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The Center for Architecture unveils Kahn Coffee -- designed by you?

This year, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture's DesignPhiladelphia event (October 8 - 16) will feature a small but energizing twist: a contest to create branding for a new coffee blend open to designers of all stripes. The buzzy brew will be available exclusively through the Center and American Institute of Architects (AIA) Philadelphia, courtesy of a new partnership with Philly Fair Trade Roasters.

DesignPhiladelphia attracts over 150 partners each year for public programming on 21st-century design, technology and collaboration in the business world.  

AIA and Center for Architecture Executive Director Rebecca Johnson says the beverage brainstorm came about as the Center worked on some renovations in advance of the AIA Convention in May 2016, which will bring 25,000 architects to our city. The team started thinking of fun ways to improve the space -- a place to grab a local pick-me-up made a lot of sense.

"There’s always meetings here, so we want to have a sense of a hub of activity for the design community," explains Johnson. "Coffee just kept coming up. For the Convention, I thought that would be a really fun thing."

The name Kahn came up due to the Center’s annual Louis Kahn lecture.

"Do people know the significance of Louis Kahn to the entire world?" asks Johnson. "He’s a huge influencer. And he’s a Philadelphia architect."

And then the idea went a step further: Bring the local creative community in on the process. Running during DesignPhiladelphia, the contest is open to everybody: architects, artists, laypeople. The finished branding doesn’t necessarily have to feature Kahn -- if participating designers have another idea of someone to feature, they should go for it.

The deadline for entries is September 30, and the concepts will be on display at the Center during DesignPhiladelphia. The public can vote on their favorite. (For formatting guidelines and other instructions, click here.) Everyone who votes will get a free sample cup of the new coffee.

Beyond simply offering a new amenity for the many people who use the Center, the organizers hope to get the community even more engaged with the interdisciplinary space that also houses the Community Design Collaborative. Johnson hopes Kahn Coffee (or whatever the brand turns out to be) and the contest will be one more way to spark the kind of conversations AIA Philadelphia and the Center for Architecture aim to foster.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rebecca Johnson, the Center for Architecture and AIA Philadelphia

Mt. Airy's Make Art, Grow Food connects kids and elders thanks to a new grant program

This summer's news about the impending loss of their lease didn’t deter Mt. Airy Art Garage leaders and supporters from celebrating the September 9 dedication of their new Make Art, Grow Food mural and garden. The project has transformed MAAG's backyard from a blank wall and a tangle of weeds to a vibrant art piece and rows of fresh vegetables.
The project was made possible by a grant of about $5,000 from the East Mt. Airy Neighbors Association (EMAN) Community Fund, administered through the Philadelphia Foundation. It’s EMAN’s first year giving these grants, and Executive Director Elayne Bender says Make Art, Grow Food was a natural fit for their mission.
The mural was developed via a months-long collaboration between a specialized class of autistic sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the nearby Henry H. Houston School, the elderly day residents of Homelink, Inc. (an adult center and MAAG neighbor), and MAAG member artists and educators. According to Bender, this inter-generational aspect in particular appealed to EMAN.
Illinois native Daisy Juarez, a painter and MAAG member, spearheaded the mural portion of the project. The participating kids and elders drew their own designs for the wall, and Juarez worked them all into one piece. The design was projected and traced onto primed paper pieces. The students and adults then painted in segments on tables inside MAAG; these paper segments were then mounted and sealed on the wall.
"It’s the first time we did a project here with this many people," explained MAAG co-founder Arleen Olshan at the dedication, which was attended by the kids, the elders, Bender and representatives of other supporting groups such as Valley Green Bank, Primex and Mt. Airy Animal Hospital.
For the garden portion of the project, a local Home Depot donated plants and gear, including tables and hoses. MAAG volunteers are helping to maintain the space.
The proud kids (along with a few parents) and elders got their first look at the finished mural on the wall at the dedication. Wherever MAAG lands, Slodki promises that the mural will follow, with a large photograph of it converted into a giclée print.
Bender says the project was a particularly emotional one for her: She cried upon seeing the finished mural in August. 

