<![CDATA[NBC 10 Philadelphia - ]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/feature/small-business-philadelphia http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC10_40x125.png NBC 10 Philadelphia http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com en-us Mon, 01 Sep 2014 15:08:18 -0400 Mon, 01 Sep 2014 15:08:18 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Holiday Shopping Starts Now?]]> Fri, 29 Aug 2014 06:42:48 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/WCAU_000000007976184_1200x675_323104835856.jpg Business leaders in Swedesboro, Gloucester County are already encouraging residents to shop locally in order to get ahead of the crazy shopping rush of Black Friday.]]> <![CDATA[Want to Find an Eco-Friendly Shop? There's an App for That.]]> Fri, 29 Aug 2014 15:25:26 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/milkcrate+app.JPG

Strolling through Old City and hoping to eat at a farm-to-table restaurant? Shopping along Walnut Street and interested in buying eco-friendly fashions? Now thanks to MilkCrate — a smartphone app launching this week — sustainable-minded shoppers can discover nearly 2,000 “green” businesses located in Philadelphia and Montgomery and Bucks counties.

"Our goal is to provide a central digital hub for all organizations in the Philadelphia area that care about sustainability and the local economy," said Morgan Berman, the founder and CEO of MilkCrate.

The free-to-download app became available on Droid devices Sunday — Berman’s 29th birthday. An iOS version for iPhone users will be available to download by the end of the week, she said.

A Philly native, Berman said she was inspired to create MilkCrate in 2011 when she was seeking out sustainable businesses but found there was no single database listing all those in our region.

“All this information was so spread out,” she explained. “I kept thinking this takes a lot of energy and a lot of time. What is it like for people who have the inclination to do this stuff, but don’t necessarily have enough energy to dedicate to this?”

Two years later -- when she began a master’s degree program in sustainable design at Philadelphia University -- she dedicated her thesis to developing a mobile app that serves as a hub for consumers to easily find environmentally friendly businesses.

“Instead of going to Yelp, they can go to MilkCrate to find a place that uses farm-to-table produce,” she said.

The app is likey to gain users given the growing interest in eco-friendly products and services, said Pinar Yildirim, a marketing professor with University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

"Consumers obtain a 'warm glow' from using [eco-friendly products]," Yildirim said. "These products and services make consumers feel good and look good to their social circle."

Having access at their fingertips to a directory of sustainable businesses makes it even easier for an educated shopper to determine how to spend their dollars, she added.

Berman, and her team of more than a dozen staff members, collaborated with other organizations that verify a business’ sustainable practices -- including B Corporation, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, Fair Food and The Humane League -- and used their lists to create a database of almost 2,000 eco-friendly restaurants, retailers, fitness centers, salons and other services.

Soon MilkCrate will add the various cooperatives mapped out by students at Haverford College. Companies interested in a mention on MilkCrate that are not yet verified as sustainable with one of its collaborators can submit information and the firm will determine if they meet the necessary standards to get listed, Berman said.

“We are the app that will help you find everything you put in your milk crate when you ride around the city,” said Berman, referencing the repurposed plastic containers often fastened to bikes.

Users can select icons to filter by category and also search what’s nearby with results showing up in a directory format.

But Berman said a second version, which she plans to release by the end of the year pending funds raised by an IndieGoGo campaign, will include a map mode, a “bucket list” for users to earmark businesses they want to try and a favorites list for stores shoppers already know they like.

The next version also helps the company — so far built entirely on “sweat equity” — to add ways to become more profitable, Berman said.

Users can pay $20 per year, or $2 per month, for a premium account, which will offer Groupon-like discounts, and businesses can pay to advertise or obtain a more prominent placement on the site.

And plans are also in the works for MilkCrate to catalogue sustainable businesses outside of Philly, in cities like Washington and San Francisco, Berman added.

“We want to help consumers everywhere when they are making decisions about what to do, where to eat, where to go."


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Milk Crate]]>
PHILADELPHIA BUSINESS JOURNAL]]> <![CDATA[Owners of Zahav to Debut New Eatery]]> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 15:39:48 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/160*120/name_zahav.jpg

On Sept. 2, Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook (the restaurateurs behind Zahav and Federal Donuts) will debut their newest venture, restaurant Abe Fisher on 1623 Sansom St.

The restaurant's opening comes on the heel of the recently launched Dizengoff, the 600-square-foot hummus restaurant right next door on 1625 Sansom St.

The 1,500-square-foot Abe Fisher will have a 50-seat dining room, a 10-seat full-service bar and kitchen counter seats with a view of the kitchen that will be available every night for walk-in guests.

Abe Fisher will be the "inverse" of Zahav, Cook told me earlier, and will offer food of the Jewish diaspora.

To read more about Abe Fisher's cuisine, go to PBJ.Com.

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<![CDATA[Business Owners Boiling After Dîner en Blanc ]]> Sat, 23 Aug 2014 17:46:31 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/DinerEnBlanc_5999.jpg

More than 3,000 people enjoyed the fanciful, all-white Dîner en Blanc that shut down a portion of Broad Street Thursday night. But the French-inspired affair caused business owners in the area to boil over.

"We found out about this roughly around 6:15 [p.m.]"said Burnie Gaeta, general manager at Ruth's Chris Steak House. "We scrambled around to figure out valet parking, to notify guests that there is going to be a backlog."

The secretive event -- which reveals its public, outdoor location to ticket holders only moments before it begins -- was held on Broad Street between Chestnut and Pine streets from 7 p.m. until late Thursday night.

The busy Center City thoroughfare was closed to traffic throughout the duration of the meal, meaning detours forced drivers away from restaurants that line the Avenue of the Arts. And the large crowd caused many pedestrians to avoid the area too.

