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Mt. Airy : Innovation + Job News

14 Mt. Airy Articles | Page:

Mt. Airy native Ari Weinstein shakes up the app store with Workflow

When you need to give your loved one an ETA or figure out the quickest way to your next meeting, there are many ways to do it: A peek at the clock, your calendar and maybe Google maps, a bit of mental math, and opening up a messenger app to tap out a quick note.

Wait. Too many steps? 20-year-old Ari Weinstein thought so, and decided to give a new meaning to the word "workflow."

In his new app, released last December with partner Conrad Kramer (an 18-year-old Cherry Hill native), workflow has become a singular, individualized concept. For example, here’s a workflow for you: I have a picture on my phone that I want to share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all at once. I want a button on my home screen that’ll do all that automatically. Or, I'm viewing a website, and I want to make, save and send an instant PDF of it. Thanks to the Workflow app, there’s "a workflow" for that -- in other words, a way to customize and automate multi-step digital tasks you need throughout the day -- and pretty much anything else you want to do on your smartphone.

"One way to describe it would be that Workflow lets you automate different things that you do every day, so you can do them just with a push of a button," explains Weinstein. "You can sort of make these really personalized experiences that automate things that only you do.

You can get creative and make your own workflows or you can engage with an online community sharing the workflows they’ve invented.

Weinstein (son of Philly Office Retail president Ken Weinstein) is a West Mt. Airy native who graduated from Germantown Friends School, took a "gap year" before college to work in California, and then started at MIT in 2013. But in December of that year, he and Kramer applied for a Thiel Fellowship, granted every year to 20 college students under the age of 20 nationwide. The fellowship offers the winners $100,000 over two years to pursue a passion outside of the classroom. (Workflow is Weinstein’s second app launch; he also developed DeskConnect.)

Weinstein and Kramer, now based in San Francisco, found out they’d been selected for the fellowship in May 2014.

Since then, things have moved quickly.

"The launch went incredibly well," recalls Weinstein. Apple selected Workflow as an editor’s choice in the app store, showing it on a banner to everyone who visited the site.  

"It was the no. 1 most downloaded app on the [paid] app store for four days," he continues. "We’ve just been thrilled with the way people have taken advantage of it. People have made hundreds of thousands of workflows, some of which are really cool that we never would have thought of."

There are now three guys on the startup's team: 18-year-old Nick Frey, from Iowa, has joined Weinstein and Kramer.

And this is still just the earliest version of the app -- Weinstein hints at "a big update" they hope to launch by February.

So does he want to go back to school?

"That’s a hard question," he muses. "I’m not sure I can make that call right now."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ari Weinstein, Workflow

State of Young Philly has never looked better

If you want to know how young Philly's doing, let me sum it up for you: smart and good looking. From the highest reaches of government right down to our youngest up and comers, there's never been a more attractive bunch of people in charge.

The second annual State of Young Philly, convened by the all-volunteer Young Involved Philadelphia for a two-week run, was a series of six events designed to engage, connect and represent citizens. Targeting community engagement, education, sustainability and the creative economy, State of Young Philly drew close to 1,000 young professionals and representatives from over 50 organizations in the city, according to organizers. From the first packed event at World Cafe Live on Oct. 4 to the standing-room only crowd at the finale at The Gershman Y, the crowd was diverse in age and background and alike in its forward-thinking approach.

Claire Robertson-Kraft, Young Involved Philadelphia Board Chair, says, "When I first moved to Philadelphia just over a decade ago, I was initially struck by the negativity of the city. But the spirit in the discussions over the course of the past few weeks has been very different than that initial perception I got when I first moved here. Rather than focusing solely on what was in need of improvement, each of the discussions was as much about how to build on already existing innovation and assets the city has to offer."

Alain Joinville, Public Affairs Coordinator for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation and a Young Involved Philly board member, adds, "It was easier to get partnering organizations involved. The State of Young Philly series is the biggest and most audacious project our organization has undertaken in its 11-year history, and we did it pretty well last year, so we are seen as a credible organization in the eyes of the City's leaders and leading organizations."

Robertson-Kraft points to several initiatives that launched in the lead-up to this year's State of Young Philly: a local version of the online web portal Change By Us,a partnership with United Way to improve Philadelphia public education, entry into the Open Data Philly challenge, and social media hashtags #WhyILovePhilly and #PhillyArts.

