in Japan carry the United by Blue clothing line, in addition to online sales. The company headquarters is at 12th and Callowhill, where seven are employed full-time and Linton says there are plans to hire several more staffers in the next few months. United By Blue is set to hire a full-time developer within the next few weeks, bringing a job that was previously outsourced in house. UBB also hosts up to eight interns per semester in the spring, summer and fall.
 
For every product sold, UBB removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways through company organized and hosted cleanups. "We've done 85 cleanups in 17 US states, removing 138,000 pounds of trash, working with about 1,900 volunteers," says Linton.
 
UBB also has two major corporate partnerships. Subaru of America donated two new Outbacks in April 2012, and a co-branded line of apparel sells on the Subaru website as well as in dealerships. "We wouldn't have expected it from a car company, but they can move a significant amount of apparel. The Subaru customer is the United By Blue customer." UBB also partnered with Sperry, known best for its sailing shoes and apparel.
 
The concept behind the company name is that we are all united by blue. We all need water to live. Its not a theory; it's a fact.

"Life does not exist without water," says Linton, a seasoned world traveler. "Water on the streets of Philadelphia could be on streets of Beijing years later. If we mistreat water, the implications are for the whole world."
 
To date, UBB has been bootstrapped and is self-sustaining, and Linton says that the company will be looking to raise a round of funding this fall to pursue more retail outlets as well as bolster its online presence.

Source: Brian Linton, United By Blue
Writer: Sue Spolan

Free and Open Source Software Convention coming to Philly next month

The creators and supporters of free and open source software have always bucked the current of commercialization. It's events like FOSSCON, the Free and Open Source Software Convention, that allow developers to gather and gain strength in numbers. FOSSCON 2012 takes place Saturday, Aug. 11, at Venturef0rth at 8th and Callowhill. 
Organizers are looking for free software enthusiasts, user group members, coders and users to join them at the grassroots event, aimed at creating a common meeting place for people all over the Northeast US.
 
"We've been doing FOSSCON for 3 years now," says Jonathan Simpson, event coordinator. "The first year was actually in upstate New York, but we moved to Philly.  I live outside Philly myself so it's personally a lot easier running an event an hour away instead of several." Plus, he adds, Philly is a pretty FOSS-friendly city.
 
The event features six general-interest talks, and workshops on topics including development, community building, hackerspace activities, and more. Ubuntu PA and Hive76 will be on hand for demonstrations and workshops. 
The community will have a chance to explore topics from 3D printing to privacy. Keynote is Bradley M. Kuhn, Executive Director of the Software Freedom Conservancy.
 
"There are other FOSS events around the world and in the US," says Simpson, who mentions CPOSC in Harrisburg, and SELF, which serves the Southeasterm US. "This is the only one that goes by the FOSSCON name, but there is a longer term plan to spawn others."
 
FOSS tends to put control in the hands of users, says Simpson, and that represents a threat to the control of media companies, as well as to most of corporate America. "FOSS, as well as the culture it encourages, endangers that control." Simpson also cites Linode, which has been a conference sponsor for years, as a great example of a successful services based FOSS company.
 
"The temptation to close the source of software is real, especially in the startup world where competition is really aggressive. FOSS are beneficial in the long run, but those benefits are often ignored to protect short term gains. Reminding computer scientists and entrepreneurs of the benefits of FOSS, and that their latest project is 90% dependent of those FOSS softwares, is important work," says Simpson.
 
Basic admission to FOSSCON is free, but organizers encourage attendees to level up to paid admission of $25 to help keep the event open to as many people as possible.

Source: Jonathan Simpson, FOSSCON
Writer: Sue Spolan

Are Energy Commercialization Institute's investments approaching critical mass?

Sometimes it's the small things that make a big difference in energy efficiency. The Energy Commercialization Institute awards grants to cleantech startups with a proven track record.  Bird droppings on solar panels are a literal barrier to efficiency. Not something you think about, but it makes sense. Shu Yang, PhD., a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and one of five recent ECI grant recipients, earned  to develop a nonstick coating for photovoltaic cells.

