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Comcast and PEC team up to boost digital literacy

If you're a regular subway commuter, you've probably spotted one of the poster-sized Comcast advertisements touting Internet Essentials, the company's heavily discounted broadband Internet service for low-income Philadelphians.
 
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 26, as part of Comcast's 13th annual day of employee community service, the multimedia juggernaut will attempt to take its broadband-for-all philosophy one step further by hosting an entirely free computer education event, the Digital Resources Fair, in a temporary pop-up location at 3846 Lancaster Avenue in West Philly's Mantua neighborhood. 
 
According to Bob Smith, Comcast's VP of Community Investment, the company has been hosting digital literacy classes for low-income locals throughout the city for years now. The upcoming Digital Resource Fair is an opportunity for Comcast, along with volunteers from the People's Emergency Center (PEC), which is co-hosting the event, to bundle together a series of basic computer and Internet education workshops with one-on-one assistance from specially-trained volunteers.  
 
"The backbone of the day," explains Smith, will involve a number of "short, very easy to succeed at workshops" on topics that include search engines and email, and finding and applying for jobs online. Attendees will also learn where low-cost computers are available for purchase, and how to access free and low-cost Internet service throughout the city.  
 
Smith points out that the Digital Resources Fair is a no-strings-attached event. No appointments are required and participants need not be Comcast customers.

"Relevancy has been a big barrier to Internet connections for a lot of low-income families," he says. "What we're trying to do is help people understand that there's something in it for them when they sign up for the Internet."  
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Bob Smith, Comcast; Tan Vu, People's Emergency Center




Philly's newest collaborative workspace now accepting applications

The independent workforce in Philadelphia certainly isn't hurting for shared workspaces. In fact, during the TEDxPhiladelphia conference in late-March, a speaker shared a PowerPoint slide featuring the logos of roughly a dozen local co-working spots, a number of which have opened over the last two years.
 
Now the University City Science Center and Drexel University have announced the launch of the city's latest flexible workspace, known as the Innovation Center @3401. In order to differentiate themselves, they've crafted a specific mission.

"We don't think of the Innovation Center strictly as a co-working space," explains the Science Center's Christopher Liang. "It was designed very purposely to house a mix of residents."
 
The Center was also designed to fill a gap in the University City incubation and startup spectrum. The Science Center's Quorum, for instance, is a social gathering place for local entrepreneurs, while its Port incubator is home to offices and labs.
 
"We've been talking for some time about how we can broaden our offerings to include companies that maybe don't need wet labs," says Liang. "So, the Innovation Center is related to a desire to be more inclusive of the entrepreneurial community -- particularly the tech companies that are starting to become so important to the city."
 
The Center is currently accepting applications from potential residents, which will include a mix of investors, entrepreneurs, startups and stand-alone professionals.

"We're less concerned about the structural format of the residents," adds Liang. "[We're] more concerned with their ability to fit within the general theme of [being] tech and digital creatives."
 
The Innovation Center @3401 plans to open its doors in early June.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Christopher Liang, University City Science Center



Nab tickets for the 2014 Filadelfia Latin American Film Festival

Thirteen percent of Philadelphia's population is now of Hispanic or Latino descent -- that's nearly 200,000 people within the city limits alone. The organizers of the third annual Filadelfia Latin American Film Festival (FLAFF) -- the only annual festival of its sort in the Greater Philadelphia area -- have released the scheduled lineup for this three-day event, which runs April 25-27 at The University of the Arts, the Kimmel Center and International House Philadelphia. This year's films represent a diverse range of Latin countries and include full-length features, documentaries, shorts and even a family-friendly animated film from Uruguay.

Standouts include Cesar's Last Fast, a film about a one-man hunger strike held by Cesar Chavez in an effort to shine a light on the negative effects of pesticides, and Yo, Indocumentada, an exploration of the Venezuelan transgender community.    
 
According to FLAFF co-organizer Beatriz Vieira, "part of what we want to do [with FLAFF] is to make sure the audiences are being built very, very carefully." To that end, a fair amount of community engagement has been baked into the festival, she says, "to make sure [it] has a lot of relevance for the region."
 
For example, a student member of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians will discuss the struggles of learning to read and write as an adult following the screening of Las Analfabetas, a Chilean film about a middle-aged illiterate woman. FLAFF is also partnering with The Food Trust and Fair Food; representatives from both groups will discuss their work with the audience after the screening of Cesar's Last Fast.   
 