"It’s joy on a wall," she enthuses.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elayne Bender, East Mt. Airy Neighbors

Making great food products while combating poverty in southeastern Pennsylvania

Lancaster entrepreneur Charlie Crystle, whose food products are finding an enthusiastic audience in Greater Philadelphia, has a specific philosophy on the trouble with America’s economy.

According to the Lancaster Food Company CEO, what we need is "an effort to make jobs that meet people where they are, rather than where we want them to be." Politicians and civic leaders talk a lot about job training, but especially in a city like Lancaster -- which has a 30 percent poverty rate -- this falls short. Focusing on job training programs rather than immediately accessible jobs "continues to push the responsibility for unemployment onto the unemployed…if we don’t do something to meet them halfway, or all the way, [they] will never have decent employment," he argues.

Hiring people in poverty with a good living wage is a part of his company's mission. Crystle founded the company alongside his childhood friend Craig Lauer, who serves as chief product officer, in 2014. After launching and then exiting two software startups, living coast-to-coast and working in Central America with a program for street kids, Crystle felt a strong desire to create a company at home with a social as well as an economic impact.

Lancaster Food Company specializes in organic and sustainably sourced breads, spreads, salsas and jams, including sandwich rye and cinnamon raisin swirl bread, sunflower seed spreads, and limited-edition small-batch toppings from locally grown ingredients such as golden orange tomato salsa and organic strawberry jam. A Lancaster Heritage Grain bread is also on the way this fall.

While their products are handmade, Crystle insists Lancaster Food Company is already a scalable business -- their target market ranges from Washington, D.C., to the New York metro area, with a large presence in Philly. Currently, you can find their products at Mariposa and Weavers Way food co-ops, Reading Terminal Market, area Shop-Rites and the Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA. They just closed an exciting deal with five Wegman’s stores in Southeastern PA, and have their sights set on Whole Foods; look for their products on the shelves of a location in Wayne soon.

That increased reach means more room to advance the company’s social philosophy: hiring people in poverty struggling to find jobs. The company was launched with "a demand for jobs that require relatively low skills, and could meet people where they are in terms of their education, work history or legal background," explains Crystle, something that was difficult to achieve with his prior work in tech startups. "We’re trying to scale so that we can hire hundreds of people, not dozens."

He’s also adamant about the value of supporting local businesses and enjoys being able to tap into the vibrant agriculture of the Lancaster area.

"Every dollar that we spend locally has…three times the impact on our local economy" as money spent on goods from corporations in faraway states, he explains. That adds up to a business as committed to combating poverty as it is to pleasing customers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Charlie Crystle, Lancaster Food Company


New dollars for WINS send Philly's science-loving girls across the world

Since 1982, The Academy of Natural Science's Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program has been making science exciting and accessible to Philly’s high-school girls. Now, Academy Vice President of Education Jacquie Genovesi is excited to announce that the program has finally been recognized with a national award.

Flying Kite recently took a look at WINS' exchange program, which welcomed youth from Mongolia to Philadelphia, and then organized a reciprocal trip for Philly WINS girls to Asia to study ecology and the impact of climate change on different sides of the world.

In August, the WINS E-STEM program (science, technology, engineering and math through "projects involving real environmental problems") received a $50,000 Innovative Education Award, given through a partnership with Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Genovesi, who traveled to the UL headquarters in Chicago in early August to receive the Academy’s second-place award and network with other honorees, says the contest drew almost 150 applications from 40 states and three Canadian provinces.

The new dollars will boost the WINS program by opening up paid internships and field experience for WINS girls.

"We actually just put out a call to all of our scientists, saying, 'Ok, what kind of fun projects do you have coming up in the next  year?'" says Genovesi. Internships could last a summer or -- depending on where they’re located and cooperation from the student’s school -- up to eight months, in the lab and in the field.

"They could be almost anywhere," she adds. The Academy has scientists working in the Greater Philadelphia area, but there are also researchers stationed in Brazil, Vietnam, Jamaica and Mongolia.

"Not only is it about STEM and about young women, but it’s about supporting the entire person," muses Genovesi. The WINS program stands out among other STEM programs, which often recruit kids who are acing their classes, love science and are already college-bound. WINS instead focuses on "in-between" students who may be interested in science, but don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives and aren’t at the top of the class. Many come from low-income households. "We give them that extra boost to say, you know what, anybody can do science…And not only can you do science, but you can stay in school, you can go to college, and you can really succeed in life."

