Collaboration, giant video games and civic tech: Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
It speaks highly of the tech ecosystem that, when analyzing 10 years in Philly’s innovation industry, none of the bullet points are related to, exclusively, any one person.
In honor of Technical.ly’s 10th anniversary, as we peruse the landmark moments of this community, an overarching trend that keeps coming up is collaboration. The playbook goes like this: There’s an idea. There’s a connection to others. There’s a joint effort to get to a place. And many times, the final result is success and glory.
While, surely, personal ambition can be a driver, the deeper we dive into the archives the more it becomes clear that any significant Philly triumphs is driven by a sense of community, of going further together instead of going faster by ourselves.
Also notable: The highlights from the last 10 years we feature on this list, as pointed out by the responses to this reporter’s tweet, fail to follow the profile of splashy IPOs or huge transformative projects like Amazon’s HQ2 project promised. Instead, Philly’s moments of glory have inched forward consistently, one step at a time.
So, in celebration of 10 years, let’s take a look at the key moments and trends that have gotten us to this point:
N3rd Street sign goes up
If someone asks for a 2009 vs. 2019 comparison in Philly’s tech landscape, there’s a literal sign you can point them toward.
It was a sketch first, an idea largely driven by Old City coworking staple Indy Hall and its founder Alex Hillman. And then it was an actual sign that told the story of a group of local companies toiling away at technology from a few blocks of N. 3rd Street (get it?).
Philly’s rise as a civic tech hub
Code for Philly, the local Code for America brigade that has banded together civic technologists since 2012, has ties to a seminal Code for America program that connected seven civic tech fellows with the City of Philadelphia under the Nutter administration. The prominence of its brigade and close interaction with local politicians and agencies have elevated our city’s profile in the national ranks as a civic tech hub.
In 2012, the City also took a significant step forward in the modernization of its structure by appointing its first-ever Chief Data Officer in Mark Headd, ushering in a landmark era for tech in government. The most recent update from the City on that front is the Smart City roadmap announced by the Office of Innovation and Technology, which is poised to shape the long-term concept of Philly as a smart city.
Philly Tech Week is now about way more than Tetris
While entertaining the idea of freelancing for Technical.ly, back in early 2016, a quick Google search told me this team was legit. After all, they had managed to play a round of Pong on the freakin’ Cira Center in 2013 for its yearly event series, Philly Tech Week. The memorable moment pops up often in the community’s collective memory.
What began in 2010 as a convening of local stakeholders is now, easily, the main yearly check-in point for the growth of the ecosystem. And, last year, Technical.ly’s new Introduced conference brought together national thought leaders and convened hundreds for a day of lessons. More than a few ideas lingered afterwards.
What we learned from Amazon
In 2017, Amazon announced a call for cities to pitch themselves as host of a massive, 50,000-job headquarters that would be equal to its Seattle beachhead. Philly, quickly, raised its hand.
“It was the first time in close to 20 years that I heard everyone on one message,” TechGirlz founder and tech community champion Tracey Welson-Rossman, told Technical.ly before the news dropped. “If we don’t get Amazon, we should be prepared to go for the next one. Because when opportunities come, we should be prepared for them.”
Update: We didn’t get it. But there are many upsides to that.
Landmark exits proved our point
Remember any high profile acquisitions and mergers? Here’s 17 big ones going back to the early oughts, ranked by sticker price. You know them and have heard of them before. The big 2014 GSI Commerce sale to eBay, Boomi’s 2010 acquisition to Dell or the super timely $500 million sale of Half.com.
There was also RJMetrics’ double whammy of sorts, which yielded the funds to spin out Stitch, and later produced one more acquisition. With cofounder Bob Moore now onto his third startup, the sale is a success story we can point to, filed under the “Philly makes sense to grow your business” folder.
Also, its staff made some serious moves
Big orgs engage tech
University of Pennsylvania? Launched its massive tech transfer hub Pennovation in 2016. Comcast? Started an accelerator and built a soaring skyscraper devoted to tech. SAP? Built an innovation lab at its suburban HQ. Vanguard? Same, but in Center City. The Sixers? Yup. Johnson & Johnson? Check.
You get our point.
The City starts … funding startups?
Yup: StartUp PHL marked a significant turning point in how the City of Philadelphia approached economic development. Alongside the semi-public Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, the City began funding startups through the joint initiative as early as 2013. The initiative’s second fund is now being run by Ben Franklin Technology Partners.
Philly ups its resource game
The diversity of resources available to someone with a startup idea is so wide these days that there’s virtually an event you can go to every day. From the city’s many, many coworking spaces to the innovation hubs you read about in our previous point. There’s also a slew of accelerators in many different verticals. Take the University City Science Center alone. It offers: a Digital Health Accelerator, its Phase 1 Ventures, weekly programming at Venture Café, an entrepreneurs clubhouse at Quorum, the Innovation Center at 3401 Market St. and the First Hand Philly program aimed at youth.
Biotech puts Philly on the map
Philly’s biotech ecosystem scored a major, ground-breaking win with the success of Dr. Carl June’s experimental CAR T-cell treatment against advanced blood cancer. Anyone writing about the cancer moonshot now needs to stop by Philly and hear what’s happening at Penn.
esports, it turns out, were always a thing