But ultimately, the draw of State of Young Philly is the promise of doing good combined with a commitment to fun. Reports Robertson-Kraft, "Let’s just say that the after-party went into the late hours of the night. At all of our events, we strive to achieve that perfect balance of meaningful conversation and a good time."

It's a whole new take on a thousand points of light.

Source: Claire Robertson-Kraft, Young Involved Philly
Writer: Sue Spolan

Open Data Race lets you vote for data sets that are most fit for public consumption

Data collection and dissemination: how much fun is that? If you are participating in Philadelphia's Open Data Race, you might actually squeeze a good time out of otherwise flat statistics. Voting in the Open Data Race is open to the public until Oct. 27, and currently, you can make your opinion known on which of 24 data sets you would like to see made public.

"We hope to generate excitement around open data," says Deborah Boyer, project manager at Philadelphia-based Azavea. Nominations contributed by non-profit organizations were reviewed by OpenDataPhilly partners, namely Azavea, NPower Pennsylvania, The William Penn Foundation, and Technically Philly.

It's probably too early to judge, but right now the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia's request for stats on reported bike thefts is atop the rankings with 55 votes, followed by Demographic Info for Individuals Accessing Shelter Services submitted by Back on My Feet with 50 votes. Other organizations represented in the voting ranks include the Committee of 70, The Urban Tree Connection and The Sustainable Business Network.

Boyer says, "Public participation has been a key feature of OpenDataPhilly and is also crucial to the Open Data Race. We encourage people to submit data sets for inclusion in OpenDataPhilly or nominate data they would like to see made available."

Boyer points to difficulties municipalities might have in identifying which data is most needed. "Through Open Data Race, non-profit organizations have the opportunity to let the city and OpenDataPhilly partners know what information they need to fulfill their missions."

Winners, to be announced on Friday, Oct. 28, will receive cash prizes. First place gets $2,000, second place gets $1,000, and third receives $500. At that point, the fun really begins, when OpenDataPhilly works with the city to unlock the requested sets and then hosts hack-a-thons to create applications that use the data.

Source: Deborah Boyer, Azavea/OpenDataPhilly
Writer: Sue Spolan

Crowdsourced education comes to Philly with Skillshare

What do you know? There's a new way to make money based on your particular set of skills and talents. It's called Skillshare. Launched in Philadelphia last month with national headquarters in New York City, Skillshare allows anyone to teach anything and get paid for it. Brendan Lowry has been in charge of launching the program in Philadelphia. "Every city is a university, all the restaurants and cafes are classrooms, and our neighbors are our greatest teachers," says Lowry, whose title is Special Operations.

Here's how it works: Say you are really good at knitting. Sure, you could sell your stuff on Etsy. But with Skillshare, you can also hold knitting class at a location of your choice. Set your own price per student, and get paid through PayPal. Skillshare deducts 15 percent of every ticket sold.

Skillshare, on a mission to democratize and redefine education, launched in New York in May of this year, and is now operating in Philadelphia and San Francisco, with hopes for setting up in cities across the US. Each city needs to be unlocked by popular vote. When the vote count surpasses 500, a team is created to get the word out. "We've targeted the tech community. It's one of the first industries we tapped into, but we don't want to fall exclusively in that category," says Lowry, who says right now there are over a hundred classes on offer in the Philadelphia area, ranging from The Art of the Cold Call to Beer 101. Teachers post credentials and a feedback process is designed to ensure a quality learning experience (full disclosure: I am teaching Communications for Startups on Sept. 20).

"Our marketing budget is literally zero dollars," says Lowry, who has done outreach through social media and word of mouth. There is also a newly created, limited time $1,000 scholarship fund which encourages more people to take classes in Philly and SF. Skillshare is set to launch next in Boston, Washington DC and New Orleans.

Source: Brendan Lowry, Skillshare
Writer: Sue Spolan

South Philly resident grows composting collection business

Your scraps are Tim Bennett's gold mine. Bennett Compost offers urban dwellers the opportunity to recycle food waste without expensive equipment or outdoor space. Bennett began the business out of a personal need. "At the time, where I was living in South Philly, I wanted to compost, but I had no backyard." After dissatisfaction with home composting systems costing around $300, Bennett created a composting service that would benefit city homes and businesses at a fraction of the cost.