“We can’t afford to throw away any creative youth," she adds, especially the girls, who are "so underrepresented" in these fields.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jacquie Genovesi, The Academy of Natural Sciences

An urban farm sprouts in Chinatown thanks to Grow Where You Live

Meei Ling Ng, a Singapore-born, Philly-based artist, designer and urban farmer, has taken on a multifaceted project in Chinatown North. The initiative features a vertical urban farm, a job-skills program for people in recovery from addiction or homelessness, and a new fount of fresh food for the partnering Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.

The impetus for Ng's new project grew out of Grow Where You Live, her year-long Social Practice Lab residency at the Asian Arts Initiative. It was supposed to wrap up in June, but the current urban garden project has proven so successful that Ng's Asian Arts residency has been extended at least until the end of this year.

"Ideally I was looking for a vacant lot around the neighborhood," says Ng of a long search for an appropriate urban farm space and partner organization. Such a space -- open to the work of an artist and farmer -- was hard to find, partly because of recent gentrification in the area.

A tour of the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission late last year proved extremely propitious: Ng learned that the organization, which provides a range of vital services to the city’s homeless, was in the process of a parking lot space swap with their neighbors to the west, Roman Catholic High School.

The switch would leave a large space along Sunday Breakfast’s kitchen wall -- about 20 feet wide and 100 feet long -- empty of cars by law.

"This is amazing. This is exactly what we want," Ng recalls thinking on seeing the space; she envisioned a specially designed and built vertical urban farm. "We can use a whole big empty wall with asphalt under…this could be an awesome, awesome project."

The artist spent a month on a meticulous rendering of her idea, then pitched it to Sunday Breakfast. The project became reality through support and donations from Asian Arts, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Orchard Project, City Harvest and South Philly’s Urban Jungle, a landscape design firm.

Since then, the little farm has provided pounds of produce that go directly into meals served at Sunday Breakfast.

The partnership also has a human component: The farm runs with help from workers at Overcomers, an intensive 16-month program for men in recovery from addiction and homelessness. They reap a wealth of skills -- not only the ability to grow their own healthy food in an urban setting, but practical job training in a rapidly growing industry. The formal part of the Overcomers project is finished, but a few participants have stayed on as official apprentices and volunteers.

"This is very exciting that we have a team now to work on the farm," says Ng, adding that she has high hopes the project will continue in future summers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Meei Ling Ng, Asian Arts Initiative

A major merger supports big plans in Fairmount Park

Big news keeps coming out of Fairmount Park: On April 21, the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust, the two nonprofits that support the city's park system, formally announced their merger.

The Conservancy, founded as the Fairmount Park Foundation in 1997, began primarily as a fundraising agent for the park, but in the last few years, the organization has partnered with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to branch into many aspects of planning, project management and outreach. It’s now also helming the recently-announced Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

The Trust, a public/private venture launched in 1992, focuses on professional preservation services to nonprofits and City agencies, managing historic buildings, public art and "cultural landscapes."

The new combined organization -- boasting the name Fairmount Park Conservancy -- isn’t shedding any jobs on either side; it will employ a combined staff of 16 and have an annual operating budget of about $2 million. Former Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell will continue in that role while former Trust Executive Director Lucy Strackhouse has transitioned into the title of senior director of preservation and project management. 

Bringing the two groups together was a long process.

"We started talking about merging in 2007," recalls Strackhouse. A lot of meetings took place, but "then 2008 happened," and city-wide financial pressures caused by the recession led the organizations to table the talks until 2010.

But once the discussion was back on track -- with the help of pro bono legal services from Pepper Hamilton -- the boards reached a memorandum of understanding in mid-2014, with official notice of the merger reaching both offices at the end of the year.

While the January merger was no secret, the delay of a formal public announcement until late April had to do with getting the new organization’s branding and website up to speed.

"What we’re really going to be looking at is not just preserving these resources for history’s sake, but really thinking about how the historic properties are activated in new ways," says Lovell. "What you’ll see from our combined entities are some really exciting announcements about historic properties reimagined."

