Startups

It wasn’t ‘the right time’ but ThingWorx decided to sell anyway. Here’s why

The "Internet of Things" company was acquired early this year. At this week's IMPACT conference, ThingWorx CTO Rick Bullotta sketched out the backstory.

Here are just some of the Civic- and Access-related lessons learned at #PTW19 — including "Overconfidence is overrated. Courage is not."

Philly Tech Week 2019 presented by Comcast is winding down after the big event, Introduced by Technical.ly — a "choose your own adventure" conference covering business, science, media, creative, civic engagement and inclusion. The Impact room, emceed by Generocity Editor Sabrina Vourvoulias, was the place for the Civic and Access tracks. Here are our six big takeaways from the Impact room, one from each session:

Session 1: Empowering the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

  • We need more entrepreneurship education for high school students.
Tiffany Yau, founder and CEO of Fulphil, a social impact training program for high schoolers, said that based on her organization's research, 72% of Philadelphia high school students want to start their own business — but over 60% are not offered a course in entrepreneurship in high school. What areas are youth most interested in? Mental health, inequity, environment and school safety, say Michael O'Bryan of The Village of Arts and Humanities and Elizabeth Lea Dougherty of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Session 2: Entering the Tech Field: Diversity in the Workplace After the First Year

  • Overconfidence is overrated. Courage is not.
[caption id="attachment_40203" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Diversity in the Workplace After the First Year panel with Comcast and Seer Interactive. "Diversity in the Workplace: After the First Year" panel with Comcast and Seer Interactive. (Photo by Holly Quinn)[/caption] Caloua Lowe, a digital marketing contractor with Seer Interactive, found herself suffering from imposter syndrome at work, which was compounded by the fact that she didn't look like most of her colleagues. She said she found that by being open about her feelings of discomfort, it exposed common ground: "Everyone doesn't feel completely comfortable at work, and that's OK." And in the words Preston Beckley IV, manager of sales operations at Comcast: "Hiring someone who doesn't look like you isn't a risk. It's an opportunity.

Session 3: Being a Good Corporate Neighbor: Listening, Aligning and Giving Back

  • One word: Intentionality.
(A  bit more on that here.)

Session 4: Social Ventures: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

  • Greater Philly is the place to be to start a social venture.
"With its low cost of living and the most active social venture network in the country, you don't have to pack your bags and move to Silicon Valley or NYC," said Emeka Oguh, CEO of PeopleJoy.

Session 5: Painting While Riding a Horse with Oscar Award-Winning Inventor Garrett Brown

  • The impossible is possible.
[caption id="attachment_40198" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Elizabeth Lea Dougherty interviews inventor Garrett Brown. Elizabeth Lea Dougherty interviews inventor Garrett Brown. (Photo by Holly Quinn)[/caption] Before Brown created the Steadicam in the 1970s, a shot like Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, filmed with a handheld camera without the limits of a rail-mounted setup, was considered impossible. In fact, when the "Rocky" director saw Brown's footage demonstrating what his camera could do on the famous steps, he asked, "How did you do that, and where are those steps?" A combination of tech, creativity and a lot of experimentation made it a reality. What's next? The Zeen elevated walker chair, an innovative mobility device currently in development.

Session 6: Amplifying Civic Power: Using Art to Impact Change

  • Art is voice.
[caption id="attachment_40199" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Erika Guadalupe Núñez showing Ni Uno Más (Not One More) artwork. Erika Guadalupe Núñez showing Ni Uno Más (Not One More) artwork. (Photo by Holly Quinn)[/caption] "Without the banners, no one would know why they were protesting," said Erika Guadalupe Núñez, activist and VP of immigrant rights organization Juntos. When the North Philadelphia Hartranft Basketball Court was renovated in 2018, art kept the memory — and the reality — of the court's past alive. And when Philadelphia trash cans were suddenly emblazoned with used car ads, art got businesses thinking about using ad space to make the city more livable.

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

The founders of ThingWorx, the Exton-based “Internet of Things” company, made the call to sell their company to PTC for $112 million in early 2014 — even though it wasn’t the right time, said CTO Rick Bullotta on a panel at the IMPACT conference this week.

“We were in a hyper growth market,” he said. “We were committed to raising more capital.”

In 2013, ThingWorx was in the thick of an “Internet of Things craze,” as Bullotta put it. “We had all the big boys — IBM, GE — doing our marketing for us.”

But PTC, a publicly-traded company in the Boston area, was committed to getting into the Internet of Things space — and they were willing to pay for it.

“Our CFO put out a real stretch number, and we all said, ‘Wow, that’s ambitious,'” Bullotta recalled.

Not so for PTC, said Bullotta.

It wasn’t only about the money, though. ThingWorx had other major questions, like “Are we going to be able to finish our vision?” Bullotta said. “Are our employees going to be taken care of?”

Once those questions were answered (all 50 ThingWorx employees kept their jobs in Exton post-acquisition and the company continues to operate as ThingWorx), Bullotta and his team signed off on the deal.

ThingWorx was the second exit for Bullotta, an angel investor whose LinkedIn says he’d eventually like to be a mountain bike guide or a science teacher. He cofounded Lighthammer Software Development with ThingWorx CEO Russ Fadel. They sold the company to SAP in 2005 and Bullotta spent a few years as an SAP exec.

ThingWorx is a platform for businesses to manage their connected devices and systems. Think of it as the Facebook of things.

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Companies: PACT, ThingWorx
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