Philly's top 10 tech stories of the year: pandemic pivots, startup shutdowns and goPuff growth - Technical.ly Philly

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Dec. 23, 2020 10:06 am

Philly’s top 10 tech stories of the year: pandemic pivots, startup shutdowns and goPuff growth

Here's what readers of Technical.ly Philly cared about most in 2020.
A goPuff ad on a University City District “LUCY” shuttle, November 2014.

A goPuff ad on a University City District "LUCY" shuttle, November 2014.

(Photo by Juliana Reyes)

At the end of each year, we spend a good amount of time reflecting on the past 12 months and setting goals for the future.

And since 2020’s been, well, A Year, we don’t blame you if you’re looking forward a little more than usual. But there will be a lot that we collectively learned this year that will be helpful moving in 2021 and beyond, from navigating a pandemic as a small business to learning how the heck to set up your WFH workspace and even what “company culture” looks like when there’s no shared place to work.

There was also a whole lot of world news this year, like the ongoing civil rights movement and protests across the nation (and how small biz in Philly handled it), as well as a presidential election.

We at Technical.ly are usually tasked with reporting on and writing about the tech and startup scene, the local economy, and the resources and programs available to folks in these areas. But the newsroom found ourselves pivoting again and again this year, asking, “What do people reading us want and need to know?”

We stepped outside our usual beat in an unusual year, and the 10 most-read stories on our site reflect that. Dig in:

10. These companies are switching to virtual internships and recruiting amid COVID-19

An intern walks into SAP’s Vancouver office in 2019. (Screenshot via YouTube)

While some Philly companies and orgs canceled summer internships early on in the pandemic, others pivoted to carry out programs remotely. In this April story, we detailed how SAP and Freedom Mortgage planned to host their internship and training programs over the summer — virtually — and Campus Philly shared some tips on how to effectively host remote interns.

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9. Tenants were kicked out of 1776 Rittenhouse this morning

(Courtesy photo)

At 1776’s spot on 1608 Walnut St. (Courtesy photo)

The IRL nature of this story about humans working together (!) in a coworking space marks it as decidedly pre-pandemic. Indeed, in February, 1776 Rittenhouse tenants were told to pack their things and leave with no explanation. Technical.ly found later that the surprise eviction was likely the result of unpaid rent suits.

8. Meet the who’s who of local tech community builders: Philly’s 100 RealLIST Connectors

Clockwise from top left: Jumoke Dada, Sylvester Mobley, Jeff Friedman, Opeola Bukola, Josh Kopelman and Anne Bovaird Nevins.

This year, we launched the inaugural RealLIST Connectors, a 100-person guide of who you want to know to get started in the tech scene here. We pulled together investors, devs, leaders of companies big and small, and folks who have been in the community for two years or 20. In the conversations we’ve had with these leaders over the years, it’s become clear that they care about their city’s tech and business community, and about leaving it better for future generations.

7. How 8 Philly orgs that support Black communities are responding to the moment

The Enterprise Center’s post-protest 52nd Street cleanup on June 1, 2020. (Photo via facebook.com/TECCDC)

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police in May, cities across the world marched and staged peaceful protests in protest of police brutality and racial inequality. A torrid weekend of vandalism in Philadelphia also left many businesses and communities in shambles, but orgs across the city that support Black communities responded with everything from fundraisers to cleanup efforts, as well as thoughts on what we can do next.

6. The most promising Philly tech companies in this new decade: RealLIST Startups 2020

Astarte Medical cofounders Tracy Warren (L) and Tammi Jantzen. (Courtesy photo)

Each year, Technical.ly reporters take note of impressive startups that address innovate solutions in rising industries and name 10 to watch for the following year. Most gave us evidence — through doubling down on hiring, fundraising or launching new products — that they were setting up to make the Philly startup scene better than it was before they arrived. Read about how the 10 we picked were faring in July when we checked in, and nominate a promising young company for the 2021 list.

