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Trippy puzzle game-maker Cipher Prime blooms in Old City, to release CD of game tunes

Cipher Prime has the market cornered on the music of beauty, and the beauty of music. The startup game developer based in Old City recently released Fractal: Make Blooms Not War on the Steam network, which Cipher Prime co-founder and Creative Director William Stallwood terms the largest game distribution platform in the world, for Mac or PC in English, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.

With in-game titles like Clustodial Duties and Bippity Boppity Bloom, Fractal is a good example of Cipher Prime's philosophy of fun, creating a new genre of trippy puzzle games.

"I like pretty pictures and colors," jokes Stallwood, who is responsible for the gorgeous graphics that set apart Cipher Prime games like its newest title, Pulse: Volume One, which Stallwood says was the number one selling iPad music game in the world in May 2011, and Auditorium, the team's first title and its largest revenue generator.

Like the other titles in the Cipher Prime catalog, Pulse is easy to learn and hard to put down. A review in Digitally Downloaded called the newest release of Fractal " a thoroughly charming and chilled out little puzzle game." 

Co-founder Dain Saint is the soundtrack powerhouse of the duo, and Cipher Prime's music is set to spin off, with an upcoming CD release of game tunes.

Stallwood says the three and a half year old company is about to launch a fourth title, Splice, in the next month, although he cannot furnish details just yet. Stallwood, who is from South Jersey and attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia, and Saint, who grew up in North Jersey, are able to make a living having fun. Auditorium was a web based game that was then launched on iPhone, PS3 and PSP.

Fractal, built using Flash, initially didn't do as well, says Stallwood, hence the new and improved relaunch on Steam. Pulse began life as an iPad only game, and has won many awards, with 10,000 downloads a day at the outset, and currently purchased an average of 100 times a day, at a price of $2.99. Fractal is available at the iTunes store for $1.99, and Auditorium on Steam sells for $6.99 per download.

Source: William Stallwood, Cipher Prime
Writer: Sue Spolan

Temple grad's ad-automating blog tool 123LinkIt acquired by national syndication network

It is possible to make money in your sleep. Yasmine Mustafa, founder and CEO of 123LinkIt.com, has created such a successful affiliate marketing tool for use on Wordpress blogs that the company has been acquired by Netline Corporation, a national B2B syndication network. Mustafa is now onsite at the company's east coast office in Lansdale, where she is serving as Product Marketing Manager.

123LinkIt automates the advertising process for bloggers. Once you install the Wordpress plug-in, 123LinkIt does the work for you, finding keywords in your blog and creating hyperlinks to places like Amazon and other online retailers.
As a blogger, you don't have to do anything special to make money. There are no ads on the side of your page. There are no annoying pop-ups when the reader rolls over particular words. A 123LinkIt hyperlink looks like any other. The magic is under the hood.

"What's special is it has a tracking code," says Mustafa of the link, which drops a cookie in the reader's browser. "When someone buys the item mentioned in the blog, it lets us know there was a sale involved. We split the commission with the blogger, who gets 85 percent, and we take 15 percent." With over 20,000 dowloads of the 123LinkIt software, those commissions add up.

Mustafa, who grew up in Royersford, Montgomery County and attended Temple University as an entrepreneurship major, was struggling with her own blog readership and advertising revenue when she hit on a winning formula one day, almost by accident. "I wasn't seeing results, so I forgot about it. Usually my posts took hours to write and research, but one day I was on the train, and wrote a silly post on the top 20 entrepreneurial quotes. It blew up. The first day I had 20,000 hits. There was advertising on that post.  The next month, I got all these checks from AdSense and Commission Junction and I realized there is something here." Mustafa found the process of creating links to be time consuming, so she came up with the idea of automating the process, enlisting the help of developer John Bunting, who developed the first version of the product.

123LinkIt first targeted mom bloggers, says Mustafa, because they know how to engage their readers and promote their blogs, they write about products, and are not necessarily tech savvy, so an automated plug-in is ideal. The next groups 123LinkIt will target are fashion and technology bloggers. The company is part of Philadev Ventures.

