(Photo by Flickr user Tom Ipri, used under a Creative Commons license)
Could we say that 2014 was the year people stopped comparing Philly’s tech scene to that of Silicon Valley? Really, we heard that refrain much less, though it’s an easy, understandable way to describe the region’s strengths and goals. (For example, “We should be the Silicon Valley of health IT,” said DreamIt Health leaders.)
Barring that, here’s our year-in-review for Philly tech. Tell us what we missed in the comments.
- High school hackers are taking over: Yes, they are getting younger and younger and they’re getting involved, too. Last winter’s PennApps had the highest number of high schoolers (40) to date, two of eight PennApps Fellows interns were high schoolers and teenager (and PennApps Fellow) Victor Lourng started a high school hackers meetup. Just for good measure, here’s the latest from 18-year-old Cherry Hill native and Thiel Fellow Conrad Kramer: productivity app Workflow.
- Chris Saridakis gets prison time for insider trading: Saridakis tipped off family and friends about the $2.4 billion sale of of GSI Commerce to eBay, the biggest Philly tech business acquisition in the last 15 years. This isn’t a trend, per se, but we’ll be watching GSI Commerce (now eBay Enterprise) to see if there’s any residual fallout.
- Let’s! Do! Coworking!: It was the year that out-of-market coworking and shared office spaces eyed Philadelphia. Miami’s Pipeline just opened and Chicago’s Industrious plans to open two spaces in the near future. We’ve heard unconfirmed rumors about at least two others looking for space in Philly. Women-only coworking space The Hive got a lot of buzz for its unique model and Venturef0rth got new management (and a seed fund). Plans abound for 2015 and beyond.
- Code for Philly catches fire: The three-year-old civic hacking meetup group found its groove this year, regularly drawing dozens of technologists and civic-minded Philadelphians to its weekly get-togethers. The group, which celebrated meetup No. 100 last fall with a feast of barbecue, produced a number of apps that reached beyond the tech scene, including the bike route-tracking CyclePhilly and the STEM education tool greenSTEMnetwork. They also broadened their reach by partnering with education group Girl Develop It Philly to run an open source fellowship.
- Shakeups at Monetate: The Conshohocken e-marketing startup is arguably the biggest and one of the most influential in the region, with hundreds of employees and an office that grew in square footage this year. In a move that surprised local tech watchers, the venture-backed startup got a new CEO in Lucinda Duncalfe, who had been running the city-backed healthy food delivery startup Real Food Works. Shortly after her appointment, she announced a round of layoffs. Late last year, then-CEO David Brussin was clear about his intentions to IPO. Is that still in the works?
- Big raises: Here’s a sign the Philly tech scene is maturing. Its startups closed Series A’s and B’s that were massive, at least by Philly standards. Curalate’s $8.6 million, RJMetrics’ $16.5 million, Zonoff’s $31.8 million. If you’re curious, out of all those raises, only one (Curalate’s) had local investors (First Round Capital and MentorTech Ventures).
- The UberX wars: Nothin’ like a little scandal to shine a light on the tech scene. Uber’s unceremonious (read: illegal) launch of its lower-cost, “ridesharing” option UberX was the Philly tech story that everyone was watching (and every outlet was covering). UberX is legal everywhere in Pa. except for Philadelphia, but UberX continues to ride on in the city. Wonder how long that’ll last?
- The rise of data-driven policing: As part of a federal grant, the Philadelphia police trained more than two dozen cops as data scientists. It’s an effort to institutionalize data-driven policing across the department. Though its program director left last fall, the program is still kicking. The Police Department recently got another federal grant to test out more data-driven tactics and the SEPTA Police Department, with a federal grant of its own, has followed suit.
- The new face of open data in Philadelphia: The city’s first Chief Data Officer, Mark Headd, quit when he felt like he could no longer make a difference within city government. Enter Tim Wisniewski, who released an ambitious plan to institutionalize open data in the year before Nutter leaves office. Will it work?
- Let that regional pride shine: In a reversal of Philadelphia’s tech legacy, more and more tech companies are choosing the city over the suburbs (the city even has its own seed fund to lure startups here), though the suburban scene remains strong, with anchors like Safeguard Scientifics, Zonoff, DuckDuckGo, Monetate and Brick Simple. Some say the line between the city and the suburbs is a moot point. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, one thing is becoming clearer: the region is becoming a place that more startups want to call home, shown best by DreamIt Ventures’ recent demo day. Previously, startups in the tech accelerator generally did not stay in the area — but that seems to be turning around.
Checking in on the realLIST startups of 2018
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