For a $15 monthly fee, residential customers receive a covered bucket, and Bennett's truck swings around once a week to empty and return the container. Commercial customers, including coffee shops, a florist and some restaurants, pay on a sliding scale depending on volume and frequency of pickup, but Bennett adds that the cost offsets commercial trash hauling fees, and in some cases commercial customers are able to save money on refuse.

Used food and some types of paper are sent to a composting facility in Delaware and then picked up for distribution to area community gardens. Customers can opt to receive up to 10 gallons of the finished product free of charge; beyond that, compost is available at a discounted price. You don't have to be a customer to buy compost. Five gallon buckets are available to the general public for $10, and will soon be sold at area retail locations including Essene Market and Green Aisle Grocery.

Current offices are based in South Philly at Bennett's home, with a North Philadelphia warehouse. Bennett was able to quit his day job at Temple University last summer to devote his career full time to compost. "We bootstrapped our way up. Now we are profitable enough that I am able to pay my own salary, and we have three part time employees." The business continues to grow, with 300 residential customers and 20 businesses distributed across the entire city.

Source: Tim Bennett, Bennett Compost
Writer: Sue Spolan

FLYING BYTES: SEPTA's TransitView, MAC founder raises $75M, and Phila. Printworks strikes chord

Flying Bytes is a recurring roundup of innovation and quick updates on the people and companies we're covering:

SEPTA launches TransitView

Back in January, we reported that SEPTA was weeks away from launching a real-time, system wide tracking program. The future is finally here. Like SEPTA's TrainView for regional rail, the new TransitView provides live updates on the whereabouts of buses and trolleys throughout the city. Also launched: SMS Transit Schedule Information, allowing customers to receive a text with the next four scheduled trips, and Schedules to Go, a mobile website function that provides information on the next ten scheduled trips.

Shah closes $72 million IPO with Universal Business Payment Solutions

Following a hot tip, we learned that Bipin Shah, creator of the MAC, was seeking $72 million for payments startup Universal Business Payment Solutions. On May 13, UPBS (NASDAQ: UBPSU) got its money. According to Shah's partner Peter Davidson, "we closed on 12 million shares at $6.00 per share. The underwriters have a 45 day option to cover any over-allotments, which they have not exercised to date." Investors include hedge fund magnate J. Kyle Bass, who purchased about 800,000 shares.

Philadelphia Printworks up, running, finding its market

The lovely ladies at the helm of Philadelphia Printworks are going full speed with their new T-shirt business. Co-founder April Pugh reports that most of PPW's customer base has come from custom work, particularly from local indie rock artists. PPW loves its rockers right back and offers a band discount. Pugh says she and partner Ruth Paloma Rivera-Perez are now seeking partnerships with retail outlets and will be selling at upcoming summer festivals.

Specticast expands with EuroArts partnership
Digital entertainment distribution company Specticast continues to widen its reach. The company, which we originally profiled back in April, announced an exclusive partnership with EuroArts, bringing live and pre-recorded events from Berlin's Philharmonie, The Sheldonian Theater at Oxford University, and Madrid's Teatro Real, according to Mark Rupp, SpectiCast president.

Source: Andrew Busch, SEPTA; Peter Davidson, UBPS; April Pugh, PPW; Mark Rupp, Specticast
Writer: Sue Spolan

Moving wheels: Mt. Airy electric bike shop expands to larger quarters

It all started over a disagreement about who was going to use the car. Mt. Airy resident Meenal Raval and her husband Afshin Kaighobady had proudly downshifted from two cars to one, and that's when the couple purchased their first electric bike to navigate the hilly terrain of the neighborhood. But a two mile ride to work took an hour, reports Meenal, because people kept stopping her along the way to ask about her unique form of conveyance.

"We realized no one was selling electric bikes in Philly," says Meenal, who purchased that first bike out of state. Meenal and Afshin put their life savings into Philly Electric Wheels, or PHEW!, and opened their first store at the corner of Carpenter Lane and Greene Street, right across from Weavers' Way Co-op. The response was even greater than anticipated. Not only was PHEW! selling new bikes, but all those people who had bought bikes elsewhere dusted them off and brought them in for repairs within the first month.