Mustafa is a frequent tweeter, and has hinted at the announcement regarding 123LinkIt's upcoming deal on social media, so stay tuned to her twitter account @myasmine for details in the next few weeks. 

Source: Yasmine Mustafa, 123LinkIt
Writer: Sue Spolan

One-stop IT shop Transcend United continues to expand footprint, hiring in Wayne

From headquarters in stately Wayne, Transcend United Technologies is taking over the world of IT and telecom through mergers and acquisitions. The company originally known as Fastech is on a fast track, acquiring nationally to provide infrastructure, networking, telephony, data center optimization and more, becoming a one-stop shop for the CIO.

"Historically, a CIO might be approached by two to four vendors," says
Transcend United's CEO Rick Hirsh. "We saw that was inefficient." Companies, he says, have an easier time dealing with one partner.  While Hirsh says Transcend United isn't 100-percent vendor neutral, he terms his offerings vendor agnostic. The newest challenge for his company, and for IT in general, is keeping up with the explosion of wireless bandwidth requirements. Employees now have WiFi enabled smartphones, laptops and tablets. "Estimates of how they would use the network weren't even close," explains Hirsh of the BYOD revolution (Bring Your Own Device).

"We started with a strategy in 2009 to change Fastech’s model," says Hirsh.  "That strategy was based on the convergence of IT and telecom, the fact that most mid-market VARs were only successful at either IT or Telecom, but not both, and that we could build scale on both geography and breadth of solutions."

Fastech, originated in the Philadelphia area. Hirsh engineered the acquisition of two Philadelphia area companies, and another two in the upper Midwest, with a current total of 115 employees, 15 of whom were hired this year. Roughly half of the company works out of the Wayne facility, with centers of activity in Minneapolis and Omaha. "We can grow organically at about the speed that the tech market grows, which is 20-25 percent," says Hirsh of his company that is two-thirds employee owned.

Transcend United continues to hire in sales and marketing, and plans to acquire more companies in the near future.

Source: Rick Hirsh, Transcend United Technologies
Writer: Sue Spolan

Change By Us launches as virtual, social Post It note for community innovation

It would be great to stick a Post It note on the front door of City Hall. Philadelphia's new Change By Us initiative, officially launched last week, offers citizens the virtual and social networked version of the Post It experience. The Knight Foundation, one of the project's funders along with The Rockefeller Foundation, also announced that it has thrown $25,000 into the mix, divided in a way to be determined, with the understanding that the funds will help facilitate community generated change in Philadelphia, according to Knight's Donna Frisby-Greenwood.

So far, says Jeff Friedman, Manager of Civic Innovation and Participation in the Mayor's Office, the Change By Us website has attracted 229 users who have generated 234 ideas, from poetic to prosaic. For example: "We've started our own grassroots campaign in Old City named Scoop the Poop Campaign. Our slogan is "No Pile Left Behind," reads one note. While there are many similar ideas having to do with pets and regulation of their behavior, there is also a groundswell of support for better use of community centers and public facilities. "The way the world communicates is changing," remarked Mayor Michael Nutter during the Change By Us press conference. "As social media evolves, the City of Philadelphia is at the forefront." Of the 234 ideas, 32 projects have so far been created on the site.

An important aspect of Change By Us is connecting citizens with resources, and a section of the site, which was developed with the help of the Philadelphia's Code for America fellows, offers one click connections to the East Park Revitalization Alliance, Congreso, and The Center City District, among dozens of others.

The second city in America to adopt Change By Us, Philadelphia is following the blueprint of the recently launched New York City Change By Us program, developed through a $100,000 initial grant, according to Jake Barton, whose group Local Projects created the New York version and acted as consultant for the local initiative. Going forward, Barton announced that the Change By Us platform is open source, freely available to every village, town, city or megalopolis.

The Philadelphia initiative has its own public service announcement, created by PhillyCAM, featuring local leaders like Young Involved Philly's Claire Robertson-Kraft and Department of Parks and Recreation's Mike Deberardinis telling viewers they are listening. Kraft says, "Jeff and I were talking about the priorities of the Change By Us program, and our three choices were smarter, safer and greener." Rather than attempt to choose one of the three, says Robertson, the Change By Us tagline includes all three goals. "There are projects on Change By Us that are similar to ideas generated at State of Young Philly."