Click here to view film trailers or purchase tickets.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Beatriz Vieira, FLAFF

 

Downingtown's Victory Brewing Company announces its summer beer lineup

According to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, a trade group responsible for supporting the craft beer industry in the United States, that industry is now worth some $4 billion in Pennsylvania alone.  
 
And the Commonwealth's largest craft beer producer? That would be Downingtown-based Victory Brewing Company, best known for its wildly popular india pale ale, HopDevil.   
 
Victory also has a reputation for its limited releases and seasonal brews. They recently announced their upcoming summer lineup, which includes a variety 12-pack known as Summer Selection, as well as the return of Victory's WildDevil IPA, a Belgian twist on its flagship beer.
 
But the summer lineup's most unusual offering is a rotating IPA series known as Moving Parts, which will be released in a staggered series of "batches" -- the recipe will be slightly tweaked every four months.  
 
"We're referring to it as our 'ever-evolving IPA,'" says Victory's Melissa Thomas. "The idea behind it is that in each release in the series, there will be a part that 'moves. [Moving Parts] celebrates the simple yet really cool ingredients in beer. It's kind of fun for consumers, to have an idea of how just one small change to an ingredient can really have a significant impact on the flavor profile."
 
Along with WildDevil IPA and the Summer Selection 12-pack (which will include the Visit Philly-commissioned Summer Love Ale), the first release in the Moving Parts series, MP01, will be available in May.
 
Source: Melissa Thomas, Victory Brewing Company
Writer: Dan Eldridge
 


Startup PHL announces 2014 Call for Ideas grant winners

The local entrepreneurial initiative known as Startup PHL has announced the 2014 winners of its second Call for Ideas grant round. This particular round focused specifically on the matter of student engagement with Philadelphia’s tech community.
 
Five micro-grants have been awarded to local internship programs, business incubators and boot camps that plan to hold seminars, workshops and various other programs aimed at area students.
 
Here is a complete list of the winners and their ideas:
 
PennApps Fellows Internship Program received up to $25,000 to fund 10 internships. The program will connect student interns from across the nation to Philadelphia-based companies for a 10-week internship during summer 2014.

Philadelphia Fashion Incubator received $25,000 to create a series of monthly seminars, panels and interactive workshops focused on the business of fashion.

Zivtech Developer Boot Camp was awarded $24,000 to support a six-week developer bootcamp for a class of 30 participants.

NextFab Fellows Co-op Program received $25,000 to support four co-op fellowships. Students will receive training and materials while gaining experience working with NextFab companies in need of talent.

Technical.ly and Philly Startup Leaders were awarded $25,000 to create and execute a series of eight workshops to better connect the PHL tech community to students and universities.

The $500,000 Call for Ideas grant program -- one of two initial measures supported by Startup PHL -- was specifically designed to fund innovative projects that support Philadelphia entrepreneurs and startups, regardless of which industries they work in.
 
According to Rebecca Lopez Kriss, a Department of Commerce entrepreneurial investment manager, Startup PHL has plans to announce two more rounds of Call for Ideas. One of those will likely happen later this year.
 
If you or your organization is hoping to claim one of the micro-grants, take heed: "Essentially, we're looking for ideas that will improve the startup community in either growing companies or improving talent," says Lopez Kriss. "Or maybe create some sort of network that helps people work better together."
 
For more information about the specific ideas Startup PHL is hoping to fund in the future and the collaboration they hope to encourage between entrepreneurs, mentors and investors, visit their FAQ page.   

Source: Rebecca Lopez Kriss, Philadelphia Department of Commerce
Writer: Dan Eldridge





Grocery delivery-service Instacart announces same-day liquor delivery in Philadelphia

If the rise of Web 2.0 has taught us anything about why we love the Internet, it's probably that convenience trumps all.

Instacart
, for example, a grocery delivery service startup with roots in San Francisco and operations in Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C., has just announced that its Philadelphia-area customers can now have alcoholic beverages from Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores delivered to their homes in as little as one hour.
 
If you've never heard of Instacart, you're not alone. In fact, when the company launched its local service on February 18, Whole Foods was literally the only choice available to customers willing to pay anywhere from $3.99 to $14.99 for the convenience of having groceries brought to their doorstep.
 
Super Fresh and BJ's Wholesale Club have since signed on (customers aren't required to have BJ's memberships), and with the recent addition of its liquor service, Instacart seems primed to capture a large portion of the food delivery market.

The company's deliveries are handled by a team of "personal shoppers" who use their own vehicles. And because Instacart has no warehouses, trucks, retail locations or full-time drivers, their overhead remains manageable.    
 