5. Comcast is offering two months of free internet through its Internet Essentials program

Comcast offices

Inside Comcast HQ. (Courtesy photo)

When the pandemic hit the Philadelphia region in mid-march, broadcast giant Comcast opened its Internet Essentials program to more people, giving away two months of free internet services to qualified households that applied. The program is ongoing through next June, Comcast announced recently.

(P.S. Is your child’s internet connection making the grade? The Broke in Philly solutions journalism collaborative is asking families who are getting internet access through the School District of Philadelphia and Comcast to run a speed test and share the results. Take the survey in English or Spanish.)

4. Here’s what we know about goPuff’s reported $750M SoftBank investment

goPuff cofounders Rafael Ilishayev and Yakir Gola.

goPuff cofounders Rafael Ilishayev and Yakir Gola. (Photo by Roberto Torres)

One late Sunday in January, the Technical.ly newsroom got word that delivery startup goPuff, founded in 2013 by then-Drexel University students Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev, had received a $750 million investment from Japanese conglomerate SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund in August 2019. We gave a rundown of what we did and didn’t know at the time, and a history of the seven-year-old company’s relationship with the city.

Later on, Technically Media CEO Chris Wink contextualized what a unicorn tech startup could mean for the city. (His “Philadelphia prayed for a tech unicorn with a household name. Now what?” was technically our 10th best-read story of the year.)

“Whether you think consumer-facing matters or not, or whether you think goPuff is the best flag bearer or not, it seems it’s here. Like so many other elements of transitioning from one economic mix to another, Philadelphia will have surpassed another checkpoint,” he wrote.

3. Your updated guide to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and other benefits in PA

Filing for unemployment. (Photo by Vojtech Okenka from Pexels)

When the application to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) opened in mid-April, it gave people who aren’t eligible for regular employment — like gig workers and self-employed people — the ability to receive aid from the state. But the online filing system came with some glitches and a lot of questions.

12 questions self-employed and gig workers have about PA’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — answered” was our fifth best-read story of 2020. In it, Julia Simon-Mishel, the supervising attorney of the unemployment compensation division at Philadelphia Legal Assistance gave some tips on how to file for PUA.

As the pandemic raged on, unemployment throughout the region and the country saw record highs. By September, the unemployment process had changed a few times, and Technical.ly checked in with Simon-Mishel again to answer some oft-asked questions about where the program stood then.

Congress’ new relief package, passed Monday, includes an extension of the PUA program.

2. Penn Medicine released a digital tool to help hospitals with COVID-19 capacity planning

The COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics tool. (Gif by Paige Gross)

Days after the first Covid-19 cases had appeared in the Philadelphia area, the Predictive Healthcare team at Penn Medicine developed and released an open-source tool to help hospitals plan for patient increases and intake during the COVID-19 spread. The tool, called CHIME, or COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics, uses SIR modeling, which computes the theoretical number of people infected with a contagious illness in a closed population over time to predict outcomes.

1. This rising Philly-made startup is shutting down. Here’s why, in its founder’s words

Vetd’s Andrew Hoagland (L), Zach Shapiro (C) and Bill Piel, July 2019. (Courtesy photo)

Every startup founder will probably reach a point in the life of their company where they ask themselves, “Is this still working?” For Andrew Hoagland, who cofounded sourcing and picking vendors company Vetd, that time came about two years after he’d quit his job at Sidecar to start the company. In this transparent guest post, Hoagland shared his process for knowing it was time to close down the startup early this year. It rocketed to the top of our most-read list and has stayed for months.

“So to those want-to-be entrepreneurs: It seems obvious to suggest not to make the same mistakes that I did. But most importantly, never underestimate the value of your Philly network for help and support,” Hoagland wrote. “Early on in Vetd’s life, I spoke with a supportive Philly founder and asked how I could thank him for his time and mentorship. He replied simply that when he was in my shoes, he had so many people help him on his path to success. The only thing that he asked of me in return was to give back to the next class of founders.”

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