Friedman adds that Change By Us can eliminate duplicate efforts. If a community group has improved a park in Northeast Philly, people in South Philly can find out about it, reducing time and sharing resources, he explains. Response leaders, says Friedman, will monitor projects coming in to steer them to the right departments and organizations.

Source: Jeff Friedman, Michael Nutter, City of Philadelphia, Claire Robertson-Kraft, Young Involved Philly
Writer: Sue Spolan

PhilaDev's Musemaka hopes to spawn frictionless startups with $5,000 contest

If you've got an idea for a frictionless startup, then you have a shot at winning $5,000, no strings attached.

Philadev Ventures, the startup accelerator, has just launched Musemaka.com. A maximum of 200 entrants vie for one slot, paying a $100 entry fee. The winner gets a $5,000 budget to create a company. "We hold a challenge open until it has 200 entrants or for a period of three months, whichever comes first," says Philadev co-founder Chris Myers. "During a three-month period, we could fill one challenge or five. Whatever the number, winners are announced 30 days after a particular challenge closes."

Phil Ives, who co-founded Philadev with Myers, defines a frictionless startup as any business idea that costs little or nothing to start. Take the example of a blog. "If you are the writer, and you act as editor, it costs no money to start," says Ives. "Another example is a startup that begins with the design of a physical widget which can be outsourced to China, and requires a three to four thousand dollar initial investment to start selling products."

Philadev has been in business for one year, and Ives says of the six initial companies under its wings, two are about to launch publicly, although he cannot divulge details just yet.

"We have a couple of startups in our accelerator that would be better for this," says Ives of the inspiration for Musemaka. "For us as Philadev, if they don't raise venture or sell their idea, we can never see revenue."

Philadev will not take equity from Musemaka companies, but Ives is open to a future equity relationship. "It's a way for us to discover new startups," he says.

Ives is greatly influenced by the work of Tim Ferriss, whose bestselling book outlines the concept of the Four Hour Work Week. Ferriss defines a muse as an idea that can be tested for under $500, automated within 4 weeks and maintained within a maximum of one hour per week.

"The rolling nature of the application process is important because it helps to address the startup discovery problem I identify on the site regarding Y Combinator.," says Myers. "That's the most extreme example, but it is really difficult to imagine  how any venture group that employs business judgment to evaluate submissions is capable of handling 520,000 submissions a year, as Y Combinator does.

"The result is probably lots of good startups left out of the running. Their application numbers to class size gives startups something along the order of a 1 in 5,000 chance," adds Myers, who also indicates that an applicant has a better chance of getting into Harvard than Y Combinator. 

Says Ives: "This contest addresses a big piece missing from existing small business development organizations. Those places seem really good at helping people open up a physical retail space, but they haven't really cracked the nut on software as a service."

Money, he adds, is never the reason a business doesn't get built. And a big part of the Musemaka package is sage advice from Philadev, including when to call in the high priced lawyers, and when to start small and build.

Ives and Myers have just begun the process of getting the word out about Musemaka, and expect applications to start rolling in within the next month or so.

Source: Phil Ives, Chris Myers, Musemaka
Writer: Sue Spolan

Inhabi adds dynamic control to more easily match renters with landlords

It's one thing to use Craigslist to hook up or buy some furniture. It's quite another challenge to find an apartment that way. A new startup called Inhabi adds new dimensions and quality control to the process of matching renters with landlords.

Jameel Farruk, who founded Inhabi with partner David Friedman, has a pretty sweet apartment. While it's quite small (around 300 square feet), the location is killer: right in Center City, just steps away from a dozen popular bars and restaurants, and perfect for the single entrepreneur.

"Technology should make it an easier experience for the renter," says Farruk, who likens current online offerings to a digitized version of newspaper ads. With Inhabi, by contrast, renters don't bear the full burden of finding the right place to live. Inhabi plugs properties into a database so that renters can search for things like hardwood floors, whether the owner allows pets, and if parking is part of the package.

