After a two-year hiatus for many citywide events, Amplify Philly, the org with a mission to showcase Philadelphia’s talent and economic development efforts, is taking on a new challenge.
It was launched in 2016 as a way to organize and activate Philly creators and speakers during the annual South By Southwest festival in Austin. Its organizers — Michelle Freeman of Witty Gritty and Dave Silver of REC Philly — were both separately working on bolstering Philly’s events ecosystem when they decided to team up on their efforts. Amplify was one of the Philly orgs to first feel the effects of the pandemic, as SXSW was one of the first major events to be canceled in March 2020.
Followjng two years of virtual and hybrid events across the US, the group will be again taking on an in-person festival — B.PHL, first launched in 2019 by Independence Blue Cross. That year, the healthcare company launched a three-day conference intended to be a gathering of entrepreneurs and innovators from the fields of healthcare, tech, engineering, art, music and academia in workshops and presentations across the city.
Michelle Histand, then director of innovation at IBX, said in 2019 that the conference was meant to showcase and intersect the innovation happening across industries. And on Wednesday, Michael Vennera, SVP and CIO of IBX, said it was always part of the company’s long-term plan to “transition the administration of the festival to another group when the time was right.”
“We’re very proud of B. PHL and all that it has achieved over the past three years. It has brought people together, inspired conversations, and highlighted Philadelphia as the most innovative city on the East Coast,” Vennera said in a statement. “We felt now was the right time to make the transition.”
Freeman and Silver will now run the event as part of Amplify Philly’s programming with support from Witty Gritty and REC Philly’s staffs, though IBX will continue to support the festival as a sponsor. Freeman told Technical.ly that while the nonprofit Amplify’s mission was to spread the word about Philadelphia outside of the city, they had begun brainstorming for an at-home event to connect and build here.
"We made Amplify a nonprofit in 2019. There was work there and a model we created that we thought could grow. The pandemic shifted that a bit, but this year feels like there's momentum."
IBX reached out to Amplify last year about the potential to become the festival’s future organizers, and the group got to observe and see if it could be a good fit, Amplify’s team leads said. The deal became official this spring: Amplify will run the festival Sept. 9 to 10 this year at Location 215 in Callowhill, where in-person portions of the event were livestreamed to remote audiences last year. Freeman said the team will continue to operate the remote aspect of the event, as it pulled in a wider audience. The theme of the sessions and programming this year? “Leadership in innovation.”
“We wanted to transition the oversight of B. PHL to an organization that not only understands the importance of innovation, but knows Philadelphia — its people, culture, history, businesses, etc.,” Vennera said. “Amplify Philly checks all those boxes and then some. They have had success bringing diverse business, culture, and tech communities into the international spotlight.”
Silver told Technical.ly that with SXSW, the focus is all on Philly players, but the B.PHL festival will give the org an opportunity to use Philadelphia as a backdrop for the globally focused innovation festival. That means it will feature keynote speakers from around the world alongside hands-on workshops, conversations and live entertainment. The goal is for attendees to leave this festival feeling inspired and equipped with strategies to make a greater impact in their work and communities.
“We can create the most impactful program, and it doesn’t just have to be Philly. We can intertwine some of the best Philly artists and speakers, but it’s organic,” Silver said. “We’ll put an international leader on a panel next to Philadelphia folks.”
B. PHL is also partnering with Campus Philly on its annual CollegeFest, which takes place on Sept. 10 to 11. The partnership will aim to bring in more college-age and recent graduate attendees and stakeholders into the B.PHL ecosystem, Freeman said.
Overall, Amplify taking on the B.PHL festival feels like a great opportunity to add an “anchoring piece” to the organization, she said: “We made Amplify a nonprofit in 2019. There was work there and a model we created that we thought could grow. The pandemic shifted that a bit, but this year feels like there’s momentum.”