(Downtown Philadelphia at sunset by f11photo via Shutterstock)
This article is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal, as part of the Tomorrow Tour.
The Tomorrow Tour, a national event series inspired by Comcast NBCUniversal and organized by Technical.ly, makes its first stop in Philadelphia later this month, Jan. 27. The project aims to explore and document how technology and innovation converge to strengthen the city.
An evening roundtable and networking event will connect some of the smartest local entrepreneurs, technologists, policymakers and new thinkers for discussions that focus on the future of innovation and entrepreneurship. A key focus will be how to better articulate Philadelphia’s innovation stories and improve the economy.
At Tomorrow Tour Philadelphia attendees will have the opportunity to hear a keynote session on innovation storytelling, watch several startups demo their products and talk to some of the city’s leading tech and entrepreneur influencers below — one of whom says she sees the same kind of excitement in Philly as she does in Silicon Valley, New York City and Seattle.
The evening program is free, but registration is required to save your spot.
Ather Sharif, EvoXLabs
Ather Sharif became a quadriplegic after a car accident in March 2013. He left North Dakota, where he was studying as a grad student, and came to Philly for rehab. He loved the city so much he decided to make it home.
While undergoing rehab, Sharif said he came to several eye-opening realizations. The most important being he now experienced firsthand the limitations a person with a disability faces in daily activities.
“Knowing that I was a web developer and given my technical skills, I had to at least try to minimize some of those limitations pertaining to accessing the web,” he said.
Sharif created EvoXLabs as a result. Initially founded to conduct research on web accessibility, his company has since evolved to advocate, research and build accessible technologies.
“Philly is a special place,” said Sharif, who recently graduated from Saint Joseph’s University with a master’s in computer science. “It has a very intimate, diverse and unique tech community, which shows the right balance between wanting to make money and wanting to make a difference. Not everything is about money and not everything is volunteer work. This allows new techies to pursue a tech career with a great mindset — their humanity stays intact while they turn their ideas into best-selling products and services.”
He added that he believes the biggest area of growth for Philly is the open source market. “A lot is already being done,” Sharif said. “A little more could make it even better.”
Prasanna Krishnan, SmartyPal
Prasanna Krishnan’s resume stretches a few pages, with her diverse background including experience at larger tech companies, venture capital and startups.
She worked on the product side at Microsoft on the data platform WinFS and on business development and strategy at Comcast. At Draper Fisher Jurvetson, she invested in early-stage technology companies, with a focus on education and cloud computing.
“But I always had the startup bug, so I joined Jetsetter in NYC as general manager to start and grow a new business line for the company around travel planning,” said Krishnan, who has a master’s in computer science, as well as an MBA from Wharton. “After Jetsetter, I really wanted to do something that would be a good business and have a big social impact.”
She went on to found SmartyPal, an app that combines technology and childhood development research to deliver a new kind of mobile learning platform.
“I was always passionate about education,” she explained. “SmartyPal was born out of our own experience as parents. We were concerned about screen time and what research had to say about its impact on kids. At the same time, as technologists, we knew technology can be used to have a positive impact. So, we started SmartyPal to use technology to make learning more fun and more effective.”
Having worked in the three major tech hubs of Silicon Valley, New York and Seattle, Krishnan now sees a lot of the same kind of excitement in Philly.
“I’ve even overheard people discussing code at cafes,” she said. “Philly’s tech community is unique in that because it is still small, there is a special camaraderie between folks in the tech/startup world here. You tend to know a lot of the people in the community and people are very willing to help each other.”
5 more tech leaders to meet at Tomorrow Tour Philadelphia:
1. Rakia Reynolds, Skai Blue Media
- A full-service, Philly-based PR agency, Skai Blue Media specializes in helping businesses grow their clientele base.
2. Victor Lourng, PhillyDevCamp
- PhillyDevCamp is a web dev bootcamp designed to bridge the gap between what students learned at school and what technical skills will be required of them as they enter today’s workforce.
3. Brigitte Daniel, Wilco Electronic Systems
- After beginning operations in May 1977, Wilco Electronic Systems is now the largest privately owned African-American cable provider in the Philadelphia area.
4. Chuck Sacco, Drexel University
- As assistant dean for strategic initiatives at the Drexel’s Close School, as well as director of the Baiada Institute, Chuck Sacco works with students and entrepreneurs in creating and launching their ventures.
5. Chris Alfano, Jarvus
- Chris Alfano is a cofounder of the collaborative coworking space Devnuts and development firm Jarvus Innovations.
Tomorrow Tour Philadelphia will be held Jan. 27 from 6-9 p.m. at the Quorum at the University City Science Center (3711 Market St., 8th Floor). Register here for the free event.
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