Microsoft is opening an 'innovation center' in the old Dept. of Making + Doing - Technical.ly Philly

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Apr. 6, 2016 7:40 am

Microsoft is opening an ‘innovation center’ in the old Dept. of Making + Doing

The space primarily appears to be a marketing spot for Microsoft, where people can learn to use Microsoft tools, but could it also bring “underrepresented groups” into the tech scene?

The University City Science Center's 3711 Market Street building.

(Photo courtesy of University City Science Center)

What was once a makerspace will turn into a “Microsoft Innovation Center,” an events and training space that also acts as a marketing arm for the Seattle-area tech giant.

In July, Microsoft will launch its third U.S. Innovation Center, following those in the fellow fledgling tech hubs of Atlanta and Miami, on the ground floor of the University City Science Center’s 3711 Market Street location, owned by Wexford Science + Technology.

Previously, the space housed the Dept. of Making + Doing, a youth-focused makerspace that closed last fall due to factors like rising rents and the lack of a longterm plan. Before that, it was the first location of makerspace NextFab, which opened a larger space in Washington Avenue in 2013.

It’s Microsoft’s first official presence in Philadelphia, though the company has a store in King of Prussia and an office in Malvern. There are more than 350 Microsoft employees in the area, according to the release.

Microsoft will not sell any products at the Innovation Center, said Science Center spokeswoman Kristen Fitch, though people will be able to sign up for free BizSpark and DreamSpark software at the center.

SeventySix Capital’s Wayne Kimmel spearheaded the effort to get Microsoft to open the center, after hearing from Microsoft’s Jeff Friedman (formerly of the city’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics) that the company was looking to open another one.

Microsoft, which is leasing the space from Wexford Science + Technology, plans to launch the space in time for the Democratic National Convention, during which the company will offer events focused on politics and civic engagement. (Maybe civic hacking crew Code for Philly will make an appearance?)

After that, Kimmel will work with Microsoft and the Science Center to develop programming.

The tech scene often talks of attracting giants like Microsoft, Google or Amazon to the area, so this is a start. But it’s not tech jobs. (The Science Center will hire someone to run the center.) At first glance, it sounds a bit to us like a glorified store (the Inquirer’s Joe DiStefano called it “an urban marketing presence”), though we do see the potential: according to the release, the center plans to offer programming that will bring “underrepresented groups” into the tech scene fold.

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“It has been my personal goal for years to open an innovation center in Philadelphia that is open and accessible to everyone to inspire people to be entrepreneurial and create amazing companies to change the world,” Kimmel wrote in an email.

It’s not yet clear how the innovation center will do this, but we hope it does.

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