Between PennPraxis' plan The New Fairmount Park, the Civic Commons, and other initiatives, "City government can’t manage on their own," says Lovell of the Conservancy’s increasingly important role in Fairmount Park stewardship.

These plans encompass the natural, historical and cultural assets of the park, she adds, "reinforcing the fact that the merger is a really positive thing for both organizations, but ultimately for the park."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Kathryn Ott Lovell and Lucy Strackhouse, the Fairmount Park Conservancy

A North Philly grant leaves no excuse for litter

Earlier this year, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) announced a new micro-grant program to help local community organizations boost safety, walkability and commerce through resident-led clean-up programs. The first round of grantees included the North 5th Street Revitalization Project, which received $1000. The dollars are already going a long way on a range of initiatives.

The North 5th Street Revitalization Project has been operating since 2008 with funding from the Commerce Department. While their umbrella organization is the Korean Community Development Services Center, they have their own branding and offices.

The initiative's service area covers about a mile and a half of the Olney neighborhood: It runs from Roosevelt Boulevard to Spencer Street, and then a block on each side of N. 5th Street. The organization runs a sidewalk cleaning program (including two staffers who work five days a week to keep litter off the streets), removes "bandit signs," logs and repairs dozens of 311 issues each month and leads neighborhood cleanups, like April 11's city-wide Philly Spring Cleanup Day, which drew about sixty neighbors to volunteer.

The Project also focuses on public safety, holding twice-yearly meetings with police representatives and local merchants to discuss issues of crime and security, and helping participating businesses install security cameras through a dedicated city program. And it provides a wide range of business assistance, from helping locals get business permits or apply for eligible grant programs, to facilitating a business association and offering financing help.

"We have 340 active businesses on North 5th Street," says Program Director Philip Green. Most of them are small "mom and pop" stores, and many are "immigrant-owned and operated, so it’s really hard for them to obtain traditional bank loans."

Finally, the Project promotes the corridor in general through events such as open mic nights, community clean-ups and seasonal programming.

The KPB dollars funded a fun DIY photo-shoot for Philly Spring Cleanup Day volunteers, which the organization will share throughout the coming year, keeping the spirit of the clean-up alive and reminding people that maintaining the neighborhood is a year-round activity.

Leftover dollars will go to projects such as revamping the Project’s existing brochure on responsible homeownership and neighborhood maintenance, and translating it into multiple languages for Olney’s diverse community. Green also hopes the money will help buy more "Keep 5th Clean" tee-shirts -- like the ones teen clean-up crew captains wore on April 11 -- as well as decals for neighborhood recycling bins.

"Community clean-ups aren’t really about the trash ending up in a trash bag and going away to the dump," explains Green. "It’s really about the message that community residents cleaning up sends to other people."

Teenagers working in festive matching shirts are particularly motivating, he hopes.

"People will see that and realize that they have absolutely no excuse to litter, and no excuse not to take pride in their neighborhood."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Philip Green, North 5th Street Revitalization Project


New GSK dollars at the Food Trust will boost youth health and wellness citywide

A $5 million GSK IMPACT Grant to a Philadelphia collective led by The Food Trust will allow the local food and health access leader to significantly expand its existing HYPE (Healthy You, Positive Energy) program to reach 50,000 kids over the next three years.

The dollars, administered through the Philadelphia Foundation, are going to boost programs at nine partner organizations citywide, with a special focus on North Philadelphia. The new collective’s work will be known as Get HYPE Philly!
HYPE has already been working with local kids in about 100 different schools over the last several years, explains Food Trust executive director Yael Lehmann.

"It’s going to build on this existing program," she says. "And at the same time we’re going to be working with all these other groups," who will also be expanding their own work. 

The Get HYPE collective includes Guild House West’s Greener Partners, East Park Revitalization Alliance’s Common Market, The Village of Arts and Humanities, and the Garden Education Program of Norris Square Neighborhood Project. Also partnering under the Food Trust umbrella are the Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center (and branch-based teen mentoring program), The Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA, The Philadelphia Youth Network, The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation and Equal Measure, which will help evaluate the Get HYPE programming’s impact throughout the grant’s three-year span.