"We're growing every week," says Instacart operations manager George Shotz. "It's just constant."

Asking customers to complete wish-list surveys is one way Instacart aims to fill its customers' needs. According to Shotz, liquor has consistently been one of the surveys' most-requested items.

Securing an alcohol delivery license with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was a breeze: "We just applied and followed their rules," he explains. "And they approved us. They were great."   
 
Visit the Instacart website to view a map of the company's local delivery area and to open an account. 

Source: George Shotz, Instacart
Writer: Dan Eldridge





A group of beer-loving mechanical engineers at Bresslergroup automate the home-brewing process

Three craft-beer enthusiasts who work for Bresslergroup, a local product design consultancy, have developed a consumer home-brewing appliance that may one day turn the growing home-brewing industry on its head. The Bresslergroup Brewery, as the team calls its new venture, has created an Arduino-powered automated system that brews computer-assisted beer.

The idea for the appliance was the result of an informal conversation between a small group of employees, all of them home-brewing hobbyists. "One of our partners thought, 'Hey, it'd be pretty cool if we could do this here,'" recalls Todd Sack, a Bresslergroup product design engineer. "Sort of leverage the expertise and talent we have at Bresslergroup to take [home brewing] to the next level.'"
 
And that is exactly what they did.
 
The team's "yearlong quest to innovate … and automate the typical home brew process" -- as it's explained in a company blog post -- has resulted in a setup that still requires a decent level of computer literacy to operate. Should the kit ever make its way to market, however, it would likely include a kettle, a heating element and a thermocouple, as well as an Arduino-operated control box with a user-friendly interface, and an app that could be controlled from a laptop or mobile device. The product would probably come with a retail price-point in the $500 to $600 range. (Similar commercially available units capable of brewing beer are generally priced in the $1,200 to $2,000 range.)
  
As part of this year's upcoming Philly Tech Week, a presentation of the automated system, complete with a beer tasting, will take place at the Bresslergroup offices (6 - 8 p.m. April 9). Reserve your seat here.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Todd Sack, Bresslergroup



Calling All Students: Campus Philly's Online Internship Fair is underway

When Campus Philly launched 10 years ago, urban life in Philadelphia was a very different experience. Back then, the group's greatest concern was "making [the city] cool and interesting to students, to make them want to stay," says program manager Jen Devor.

That effort largely involved a busy schedule of marketing and outreach efforts, such as the organization's annual College Day on the Parkway, now known as CollegeFest.
 
"Now, students want to stay," argues Devor. "It's just a matter of getting them jobs, and giving them the ability to set down roots here."
 
Campus Philly's Online Internship Fair is one way Devor and her colleagues hope to accomplish that goal. Running from March 24 through 28, the virtual fair operates via the organization's online job board, which is open for business year-round and free to students at Campus Philly's 31 partner schools. But, as Devor explains, the twice-annual Internship Fair "is a scheduled time and place for employers and students to meet."
 
Along with the volunteer, internship and job listings that students can find on Campus Philly's Careers site year-round, hundreds more internship opportunities are made available during the fair. Positions in the technology and creative economy fields tend to be especially well-represented.
 
The group's long-running efforts to retain smart students seem to be paying dividends; according to Campus Philly's research, 70 percent of Philadelphia-area college students with summer internships now stay in the region after graduation. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jen Devor, Campus Philly




Welcome to N3rd Street: Officially rebranding the city's tech hub

Thanks to the efforts of Indy Hall's Alex Hillman and the local tech firm Jarvus Innovations, the expanse of North 3rd Street between Market and Girard is celebrating a transformational moment. As a nod to the growing number of tech operations and innovative companies located in the area, the stretch has been officially dubbed N3rd ("Nerd") Street.
 
According to Hillman, during a casual conversation some three or four years ago, Jarvus founders John Fazio and Chris Alfano pointed out that the corridor's street signs -- which are written as "N. 3rd St." -- could very easily be interpreted as "N3rd St."
 
"We all sort of slapped ourselves on the forehead for not having realized it earlier," recalls Hillman. And while the phrase was initially nothing more than an inside joke, "before we knew it," he adds, "it was being used in circles outside of our own."
 
Both the city's Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid and Mayor Michael Nutter have referenced N3rd Street during discussions on the city's tech community. The group is careful to point out in its N3RD St. Manifesto that the street's renaming applies not only to "technology nerds," but also to the entrepreneurs and creatives from any number of fields who are doing important work in the area.   
 