With continued support for the only bike shop, electric or manual, in West Mount Airy, Meenal and Afshin soon grew out of their original space. Today is the grand opening of their expanded shop at 7102 Germantown Avenue, which boasts a larger retail area with both electric and non-electric bikes for sale, more storage, more space for repairs, and increased foot traffic. Meenal says that because the new shop is on two transit lines, bikers can hook their wheels onto a SEPTA bus, drop in for repair, and then ride on home. The new shop also serves an expanded clientele, as Germantown Avenue is the dividing line between East and West Mount Airy.

Source: Meenal Raval, Philly Electric Wheels
Writer: Sue Spolan

Niche Recycling brings composting dumpster, waste management systems to Navy Yard

When Mayor Michael Nutter unveiled 500 Big Belly solar garbage compactors all over the city in April 2009, there was skepticism as to the effectiveness of this new technology. But when this test run was complete and the Philly Throws Green case study was released in June, city officials found the compactors would save over $1.5 million in waste collection man-hours per year. The city hopes its newest garbage-related investment in composting will yield the same results.

In an effort to conduct a real-world test of its effectiveness, the city of Philadelphia has granted $18,700 to Niche Recycling for one of its composting "Bio Bins." By trapping in natural gasses released from food waste using a sealed bin, a recirculating air system and wood chips, Bio Bins break down food waste so that fewer collections are needed.

"With food waste, you typically have three days before you start to get anaerobic conditions and smell," says Niche Recycling founder Maurice Sampson II. "With Bio Bins, you can handle this on-site. There is a tremendous savings to not have to collect every other day and, unlike a typical composting operation, we can use normal garbage trucks."

The grant comes as part of the Greenworks Pilot Energy Technology (G-PET) program, which is funded through the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program. With the exposure of this project and the recent opening of the Wilmington Organic Recycling Center, Sampson hopes to offer a full composting service that will give him a competitive advantage over trash collectors.

"We are very proud to be selected for this grant that is about commercialization, so that we can test it and find out what the criteria are," says Sampson. "Composting is not something we typically think of in America but oh my goodness, it is going to make such a difference."

Source: Maurice Sampson II, Niche Recycling
Writer: John Steele

With Cyber Monday approaching, Monetate.com prepares for the holiday rush

Everyone is familiar with Black Friday. The frenzied dash of hungry holiday consumers to price-slashed stores the day after Thanksgiving has become an American tradition as timeless as the Christmas tree. But have you heard of Cyber Monday? Between 2008 and 2009, website retailers showed a 43 percent traffic increase on the Monday following Black Friday where online retailers begin their holiday sales.

This year, Conshohocken website optimization firm Monetate.com broke some records of its own, doubling in size over the last six months. From Dicks Sporting Goods to Urban Outfitters, Monetate offers a revolving door of keywords targeting the changing tastes of consumers without calling the IT department. As the holiday season gets underway, the quick turnaround of this solution has new clients joining up.

"If it's raining outside, the store owner pushes the umbrellas up front and adds 30 percent to the price and makes a lot of money that day," says Monetate VP of Marketing Blair Lyon. "Large retail sites have a hard time doing that because of all this overlapping technology that is in place, requiring the IT departments to get involved, preventing retailers from trying things."

With a year of record growth under its belt, Monetate isn't waiting for the holidays to make some purchases. With five open positions listed on its website, Monetate looks to hire 10 new employees in the next six months to handle the demands of an ever-expanding client list. With a veritable whos-who of Philadelphia retailers, Monetate looks to expand its footprint and hopes Cyber Monday can be its coming out party.

"We can have this implemented in minutes, giving it about two weeks to be effective," says Lyon. "That's why we are excited about attacking Cyber Monday. A lot of customers don't think there is enough time before the holidays. We can have them up and running for the holiday season right now."