Some of these organizations will focus on urban farming, nutrition, literacy through food-based activities, and exercise; others will build on different aspects of overall health such as workforce development and entrepreneurship.

"This is really going to strengthen the networking between all of our agencies," insists Lehmann. "It’s going to have this awesome ripple effect throughout the city."

Lehmann is particularly excited about the new youth advisory board the grant will create, which will consist of about fifteen to twenty teens from around the city. They will be able to direct mini-grants of up to $2,000 (or a total of $70,000 per year for the life of the program) to student-led initiatives focused on things such as exercise, urban agriculture and healthy food donations.

"It’s not just window-dressing. They’re going to have some work to do," Lehmann says of the students who will be involved (their selection process is still TBD).

The grant’s allowance for evaluating the programs is also important, she insists, "to be able to tell the story, and look at how this is impacting kids in Philly, and help us adjust as needed."

And she hopes Get HYPE Philly! will continue far beyond the initial three-year roll-out.

“From day one, all the collective partners and the Food Trust will be thinking about how to sustain this beyond the grant," she says. "We see this as a long-term project."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Yael Lehmann, The Food Trust


Students from Philadelphia and Mongolia come together on climate change

The Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program at Drexel’s Academy of Natural Sciences has been going strong for 32 years, and now a special grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Museums Connect program is allowing a team of 15 Philly public high school girls to collaborate with 15 girls from Mongolia on a globe-spanning project.

For the last several months, the teens have been using online courses, Facebook and Skype to study climate change and its cultural impact. Then last week, four girls from the Mongolian side of the project, administered through the National Museum of Mongolia’s ROOTS program, had a whirlwind visit to Philadelphia. This July, five public high school girls from Philadelphia will reciprocate with their own two-week trip to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

The climate change focus of the youth program is three-pronged, explains WINS manager Betsy Payne: "One is water, one is food, one is the cultural repercussions."

Currently, there are 60 girls in the WINS program citywide, but the Museums Connect dollars (administered by the American Alliance of Museums) allowed for just fifteen Mongolian girls and fifteen Philly girls. WINS sophomores and juniors were invited to apply for the program, and were selected based on a range of criteria.

"Even though it’s a one-year program, we’re hoping it has repercussions where they might be able to do more in the near future," says Payne of the age group she decided to target and applicants' dedication to the program’s offerings. The Academy was also "looking for the girls who hadn’t had other opportunities of major travel." 

The lucky travelers are George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science sophomore Faatimat Sylla; junior Geré Johnson from the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School of Philadelphia; Harleen Gonzalez, a sophomore at Central High School; Academy at Palumbo sophomore Linda Gutierrez, and Philadelphia High School for Girls junior Ti’anna Cooper.

The project’s capstone, for both teams of girls, will be a final display based on what they’ve learned in their year of cross-continental collaboration. The form it will take will be up to the students, as long as it deals with climate change and cultural exchange: a short play, a museum activity, a presentation of specimens or something else the young women devise.  

The Mongolian students' U.S. trip was packed with classroom visits and science as well as some historic sight-seeing in Old City, cheesesteaks on South Street, a Lancaster farm visit, a tour of Washington, D.C. that included the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and even some good old-fashioned retail therapy at the King of Prussia Mall.

By early fall, the two intercontinental teams will develop lessons and presentations about climate change that will be incorporated into the public programming at the Academy of Natural Sciences and the National Museum of Mongolia.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Betsy Payne, The Academy of Natural Sciences


Rad Dish is Temple's new sustainable student food co-op

Temple University junior Lauren Troop started out as an environmental studies major, but when she became part of a bold new food co-op business plan with her fellow students, she found the perfect convergence of her interests, and switched to studying entrepreneurship.

The concept for Rad Dish, which opened on February 5 in a former Sodexo café space in Ritter Hall, grew out of a student research project completed a few years ago. The idea failed to move forward once the original thinkers graduated.

But then founding Rad Dish co-op members got hold of the idea, and began working in fall 2013 to make the space a reality. The group met under the auspices and mentorship of Temple’s Office of Sustainability, with participation from campus organizations such as Students for Environmental Action, Temple Community Garden and Net Impact, the university’s sustainable business club.