After filling out an online form which collects details about the renter's self reported income, credit score and desired neighborhood, Inhabi offers a list of available units sortable by price, location and size. If a desirable apartment pops up, the renter can submit a request to the landlord with one click.

Farruk and Friedman met while at Venmo,  the mobile payments startup that moved from Philly to NYC earlier this year. Friedman's background is in real estate, having spent the previous decade as an agent and Vice President of Operations at the Philadelphia division of Coldwell Banker. Originally, their idea was more of a scheduling tool for showing apartments, and the pair was accepted to Betaspring, an entrepreneurial incubator in Rhode Island in the summer of 2011.

"We launched the product halfway through the program, took it to market, and decided to scrap it," recalls Farruk. While the original idea was well liked by landlords and renters, it did not help property owners screen potential lessees. "They didn't want to commit without knowing who was showing up," he says. The evolved offering benefits both parties.

Farruk is a transplant to Philadelphia, having grown up in the Washington, DC area. Philly's central location and affordable housing stock figured into the decision to launch Inhabi here. "The city's biggest strength is all the educational institutions that supply people to pick the product apart. They have no fear in telling you how much you suck," says Farruk, adding that Philadelphia is great for local talent. including designers, programmers, and people to help with marketing.

Farruk says that Inhabi is now bootstrapped, and the revenue will come in part from lead generation and in part, he hopes, from one of the many real estate investment firms headquartered here. The service is free of charge to renters, and owner and renter remain anonymous until both agree to share information.

Source: Jameel Farruk, inhabi
Writer: Sue Spolan

SBN's Social Venture Institute aims to 'change the way people run businesses'

Philadelphia continues to grow in its national leadership role as a center for all things green and sustainable. This weekend, The Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia hosts the 2011 Social Venture Institute, a two-day seminar with the mission of growing green businesses now in its ninth year.

"The Social Venture Institute is our region's premier sustainable business event. SVI was one of the first conferences to discuss the Triple Bottom Line business model of incorporating People, Planet and Profit into a business’ success," says Jennifer Devor, Events Manager at SBN. "While the audience is primarily from the Greater Philadelphia area, we do have a handful of entrepreneurs coming from around the country. We have people registering from as far away as Washington State."

Mayor Michael Nutter, who was handily re-elected for a second term last week, emphasized the role of Philadelphia as a center of sustainability in his acceptance speech:

"Four years ago I said that Philly could be the greenest city in the United States of America. Today the federal government is investing $130 million at our Navy Yard to build a clean tech hub, our recycling rate is three times higher than it has ever been, and we are one of the leading cities in America taking advantage of the growth in the green economy."

The Social Venture Institute (SVI) will take place at The Hub, self-proclaimed as the only privately held LEED Silver certified meeting space in the country. Rather than keynotes, SVI has True Confession Speakers, including Paul Saginaw, co-owner of Michigan based Zingerman's Community of Businesses, and MaryAnne Howland, owner and president of Nashville, Tenn., ad agency Ibis Communications.

The schedule, aimed at teaching "entrepreneurs how to run successful businesses that have a positive social and environmental impact," includes workshops and networking sessions that cover topics from finance to social media. Devor expects around 200 attendees and 30 experts, including representatives from Praxis Consulting Group, Women’s Business Development Center, Valley Green Bank, and Technically Philly.

"This conference is about learning how to balance your business goals with your passions and change the way people run businesses," says Devor.

Eighty scholarships, funded by The Prudential Foundation, are available to minority entrepreneurs and low-income applicants and reduce the cost to $40; full price tickets range from $45 to 180, depending on the number of sessions you'd like to attend. Both scholarship and full price tickets are still available.

Source: Jennifer Devor, Sustainable Business Network, Mayor Michael Nutter, City of Philadelphia
Writer: Sue Spolan

No NBA, no problem: These Philly6ers help you find beer

Then twenty-somethings Matt Joyce and Tim Ifill were having the same kind of friendly planning conversation a few years ago that many people have across the city every night. The friends, who in 2004 founded Philly Fellows, the organization that works to create a pipeline of talent for city nonprofits, were pondering where they could stop off and get a six-pack of beer to bring to a social gathering.