ECI also funded Drexel profs Emin Caglan Kumbur, Ph.D and Yury Gogotsi, Ph.D for energy storage technology; Alexander Fridman, Ph.D, leading a Drexel University/Temple University team to create clean energy from biomass, coal and organic wastes; a new electrospinning/electrospraying process for energy fuel cells from Drexel's Yossef Elabd, Ph.D; and a Drexel/Penn initiative to create thin-film solar cells from Andrew Rappe, PhD. Total for the recent round was $500,000.
 
The ECI is funded by the State of Pennsylvania and created by a consortium that includes Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Drexel, Penn and Penn State. 
 
It's a new focus on commercialization, says Tony Green, PhD., Director of the ECI as well as its forbear, the Nanotechnology Institute. "The NTI model led to the ECI model which led to EEB Hub," explains Green. "The difference is that NTI is based on a platform, while the ECI is an application." Rather than focus on nanotech, the ECI mission is not about any specific technology. "The buzz phrase is alternative and clean energy."
 
For the first time, says Green, the ECI is now getting metrics on commercialization, licenses and jobs created through ECI grants. While the state-funded NTI has a 10-year track record, Green and company are about to release a semiannual report that credits ECI with the creation of over 50 jobs in the last two years.
 
"We have already accrued almost 150 intellectual property assets, applications and issued patents," says Green. "We've executed 18 licenses and options. With only 700K project funding, we've created three startups in the last year, and that number is going to grow. Universities are doing a lot better at commercializing technology. ECI projects are not technologies that are basic research. The intellectual property already exists."
 
Green looks to MIT and UCSD as big names in higher ed tech commercialization. "We can do the same thing, but not through a single institution. It's a consortium." The cumulative capabilities are much greater, says Green. The ECI also works with small institutions like Fox Chase Cancer Research Center and Philadelphia University, where there might be one researcher doing groundbreaking work. "We want all boats to rise," adds Green.

Source: Anthony Green, ECI
Writer: Sue Spolan

Roots of innovation planted with 15 new Philly Fellows

Literacy, health, poverty, and the greening of the city. It's all in a year's work for the newest recruits to Philly Fellows. Now heading into its seventh session, Philly Fellows was founded by two Haverford College grads with a dual mission: to support recent college graduates as well as urban change.
 
Philly Fellows just announced its newest class of 15, to begin a one year program of service to the city July 30 in cultural, educational and social-service organizations including Philadelphia Youth Network, Project HOME, Calcutta House, Fleisher Art Memorial, and The Pennsylvania Health Law Project. Co-founder Tim Ifill reports that Philly Fellows received a total of 123 applications for the 2012 class.
 
Each Fellow receives $12,191 for the year, health insurance,student loan forbearance, a transportation allowance and a $5,350 education award, all through the AmeriCorps*VISTA program. 
 
They're either graduates of local colleges, primarily Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, Haverford and the University of Pennsylvania, or they grew up in the Delaware Valley and attended schools outside the local area.
 
It's a real world Real World. A gentle extension of college life, each participant commits to 40 hour work weeks at a non-profit, sharing co-ed quarters with 4 to 6 others in one of three group houses located in West Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, or Northern Liberties.

"About two-thirds of our graduates end up staying in Philly, and a handful are hired by their host agencies," reports Ifill, who counts a total of 102 alums, with 16 more graduating from the 2011 program at the end of this month. Erika Slaymaker, who worked at Project HOME this year, says. "I am staying on next year to continue to implement the projects that I started as a Philly Fellow.  Julia Cooper, who is a part of the incoming group of Philly Fellows, will be joining me to create an Environmental Sustainability Team at Project HOME."
 
The deadline for applications to next year's class is January 2013, and host agency deadline is November 2012.

Source: Tim Ifill, Erika Slaymaker, Philly Fellows
Writer: Sue Spolan
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