Source: Blair Lyon, Monetate
Writer: John Steele

Northwest Farm Fest celebrates urban farming with country flavor

Farmers across Central Pennsylvania will be celebrating another plentiful harvest season this fall, but thanks to Weavers Way and the Awbury Arboretum, there will also be plenty of celebrating to do in the city. The Weavers Way Community Farm, a Northwest Philadelphia urban farm tended by high school students and used to make local products by community members,  is honoring another successful year. The Weavers Way farm celebrates this Saturday from 11am-3pm at Awbury Arboretum with the second annual Northwest FarmFest, a country festival for Philadelphia's city farmers.

"This farm is making sustainable agriculture a part of this urban community," says farm committee member Josh Brooks. "This is a time to gain acknowledgment for the farm, spread awareness and just celebrate that it's there. And have fun."

As the Weavers Way urban farm offers students and community members all the benefits of local agriculture--fresh produce, low prices, local cultivation--the Chestnut Hill food co-op's members and community program directors bring all the country comforts of a small-town festival to the big city. The Northwest FarmFest is free and open to the public, presenting musical performances from local acts, pumpkin painting, hay rides, and farm tours. And of course, the Weavers Way Farmstand will have plenty of homegrown produce on sale, along with prepared food from the Weavers Way's Marketplace Program, a school-based cooperative food business run by students. Weavers Way hopes the event will be a venue to show off many school programs focused on the benefits and lessons of local, healthy eating. And of course, to celebrate the harvest.

"We will also be promoting the whole aspect of Weavers Way Community Programs who work with schools to create a marketplace, teaching about food and creating a market" says Brooks. "We'll have food, some barbecue, the marketplace will be selling some food and drink."

Source: Josh Brooks, Weavers Way Farm
Writer: John Steele

Interactive mapping platform launched to connect Philadelphians to their local communities

It's one of life's great mysteries: you can travel to a thousand cities and eat at a hundred fancy restaurants and drink a dozen craft beers at each of the bars along the way. But a meal never tastes as good as one at your favorite neighborhood haunt. And according to Philadelphia's sustainability leaders, this phenomenon is not just good for your appetite, it can be good for your neighborhood and your city as well.

Based on a concept created by the William Penn Foundation, partners from the Sustainable Business Network, Azavea and NPower created Common Space, a new mapping platform that creates a network of neighborhood establishments within a certain walkable, bikeable or busable distance to help residents support local business.

"The really cool thing is, I can map my friend's common space as well as my own," says SBN Executive Director Leanne Krueger-Braneky. "So if I am leaving from my office in Center City and meeting my husband who is coming from our house in West Philadelphia, he could say he is going to bike for 15 minutes and I could say I was going to walk for 20 minutes and Common Space will map the area where we would be able to meet up and map local culture events and businesses in that field."

Partnering with tastemakers like UWISHUNU and Yelp, Common Space shows you the best spots in your transit area, allowing you the most sustainable way possible to hit your next favorite haunt. After their trial run, organizers hope to partner with citywide festivals and cultural events like LiveArts and Philly Beer Week.

"Sustainability was one of the values William Penn outlined, which is why they wanted to partner with us," Krueger-Braneky says. "Because the application does encourage walking, biking, and public transit, it's a way of showing what's going on in the city while encouraging alternative transit."

Source: Leanne Krueger-Braneky, SBN
Writer: John Steele

Knight Arts Challenge offers $9M over three year for next great urban artistic movement in Philly

From the LOVE statue to the Mural Arts Program to Market Street's massive Clothespin, Philadelphia has its share of big, urban art projects. But there is more to creating the next big movement in urban arts than making the largest painting or sculpture. So the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the Knight Arts Challenge, a search looking for urban projects to change the artistic landscape of American cities for the better. Started in Miami, Knight Arts brings it's challenge to Philadelphia this fall.

"We are coming to Philadelphia and it would be presumptuous of us to say that we know just what you need in the arts," says Knight Arts VP Dennis Scholl. "So instead of saying that, we're saying we don't know what Philadelphia's next art idea is and we need you to tell us. It's not about large institutions only getting grants, people who have been in the arts forever only getting grants. It's open to everybody in the community."

After three successful years in Miami, the Knight Arts Challenge has spawned poetry collectives and arts education centers and jazz festivals. Philadelphia's challenge, a three-year, $9 million initiative, will provide new funding for established arts institutions, independent artists, businesses, service organizations and anyone else with a great idea and a plan to execute it. The challenge kicks off October 5 with a cocktail reception, where interested artists can find out how they can contribute to Philadelphia's artistic future.