The team started meeting once a week with help from a three-credit independent study course that allowed them to devote the necessary number of hours to getting the co-op café off the ground. Meetings with West Philly’s Mariposa food co-op, as well as other student groups, including one from the University of Maryland, helped them clarify their vision.

"Our mission was really to provide affordable locally and ethically sourced fresh food to our Temple community," explains Troop, a Lancaster native. "We do that by sourcing everything within 150 miles."

Items like tea and coffee and certain spices, which the co-op can’t get locally, are sourced through a major organic and fair-trade supplier. 

Rad Dish opened its doors with the help of one year of free rent from Temple and $30,000 in seed money from the Office of Sustainability to help cover the first round of inventory and salaries for workers.

The space is a café now, but Rad Dish organizers hope to expand into more of a grocery model as they gain experience and more local, seasonal produce becomes available. In the meantime, the space already has its own appealing vibe, with floor-to-ceiling windows and art on the walls.

The community has already started to embrace the idea. Someone donated a bike-powered blender, and then a record-payer.

"People have just started to bring in random stuff that made it a unique space to hang out in," says Troop.

Prospects for the co-op’s future are good, she adds: a large crop of sophomores are just now stepping into leadership roles, replacing graduating founders.

"My favorite part about the project is how we’ve incorporated so many fields of study and so many people with different majors," insists Troops. "There are people from our business school, arts school, communications, engineering, and people who just love food."

Rad Dish is now open from 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in Ritter Hall, on the corner of Montgomery Avenue and 13th Street.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source, Lauren Troop, Rad Dish

Wash Cycle Laundry forges a new path for socially conscious investing

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia startup Wash Cycle Laundry (WCL) closed on a major new loan from the Distinguished Social Ventures Foundation (DSVF) which may help the company create hundreds of new jobs and nab new contracts on the way to major expansion.

According to founder and CEO Gabriel Mandujano, the $450,000 loan isn’t just important for what it will help WCL achieve, but also in the new model it will help forge for foundations who want to invest in mission-based businesses.

WCL, now operating in Austin and Washington, D.C., as well as Philly, was founded here in 2010. The company provides laundry and linen rental services for institutions, businesses and residents, with environmentally-friendly high-efficiency machines and powerful bike trailers for hauling. The company also focuses on hiring its employees from vulnerable populations such as formerly incarcerated people and longtime welfare recipients. The company currently employs almost 50 people, with a retention rate topping 80 percent in workers' first six months.

"What [this] capital allows us to do is come to the table as a ready partner," explains Mandujano. When WCL negotiates with potential clients like a hospital system or university, whether or not the company has the capacity to handle the contract in terms of staffing and inventory has always been a big question. "What this investment has allowed us to do is…go out and close more of these institutional contracts."

The terms of the loan are unique, and give WCL a powerful incentive to expand its socially conscious mission. The current interest rate on the loan is 5 percent, but WCL has five years to reduce that interest rate drastically.

"We’re talking about the net number of jobs that we create," says Mandujano of the loan’s "five-year time clock" from its January 21 closing date. If WCL can create 200 jobs with the help of the new capital, interest on the loan will drop to three percent, and if it can create 500 new jobs within five years, the interest rate will go down to just one percent.

"I’m really excited that this financing aligns our financial interests with our mission interests," he enthuses. "If we’re better at achieving our mission, we’re also financially rewarded for that."

And for both WCL and DSVF, a bigger goal is creating a model that will work for other "purpose-driven businesses" and the foundations who might be interested in similar "impact investing," but do not know how to select the right company, set the right goals, and hammer out the paperwork.

According to Mandujano, "we wanted to create an instrument that that we thought could be copied both by other foundations that want to invest in Wash Cycle, but also just by foundations interested in this type of investing in general."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Gabriel Mandujano, Wash Cycle Laundry


An award-winning team at Penn works to make fracking safer

Last week, we took a look at how the graphene technology developed at the University of Pennsylvania is shaping the global marketplace, and now, a pair of Penn students has won the annual Y-Prize contest for applying this rapidly-growing field to the problems of fracking.