In some states, it's a non-issue. You can't walk 50 feet without running into a convenient takeout spot. In Pennsylvania, however, it's a little different, what with its complicated and antiquated liquor laws. Different levels of costly licenses, and the seemingly random stipulations that come attached to them, create a maze of sorts for six-pack hunters.

That led Joyce, 30, over the last few months to create Philly6ers, an online resource for easily locating and rating nearby pizza shops and delis that sell takeout beer. The site has approached 1,500 visitors in the last week, according to Joyce, and he is already planning a mobile app and statewide expansion (PA6ers).

"It seems to address a pretty commonly held frustration in Philly, so the general feedback has been positive," Joyce says. He is still weighing an official launch event and whether he'll try to make the site profitable. Having worked his entire career in the nonprofit sector -- most recently for the William Penn Foundation – the Philadelphia resident is mostly focused on making the site a strong resource rather than a business.

Joyce pulled data from licensing information from the PA Liquor Control Board for all "E" licensed retailers in the city. That license is typically issued to eateries to sell takeout beer. Not a complete stranger to building websites – he and Ifil built the Philly Fellows site – Joyce leaned on Google to make the data presentable and functional.

"It ties in so nicely to Google spreadsheets and forms and now something called Fusion Tables, that if you know a little bit of Excel and can make data tables relate to each other, Google makes it easy to present this data online," Joyce says. "It's fun."

Philly6ers has already taught Joyce a thing or two. For one, some areas of Philly are relative beer deserts, like Fishtown and Port Richmond, which, according to the site, are practically devoid of licensed takeout spots. Joyce wonders why some areas are like that, while most of West Philly is covered with licensed establishments. Also, Joyce has discovered that the seemingly random and usually empty seating areas at small delis are mandated by law. Topics like these are covered on the Philly6ers blog.

One thing Joyce says he'll have to negotiate is how to handle bars that are licensed to sell six-packs. While many of us have asked nicely and overpaid for a brown paper bag full of loose cans or bottles of beer in an establishment that might technically allowed to sell takeout, Joyce does not want to dilute the Philly6ers database with those bars. Rather, he wants to include only those state-appointed "R" retailers with real capacity to do so. Since that data is not easily attainable, user feedback will be key.

Joyce is thrilled that he is already hearing feedback from those who have successfully used the resource. He jokes that the 76ers might send him a cease and desist order.

"But I have to imagine the Sixers organization is just as interested in knowing which delis sell beer as the rest of us," he says.

Source: Matt Joyce, Philly6ers
Writer: Joe Petrucci

NoLibs-based RezScore helps jobseekers to the top of the resume pile

What if you could get an objective grade on your resume? RezScore, a Philadelphia based startup, wants to see you with an A-plus. Founded by Sean Weinberg and Gerrit Hall, the free and simple process runs your resume through an algorithm that delivers instant results.

Weinberg was working as a recruiter at AC Lion, a New York firm specializing in staffing startups. "We were noticing trends within the volume of job seekers," says Weinberg. "If people knew about these trends and how they worked, they could create more effective resumes." Time and again, says Weinberg, certain types of resumes scored interviews, while others were ignored.

As a test, I asked if we could put my resume through the engine. But first, Weinberg provided helpful tips. One: your resume should resemble a magazine ad with a call to action. Two: your headline needs to be ten words or less. Three: use bullet points. Four: use adverbs and numbers. "People forget to be specific," says Weinberg. "People respond to action descriptions: I did this, I accomplished that. Here's the number attached. It tells the employer you are a doer."

Weinberg adds, "Anything that adds context and demonstrates value is good. People think they can't quantify what they do and they are usually wrong. They just haven't thought about the right angle." Stay away from putting references on the resume, and "References available upon request" can date you, he says. Better to use LinkedIn for colleague recommendations.