"Philadelphia has two important things going for it: it has incredible, world-class cultural assets," says Scholl. "But in addition to that, Philadelphia has an incredibly hot, steadily rising art scene, with collectives and up-and-coming performance arts groups. And that is really why we were drawn to Philadelphia, because it's kinda happening, frankly."

Source: Dennis Scholl, Knight Arts
Writer: John Steele

SEPTA subways go hybrid with lossless battery storage system

Philadelphians know SEPTA's Market-Frankford El as the Blue Line. But a new pilot program, which stores leftover power from the subway's regenerative braking system in a massive battery, would make the Blue Line a little greener, and provide SEPTA some much-needed capital.

Earlier this month, SEPTA and Conshohocken smart-grid firm Viridity Energy announced receipt of $900,000 from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority to install a massive storage battery--about the size of a cement truck--at SEPTA's Kensington electrical substation. The current regenerative braking system transmits electricity, collected as trains enter stations, to other electric vehicles. But if no other vehicles are in range, the electricity is lost. The battery, capable of storing up to a megawatt of electricity, would siphon energy to be resold to the power grid. Viridity estimates that this one battery will generate $500,000 a year in clean, green profit. SEPTA has already applied for new funding to install these battery systems at all 33 substations across their service area.

"With this technology, SEPTA can be very strategic with their power; when they are using it, when they are storing it and when they are selling it back into the grid," says Viridity Director of Business Development Laurie Actman. "At peak periods, the grid is willing to pay premium prices for sources of reliable load."

Since 2008, SEPTA has struggled to execute capital improvements to its transit infrastructure. Most recently, a proposed switch to SmartCards has drawn scrutiny from city media and transit bloggers. When Governor Ed Rendell made a play to turn state thoroughfare I-80 into a federal toll road, he promised a chunk of the resulting revenue to SEPTA. Since Rendell's proposal was defeated, SEPTA has been looking for other ways to fund improvements, from fare hikes to advertising on the sides of trains. The battery system technology could be the answer they have been looking for that will finally bring the Philadelphia subway into the 21st century.

"As we all know, SEPTA has always had a constrained budget and not enough money to invest in its infrastructure," says Actman. "For so long, SEPTA's infrastructure, that was built nearly a century ago, has been a liability. We are turning that into an opportunity."

Source: Laurie Actman, Viridity Energy
Writer: John Steele

City's most involved young professionals imagine Philly's future with city-wide summit

Studies in recent years have revealed that while Philadelphia welcomes up to 50,000 freshman to its colleges and universities every year, less than half remained in the region after graduation. That statistic, in part, is what motivates Young Involved Philadelphia, a comprehensive network of young professionals and student groups producing advocacy campaigns and social events to make Philly a better place to live.

This week, the group opens the State of Young Philly: Imagining Philly's Future summit, a massive, two-week event hosting over 30 partnering organizations for speeches, roundtable discussions and brainstorming sessions to make Philadelphia a more attractive place for young people. The summit will focus on four key areas--Community Engagement and Volunteerism, Government and Leadership, Business and Entrepreneurship, and Arts and Culture--in an effort to "engage, educate and empower" young Philadelphia.

"For the first time since the '50s, the city is gaining population, and although we don't have the newest census data yet, we would venture a guess that this growth is due partly to an increasingly vibrant youth culture," says YIP board chair Claire Robertson-Kraft.

With speakers as varied as former Mayor John Street and the Mural Arts Program's Jane Golden, the summit hopes to gain a wide-reaching perspective that can be gleaned into an agenda ranking priorities and creating concrete deliverables. This agenda will inform an ongoing blog and will serve as YIP's action plan for the coming year. YIP hopes to make the summit an annual event, creating a constant barometer on youth culture in Philadelphia.

"The most important thing we hope people take away from the event is a sense of empowerment," says Robertson-Kraft. "As young Philadelphians, we should be organizing, demonstrating our ability to contribute to the debate, and doing more to ensure our voices are heard."

Source: Claire Robertson-Kraft, Young Involved Philadelphia
Writer: John Steele

14 Mt. Airy Articles | Page:
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