Winners Ashwin Amurthur and Teddy Guenin are both fourth-year students of dual-degree programs at Penn Engineering and the Wharton School. Guenin, a Lancaster native, is doing his undergrad work in bioengineering, marketing and management, with a master’s in mechanical engineering on deck after that, and Amurthur, from Princeton Junction, N.J., is majoring in bioengineering and finance.

This year, the Y-Prize contest invited students to develop a new application for existing Penn nanotechnology, and drew a record 19 entries. Four finalists presented their concepts to a panel of judges on January 28, and Guenin and Amurthur nabbed the $5,000 first prize. The funds aren't the only reward: they also receive the framework for a non-exclusive license to the Penn technology, an important first step in commercializing their proposal.

Guenin says the controversy of natural gas drilling's environmental effects loomed large as he grew up in central Pennsylvania. Together, the young men have applied Penn’s graphene field-effect transistor (GFET) technology to the detection of benzene in groundwater.

Currently, drilling companies who suspect leaks in the underground casings of their equipment -- and local governments and consumers worried about water contamination -- don’t have a reliable way to confirm and pinpoint those leaks. Groundwater can be tested for levels of various chemical ions and compounds like chlorides, but since these can occur naturally in some water samples regardless of the side-effects of fracking, the tests don’t offer conclusive answers.

"The oil companies want to know for sure, do we have a leak or not?" Amurthur explains.

The Y-Prize team’s answer is GFETs for detecting benzene, a carcinogenic compound used in fracking fluid that usually does not occur in groundwater naturally.

If the team can develop their benzene GFETs and bring them to market, "you could more conclusively say that you do have a leak," Amurthur continues. It’s vital information for municipalities, drilling companies and consumers alike, and could ensure more rapid and accurate repair of leaking casings, enhanced safety, increased profits and a protected environment.

Though there’s a lot of work yet to be done to bring this concept to market, Guenin is excited about the opportunities for networking and the support the Y-Prize win will bring.

"It’s awesome that we were able to get this," he says. "And we’re really really excited to move forward with it."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Ashwin Amurthur and Teddy Guenin, GFET-Frack Technologies


A KIZ tax credit helps Philly's Graphene Frontiers pioneer 21st-century diagnostics

Imagine conducting an instantly accurate test for Lyme disease or Syphilis -- or potentially hundreds of other illnesses -- right in your doctor’s office with a single drop of blood. Mike Patterson, a Wharton MBA alum and CEO of the University City Science Center-based Graphene Frontiers, says it’ll happen within a few years.

The company was founded by Dr. Charlie Johnson, Dr. Zhengtang Luo and Patterson in 2010 out of the University of Pennsylvania’s UPstart program. Recently recognized as one of 18 Pennsylvania Companies to Watch in 2015, Graphene Frontiers just landed their first Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) state tax credit.

But what is graphene, and why do we need it?

Put on your science hats.

Researchers at the University of Manchester first isolated this material in 2004, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

"Graphene is simply a single atomic layer of carbon," explains Patterson.

If you’re feeling fancy, call it an allotrope of carbon, like graphite or a diamond. It’s incredibly strong: proportionally 100 times stronger than steel, yet flexible, transparent, and the best conductor of heat and electricity mankind has ever discovered. It has myriad applications, from solar cells to touch screens to desalinization. 

Take your pencil’s core. Imagine cutting it so thin you have a slice of graphite only one atom thick. Bingo: graphene.
But it’s not so easy.

Graphene manufacturers don’t shave carbon down. Instead, they use a carbon-containing gas like methane and a process called chemical vapor deposition to build the graphene literally atom by atom.

What Dr. Luo discovered and patented in a physics lab at Penn was a way to do this at normal atmospheric pressure, instead of in an expensive, unwieldy vacuum chamber, like everyone else has been doing until now.

With the help of a two-step National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grant totaling almost $900,000, Graphene Frontiers entered the global market.

Forget little strips of graphene. The company is pioneering a way to grow it in massive rolls on copper foil, and then remove it from that copper with hydrolysis (an electric current that separates the hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyte/water solution) rather than using what Patterson calls "a really nasty bath of chemicals" to dissolve the copper and collect the graphene.  

"We can just bubble off the graphene and re-use the copper," he says. "[It's] very important for cost and environmental concerns."