After a few tweaks, we sent my resume through the RezScore process. Got an A. Then got a follow up email, offering several paid options: sign up with Resume Rabbit, which allows you to register for the top job boards in one centralized location, a resume makeover, and an entire resume rewrite. Cost for the tiers is competitive with other resume writing and distribution services. "No one is more vulnerable than a job seeker," says Weinberg. "We like to give as much help as possible for free." Top scoring resumes are invited to the global leaderboard.

Weinberg calls his company ramen noodle profitable, and looks forward to potentially lucrative future partnerships and licensing deals. Rezscore's writers are now employed on a contract basis. Weinberg, whose company is headquartered in Northern Liberties, hopes to hire full time staff soon.

Source: Sean Weinberg, RezScore
Writer: Sue Spolan

Copyright, innovation and whack-a-mole: Protecting technological innovation in the 21st century

"I've been thinking a lot about Napster," says Rutgers-Camden law professor Michael Carrier. "Google just gave me a research award to examine the effects of Napster on digital innovation." Nice gig if you can get it, and Carrier gets it.

The author of Innovation for the 21st Century: Harnessing the Power of Intellectual Property and Antitrust Law, which came out in paperback earlier this year, Carrier promotes a new way to look at copyright, anti-trust and patent law as technology rapidly and dramatically changes commerce in several areas, including media, pharmaceuticals and innovation.

Ever since the advent of the VCR, issues of copying and sharing have kept courts busy. "Peer to peer offers real benefits to consumers," says Carrier, who points to the concept of dual purpose use, where a technology can be used for both infringement and non-infringement. As long as there is a single substantial non-infringing use, the technology should be upheld, he explains.

Carrier's work also extends to brand name and generic pharmaceutical products, a topic close to home, with the world's largest drug manufacturers within a 100 mile radius of Philadelphia. The big brands, says Carrier, pay generic makers out of court settlements to keep them off the pharmacy shelves. "The brand company is able to pay $100 million, which is a drop in the bucket for the billion it will make. The problem is that consumers don't have access to generic drugs," says Carrier.

On a grander scale, when asked if Carrier's bent is pro-consumer, he responds, "That's such a loaded term. Pro-consumer is consistent with what I am doing, but I would characterize it as pro-innovation." says the Rutgers-Camden prof, who also mentions threats to locally based media giant Comcast.

Two controversial bills were recently introduced into the U.S. Congress. The Protect IP Act, now known as the E-PARASITE Act (S. 968), goes after piracy and rogue sites all around the world. While E-PARASITE may be too controversial to move through congress, yet another bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, was just introduced into the House on Oct. 26.

"It's a whack-a-mole game, designed to allow the government, and even private parties to shut down websites. The proposed laws are not as nuanced as those we have now," explains Carrier. "Internet service providers like Comcast would have to take measures to make sure these sites would not be able to be accessed."

While Carrier says anti-corporate sentiment is fashionable these days, he adds, "I don't know if I need to go that far. I believe in patents. Patents are needed for innovation, and for companies to able to make money." Rather, Carrier stands against the overly aggressive use of laws that limit innovation across a wide range of business practices.

Source: Michael Carrier, Rutgers-Camden Law
Writer: Sue Spolan

Welcome to the Novotorium: The suburban tech incubator funded by astrology and hookup lines

On a brisk fall night in Langhorne, Occupy Novotorium was going down. A publicity stunt that drew local police, three tents were set up at the entrance to Bucks County's newest tech incubator, compete with drum circle.

Novotorium, a concierge-level tech incubator, opened its doors last week to show off a full service facility aimed at mid-level startups that want to grow bigger. At no cost to participants, and with no contract up front, Novotorium offers a three month residency that includes brand new skylit offices, a fully outfitted fitness room, a data center and spacious kitchen. Currently, the space, located above Voice Systems Engineering (VSE) Inc., has room for 10 people, with lots of room for expansion.

"Novotorium seeks entrepreneurs who are at least beyond proof of concept and have some sort of product launched, and  looking to grow and become profitable," says Mike Krupit, Novotorium's General Manager. "Most incubators focus on seed stage startups, making entrepreneurs venture-fundable, and plan for an exit. Our structure is not fixed like that of many incubators. We develop a program specific to the strengths and challenges, needs, and goals of the company."