"The long-term, large-scale vision for N3rd Street is for us to create a community that makes the area better to work and live in," says Danny Harvith, the Jarvus employee responsible for the majority of the project's outreach work. "And that attracts great people doing great things."
 
A N3rd Street BBQ will take place at Liberty Lands Park on April 11 (2 p.m. - 6 p.m.), with an official naming ceremony scheduled for 4 p.m. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Alex Hillman, Indy Hall; Danny Harvith, Jarvus Innovations



TEDxPhilly announces live webcast and series of post-event 'adventures'

Here's a bit of good news for those who missed out on tickets to this year's sold out TEDxPhiladelphia event, which will be held at the Temple Performing Arts Center on Friday, March 28: You can still experience the entire show, and without paying a dime.
 
A live video webcast of the event -- specifically the individual speaker talks -- will be "available to anyone with an internet connection," according to a blog post on the TEDxPhiladelphia website. (Full disclosure: Flying Kite publisher Michelle Freeman is involved with TEDx Philly's event production.) And while the live stream address hadn't officially been released at the time of writing (past TEDx live streams are archived here), four separate webcast parties, all of them free, have been announced.
 
Likeminded fans of "big ideas worth spreading," as the TED organization refers to its mission, will be gathering throughout the day to watch the event live. Register here to reserve your space at one of the venues, which include Impact Hub Philly and the Philadelphia Center for Architecture.
 
According to co-organizer Emaleigh Doley, the development of additional programming beyond the annual conference is a major goal of the local TEDx team. Post-conference events expanding on the 2014 theme, "The New Workshop of the World," will run March 26 through 30. Eventually, local TEDx organizers hope to offer programming year-round.  
 
Referred to as "adventures," the post-conference events are intended to "unpack the larger conversation we hope to have at the conference," but in the form of talks, walks and tours for smaller groups. More information about the programs, which range in price from free to $10, can be found here

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Emaleigh Doley, TEDxPhiladelphia

Workshop PHL, a lo-fi maker space, comes to Fishtown

Fishtown will soon be home to a new hands-on arts-and-crafts school known as Workshop PHL.
 
Its founder, Delaware County native Kelly Malone, describes Workshop as a lo-fi, DIY interpretation of a maker facility. It will be a place where affordable classes are treated as laid-back social affairs, and where local creatives will teach everything from simple sewing and cocktail-making to photography and jewelry-making.     
 
According to Malone, the mostly one-night courses offered at Workshop will include "all the popular ones," such as beer brewing and screenprinting. A number of more eclectic offerings are also in the works, including a three-and-a-half-hour "Sewing for Dudes" class and a two-hour course on building tiny glass jar terrariums.
 
The Workshop concept was actually born in Malone's former home of San Francisco, where she opened Workshop SF with fellow maker David Knight in late 2009. Last December, Malone returned to Philly to care for her parents.

"I needed a job and I didn't want to go get a normal one," she says. "So, I decided to open another location here."
 
A decidedly low level of commitment and a co-ed environment are both big parts of the Workshop ethos. According to Malone, throughout her childhood "everybody in my family made stuff, but no one really did it together. The men were in the garage or out in the shed, and the women were in the sewing room."
 
Workshop PHL is currently holding a two-week preview (through March 15) and will open officially on April 1.

"You can just go in and have a good time," explains Malone, "and see if you like it before you really dive in."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Source: Kelly Malone, Workshop PHL

 

Ajungo turns web surfers into brick-and-mortar customers

Thanks to the advent of the OpenID standard, which allows Internet users' online identities to be verified by a third party, logging into sites like Spotify or Instagram with a Facebook account has become commonplace.

In Philadelphia, a marketing firm known as Ajungo -- the name is derived from a Latin word meaning "to connect" -- is going a few steps further, trying to turn those logins into brick-and-mortar customers for clients. The company layers a simple advertisement for an enticing offer over a client's homepage: the website of a neighborhood pub might offer a free burger or drink, for instance. If a web user is willing to login with his Facebook credentials, the offer is his for the taking.
 
That same user's social data will later be crunched -- a process that leads to even more offers, but only for goods and services the Facebook profile indicates the user has a genuine interest in.       
 
"What we've done is put email marketing on steroids, basically," says Ajungo's Mike Wham.
 
While it took Ajungo's IT team almost two years to build out the company's technology, they've only been actively selling the service since last June. Around 120 clients have already signed on, including Tony Luke's and Ladder Fifteen in Philadelphia.
 