Right now the company is focused on graphene in biosensor applications, and hopes to partner with a major diagnostics firm. Patterson says the future of point-of-care diagnostics will be the graphene field-effect transistor (GFET). In short, a strip of graphene ten microns wide (one-tenth the width of a human hair, for us mortals). A specific antibody attached to it will, with the help of an electric current, be able to instantly detect bacteria or proteins in a tiny blood sample (instead of testing multiple vials of blood for an immune response).  

In other words, no lab technicians with pipettes and goggles.

So what will Graphene Frontiers do with the new tax credit? It’s not just about physics and chemistry. The money will help the company hire a new production engineer and lab technician to produce more GFET applications and tests.

"It’s all about the people," insists Patterson.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source. Mike Patterson, Graphene Frontiers


Microgrants will launch community anti-litter initiatives in 2015

Last week, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) released a new RFP for community nonprofits looking to nab seed funds for their anti-litter initiatives.

"You can have all the ideas in the world but not secure the funds to do it," explains Michelle Feldman, the organization's director. "At Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, we're not the only ones with good ideas."

The new program consists of three microgrants: two of $1,000 and one of $500. A former CDC employee herself, Feldman knows how far even a small amount of money can go for a community group trying to get a new idea off the ground.

Keep Philadelphia Beautiful "believes that communities know their challenges and opportunities best," says the RFP of working through grantees on litter abatement. "We want to provide community-based organizations with the resources to help solve neighborhood beautification concerns, and the space to experiment and test new ideas."

Successful applicants will need to demonstrate measurable, collaborative, sustainable and scalable impact, says Feldman (she expects at least ten to 15 applicants for the inaugural round). The organization will consider brand-new proposals or expansions of existing programs that meet the criteria.

Empirical data proves that tackling litter can have a direct impact on factors like the growth of small businesses, property values, crime, and perception of the neighborhood both inside and outside the community. According to Feldman, a good example of community innovation on the issue is the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation's $1-A-Day program -- participating businesses each contribute $365 a year toward daily litter clean-up.

It turned into "a great way to help fund the daily cleaning and involve the community, and give them ownership over the cleaning effort," she explains.

The hope is that this year’s participants will be help model best practices, inspiring and informing other groups in the future.

Proposals are due on March 1; the winners will be selected by March 15. The project cycle will run through December 15, 2015.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michelle Feldman, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful

Could city-wide composting become a reality in Philadelphia?

According to a report from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Philadelphia spends over $6 million per year transporting and dumping our wasted or uneaten food into landfills. Why can't we be more like Austin or New York City, which already have food waste recycling programs? Councilwoman Cindy Bass, of Philadelphia’s 8th District, wants to get the ball rolling.

"It’s probably easier to refer to it as composting. The ‘food waste’ thing hasn’t really caught on," says Elliot Griffin, a spokesperson for the Councilwoman, referring to a recent City Council hearing on the feasibility of a city-wide food waste recycling program.

Participants in the November 12 hearing included representatives from the City’s Committee on Streets and Services and Committee on the Environment, alongside composting experts from groups including the U.S. Composting Council's Institute for Local Self Reliance and RecycleNow Philadelphia.

The administration testified that the estimated cost of launching a city-wide composting program, including street pick-up of compostable materials -- and a composting center to handle a city-sized mound of nature’s recycling -- could cost $37 million.

"We’re not exactly in a position to start that today," explains Griffin, but the point of the hearing, which she says was well-attended especially by supporters from Philly’s Northwest neighborhoods, was to help people realize that such a program could be feasible.

According to Griffin, Councilwoman Bass first got inspired on Philly’s composting potential when she read a spring 2014 article in the New York Times about comparable American cities that have already started these initiatives. At the hearing, the biggest surprise was how many locals, from restaurant owners to ordinary citizens to organizations like Weavers Way Co-Op, are already composting on their own.

“We recognize that we have to start the conversation now,” says Griffin, so the next generation can keep the momentum going and make wide-spread composting a reality, benefiting the environment, saving energy and creating jobs.

The construction of an organic recycling center and the jobs created for those who would manage it is "something that could benefit the whole Delaware Valley," adds Griffin.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elliot Griffin, office of Councilwoman Cindy Bass

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