The incubator is funded by Baron Innovation Group, the venture arm of Gary Baron, Founder/CEO of VSE and Vector180, also housed in the same building. That means Novotorium gets its funding in part from the profits of VSE's many websites, which include 1-800-gaylive.com, astrosource.com, and psychicsource.com. Vector180's website describes itself as "hospitality solutions for WiFi and surveillance."

"Our goal is to have two companies start in December. If we find our assumptions to be correct, the plan for 2012 would be an additional 12 companies," says Krupit, who is the former CIO of VSE.

Following the three month period, startups are free to go, and if they stay on, negotiate a contract that includes an equity share by Novotorium that will be determined on a per company basis, according to Maria Collins, Novotorium's Creative Director.

"Since we have only started taking applications this past week, it may be difficult to generalize the types of businesses that are applying," adds Krupit. "We have seen interest from information technologies, online services, offline services that are enabled by technologies, including one in the education space, and even an online radio company."

Source: Mike Krupit, Maria Collins, Novotorium
Writer: Sue Spolan

GPIC report: Energy efficiency work could mean $618M in local spending, 23,500 jobs

Energy efficiency retrofits at nearly half of our region's commercial buildings could mean $618 million in local spending and support 23,500 jobs, according to a report issued on Monday by the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster.

The Philadelphia Navy Yard-based GPIC, a 24-institution, $129 million consortium funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies, also issued a report detailing programs and policies already encouraging retrofits and further steps the region can take. Both reports can be found here.

The University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Mark Alan Hughes, the leader of the Policy, Markets and Behavior task team at GPIC, says in a news release that the reports "provide ample evidence that the Philadelphia region is well-situated to take advantage of the economic opportunities inherent in energy efficiency retrofits."

According to the main report, conducted by Econsult Corporation, 47 percent (or 4,201 buildings) of the region's commercial and flex-industrial space between 20,000-100,000 square feet are potential retrofit candidates.

Cozen O'Connor staff compiled the secondary report, which examines laws, regulations, financial incentives, contracts and public bidding requirements to encourage energy efficiency retrofits.

"Removing barriers and employing new policy tools to spur retrofits will not only save energy, but also grow jobs and stimulate the regional economy," says Hughes.

Source: Christine Knapp, GPIC
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Search challenger DuckDuckGo expands to new office in Paoli, hiring

How much smaller is the bubble going to get? If Google and Facebook have anything to say about it, predictive search will narrow your results to the size of bath bubbles, one cell of information at a time.

Enter DuckDuckGo, a search engine challenger to the big guys that aims to burst the bubble, offering a disruptive paradigm worth $3 million in recently raised first round VC funding, which also allows for DuckDuckGo's physical expansion, from self-funded, home-based business to offices in Paoli by next month. The company now has two full time employees and four contractors, with plans to double staff by the end of 2012.

MIT-educated Gabriel Weinberg is the mind behind the engine. He launched his company in 2008, garnering national press. "I was well aware of Google's domination but it didn't phase me," says Weinberg. "It's not my goal to make a dent. One of my reasons for starting DuckDuckGo was the feeling that Google was too cluttered with ads and commercial results." 

Ad clutter's not the only thing DuckDuckGoes after. Another feature is Zero Click, aka goodies, which are all free and open source. Type your query into the search box to get instant results for complex calculations, recipes, and statistics, rather than just links to web pages with answers. Weinberg and team are adding new features constantly, with growing contributions via open source channels.

To get the eye of the tech elite, DuckDuckGo rented a high traffic billboard in the SF Bay area at a cost of $7000 for two weeks. Weinberg, who grew up in Atlanta and went to school in Boston, strategically chose the Philadelphia area, and specifically Valley Forge, to raise a family and grow the business.

Weinberg attributes the surge of interest in DuckDuckGo as "a bunch of threads coming together," citing an increase in people looking for alternatives and growing concern about spam and privacy.

On privacy, and its increasing lack thereof, Weinberg says, "A large percentage of people would like their privacy reasonably protected if they had real choices and were educated on the issues."