Wham concedes that "there are [companies] doing elements of what we're doing," pointing to Gigya and Constant Contact as competitors of a sort. "We've combined certain things that are sort of semi-traditional," he says, "but with a much more exciting and useful way to look at email marketing."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Mike Wham, Ajungo



Replica Creative uses social media to set up coffee dates with local innovators

The Center City design-and-print firm Replica Creative has been in the brainstorming business for some 34 years now. But it wasn't until Replica opened the doors of its now three-month-old University City location, Creative Cafe at Replica (which also houses a coffee shop), that Brand Manager Keith Leaphart stumbled upon an idea that might prove to be Replica's most impressive yet.
 
Leaphart calls it the #DreamCup Campaign.

"Our locations are all about bringing people together," he says. "So, when we opened the second location with a cafe in it, I was sitting there and thinking: Who would people want to have their dream cup with?"
 
Leaphart started by sharing his plan with friends and fellow employees: What did they think about the idea of knocking back a latte with their favorite local thought leader or entrepreneur? The response was overwhelmingly positive -- people wanted to pick the brains of Comcast EVP David Cohen or Philadelphia Style Publisher John Colabelli -- and the #DreamCup campaign was officially launched.
 
To enter, potential coffee klatchers share the name of their would-be #DreamCup date in a Vine video or a tweet sent to @designprintcafe. Once a month, a winner is chosen. Of course, the object of a DreamCupper's affection has to agree to the meeting, which also includes a $25 Replica gift card for the winner.  
 
The campaign's first recipient, City Fit Girls founder Kiera Smalls, happens to be an entrepreneur herself. She shared a cup with Mayor Nutter's Communications Director, Desiree Peterkin Bell.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Keith Leaphart, Replica Creative 



Passyunk Square Civic reaches out to the local Hispanic community through ESL classes

South Philly's Chris DiCapua is a Spanish teacher by trade and a board member at the Passyunk Square Civic Association (PSCA). With a Nicaraguan partner and a passion for the city's Hispanic community, he's also proven to be an important cross-cultural connector. 

"A lot of times, as is really common with most immigrant groups, I feel like the [South Philly Latino] population tends to stick together," says DiCapua. "There's very little contact outside of their own community."

In an effort to breach that cultural divide, DiCapua has used his PSCA affiliation to institute a number of Hispanic outreach endeavors. He started by introducing himself to business owners in the Italian Market and he raised the funds necessary to translate the PSCA's newsletter into Spanish. Last fall, DiCapua and PSCA kicked off a trial-run of low-cost ESL (English as a Second Language) classes for local Spanish speakers.  
  
The second installment of the English classes, which are entirely volunteer-taught, is currently nearing the end of its five-week run. For interested students who aren't able to attend in person, the volunteer teachers also host a weekly ESL class online on the local Philatinos Radio station.
 
The details for the next five-week ESL session aren't set in stone, but DiCapua insists tat "we're definitely planning to continue in the very near future. And hopefully, we're going to do it as long as there's interest."  
 
For information about future classes, email christopher.dicapua@gmail.com or call 267-467-4307.

Writer: Dan Eldrige
Source: Chris DiCapua, Passyunk Square Civic Association

PowerCorpsPHL is improving parklands, enhancing watersheds and changing lives

Thanks in part to $200 million in funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the agency that funds AmeriCorps, Philadelphia is home to an innovative new initiative. PowerCorpsPHL is helping to improve local parklands and watersheds while also acting as a violence prevention strategy for young adults aged 18 to 26.
 
The program got its start when Philadelphia was awarded a $636,000 grant -- one of just six nationwide -- from the CNCS program known as the Governor & Mayor Initiative. Matching funds brought the program's annual budget to $2.1 million.
 
PowerCorpsPHL's goal is multipronged, but at its core is an effort to engage young people. According to Julia Hillengas of the Mayor's Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service, the program was developed as way to integrate low-income and underserved young people back into the community, while also providing them with the sort of technical training and job experiences that could lead to skilled employment at the end of each the program's six-month run.
 
Two city agencies are currently partnering with the program; one PowerCorps crew is managing stormwater with the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), while the remaining four crews plant trees and revitalize public land with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR).

After serving for six months, the approximately 50 AmeriCorps crew members -- who are funneled into the program from agencies that assist youths who've had legal trouble, or who've recently come out of the city's foster system as adults -- receive three months of job placement support.
 
According to the PWD's Christine Knapp, the program could provide a recruiting funnel for the large number of skilled positions the city will soon need to fill as baby boomers retire en masse. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Julia Hillengas, Mayor's Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service 



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