Source: Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo
Writer: Sue Spolan

Open Access Philly: Empowering the intersection of data and community

Here comes the promise of Mayor Nutter. In less than two years, Jeff Friedman has revolutionized Philadelphia's role in connecting community engagement and technology. On Oct. 28, Friedman, manager of the Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation & Participation, hosted Crowdsourcing at the Intersection, a free all-day Open Access Philly conference.

Speakers at the Science Center's Quorum included crowd pleasers Robert Cheetham, Alex Hillman, Geoff Dimasi, Desiree Peterkin-Bell and Paul Wright, co-leader of the forum and Comcast's project manager for Local Media Development and the new Project Open Voice initiative.

Mayor Michael Nutter, who offered remarks right at the top of the program, announced that Philadelphia's efforts have won a top-10 place on the Public Technology Institute's list of Citizen Engaged Communities. "We are in the customer service business," says Nutter of the city government's outreach strategy, in which open data and constant communication is crucial. During his speech, Nutter tweeted a photograph of the audience to prove his point.

Friedman stated as his broad goal a movement without strict membership rules convened to articulate a shared vision for open access to data. Cheetham's company Azavea, in partnership with NPowerPA, Technically Philly, and The William Penn Foundation, created the Open Data Race, and Cheetham announced winners at the forum.

Out of dozens of contenders, first place went to Public School Notebook, which wants data on where Philadelphia public school students go after 12th grade; in close second place, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia requested information on bike thefts, and third place went to Conservation Pennsylvania for vacant land data. In addition to information, winners receive cash prizes of up to $2,000.

Source: Jeff Friedman, Mayor Michael Nutter, City of Philadelphia; Robert Cheetham, Azavea
Writer: Sue Spolan

Philly Tech Meetup's rapid growth bodes well for region's brightest startups

In a matter of months, Philly Tech Meetup has grown into a force to be reckoned with. Rohan Mehta, founder and organizer of the monthly event, says he was inspired by New York Tech Meetup, which regularly draws a crowd of a thousand. Judging by the rapid growth of the local Tech Meetup, Philly isn’t too far behind.

According to the PTM website, 233 attended the Oct. 26 evening gathering, held at Quorum inside the University City Science Center. A show of hands indicated that over half were first-timers. PTM already has almost a thousand members in total.

"PTM exists to advance entrepreneurship and innovation in the region," says Mehta. "Our focus is on hosting productive events that engage and inspire. Our goal is to build a sustainable tech ecosystem, and that begins by convening all stakeholders regularly to learn and share."

This month, Lokalty, Spling and Ajungo gave demos in front of a standing room only crowd that was overwhelmingly male, although diverse in age and ethnicity. Of the several hundred in attendance, about a dozen were women.

Lokalty, a cross referenced loyalty program, gave the example of going to a spa, then getting a discount at a nearby coffee shop. While the startup has plenty of competition, it differentiates its offer by allowing users to accumulate universal points. Currently there are seven participating retailers, all in Center City.

Ajungo officially launched at PTM. The initiative mashes up social media with travel; notably, sports fans who follow their teams to away games. Members can connect, post pictures and reviews, and in the future, earn rewards.

DreamIt Ventures company Spling announced it has received a Series A round of funding from a Menlo Park, California VC firm, even though the startup is still in pre-launch. Also social in nature, Spling participants share and discover online media. Founders Billy McFarland and Mac Cordrey say they already have 2,000 users in the closed beta.

Philly Tech Meetup has been the darling of local startups; since February, rapid growth companies including Launchrock, CloudMine, RezScore, Storably, and ElectNext have been among the presenters. There is also a brand new Philly Tech Meetup website.

Mehta also announced the upcoming Tech Arts Beer (TAB) Festival, to take place in Spring 2012, gathering entrepreneurs from all three disciplines. You can sign up for one of the planning committees.

The next Philly Tech Meetup will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at the Quorum. It’s free to attend. Startups that wish to present can apply for a spot on the agenda.

Source: Rohan Mehta, Philly Tech Meetup
Writer: Sue Spolan
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