In previous years, Dîner en Blanc was held in Logan Square and along the bridge portion of John F. Kennedy Boulevard -- causing some traffic issues but no other problems.

After several business owners complained that Dîner en Blanc's diners caused customers to opt for other shops and restaurants Thursday, Councilman Jim Kenney sent a letter detailing the criticisms to Richard Negrin, the city's managing director.

"The business owners I have spoken with were not notified that this event would shut down this main artery," Kenney wrote, "and many restaurants took reservations, scheduled valet parking attendants, and otherwise planned normal operations, when in reality their options for accepting business were extremely limited..."

But Natanya DiBona, the co-host of Dîner en Blanc, said the necessary steps were taken to alert the area business owners the street would be closed.

"Some were personally contacted, some were letters," DiBona said.

Gaeta insists he never received a letter even though Negrin confirms the event organizers, the City of Philadelphia and the Avenue of the Arts district reached out 90 days in advance.

Despite the confusion, both Kenney and Gaeta welcome the return of Dîner en Blanc next year, although with some changes.

"I please ask that the impact on local businesses be given greater importance before the City signs off on an event," Kenney wrote.

Gaeta added, "Just next time, we hope there's more foresight."

DiBona, who met with many of the Broad Street business owners Friday, said she hopes to secure a location in 2015 that won't inconvenience so many.

The frost-colored fete came under fire earlier this summer after many foodies interested in buying tickets for the meal encountered an error-filled website. The frustration over the technical malfunction -- allegedly the third consecutive year it occurred -- led a group to launch their own event, Dîner en Noir.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 10 Philadelphia

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<![CDATA[New Video Game From Philly Startup Goes International]]> Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:15:25 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/dragon+fin+soup.jpg

A feisty, daring version of Little Red Riding Hood is giving the international gaming world a taste of Philly and putting the spotlight on the city's tech industry as a local video game development firm debuts its first product in Germany this week.

“Our main heroine doesn’t need saving,” said Ash Monif, the CEO of Philadelphia-based Grimm Bros. “She can save herself.”

The startup company put a dark twist on the classic fairy tale with its premiere title, Dragon Fin Soup. The game features protagonist Red Robin – a caped, blonde-haired alcoholic who can’t remember her demon-filled past.

“We wanted what could be an interesting fault that people could relate to, but could also be overcome,” he explained.

Monif and his four-person team spent the past two years developing the role playing game, which is one of 36 independently created games showcased from Aug. 13-17 at Indie MEGABOOTH as part of Gamescom 2014.

The 5-day convention will draw about 400,000 people – nearly double the attendance at Comic-Con International in San Diego – putting Grimm Bros and Philly’s mushrooming gaming industry on the map.

And shining a light on the burgeoning local technology industry is a win for the entire city, according to Frank Lee, a Drexel University professor who founded the school’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio.

“We have little to no presence in the gaming industry,” Lee said.

Despite top-rated game design programs at Drexel, University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, most companies are based on the West Coast with a few in New York and Boston.

"Any game company able to go beyond the border to represent Philadelphia," he continued, "is helping to raise the profile and gather more interest in the growing independent game industry [here.]"

Lee adds that having Red Robin – a female as Dragon Fin Soup’s lead character – could get even more eyeballs on the screen and, in turn, on Philly.

"The game has potential to appeal to a much broader audience beyond the stereotypical male, aged 16- to 25-years-old,” said Lee, who added Red Robin, unlike many female characters in video games, is not overtly sexualized.

“Hopefully this is a positive message that resonates with young woman and young game players,” he said.

Players can take the “charming and scrappy” character through several different modes: Story, Survival or Labyrinth, Monif said.

Users can spend hours in story mode, unraveling Red Robin’s past.

"She lost her memory," Monif explains. "You get to discover what happens to her and it unfolds into a plot full of murder, mystery and madness."

Survival mode offers skilled players one chance to battle monsters and other terrors Red Robin encounters, while Labyrinth mode lets gamers compete against their friends in an endless maze packed with traps.

Dragon Fin Soup will have a staggered release over the next few months, becoming available on Sony platforms followed by Linux, Mac, iOS and Android devices.

Fans of Grimm Bros’ first release can expect the firm to develop a second game, but the more ambitious project will require even more local talent to join the team by early 2015, Monif said.

“We will be looking to hire more artists and engineers, at least two more developers if not three,” he said. "We are still the underdog in the game industry, but we're moving as quickly as we can."


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Grimm Bros]]>
<![CDATA[Want to Open a Restaurant? Philly Pop-Up Tests New Ideas]]> Sat, 09 Aug 2014 14:25:39 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Gourmet-Food-Generic_0925.jpg

Foodies rejoice! One Philadelphia neighborhood is getting 36 new restaurants over the next three years.

Common Table, a pop-up restaurant incubator, is giving entrepreneurs a chance to test their restaurant concepts for one month in a newly remodeled 44-seat location at 310 S. 48th St. in West Philadelphia.

“We are looking for people who know how to cook and have a passion for food service, but don’t necessarily have the know-how or the resources to execute their ideas at the restaurant level,” said Della Clark, president of The Enterprise Center, which is running the federally-funded program.

The Enterprise Center, a nonprofit that educates and assists entrepreneurs, is currently accepting applications for Common Table.

To participate in the fellowship, applicants must complete a questionnaire, which the nonprofit then uses to decide who should move on to the next round. Those selected will be asked to submit a business plan by early September, followed by the final step in vetting -- a taste test.

About 10 new eateries will likely open during Common Table’s inaugural year, said Caroline Valvardi of The Enterprise Center --- which is footing the bill for nearly all the restaurant’s expenses.

“We will provide the front of house staff,” Valvardi said. “We’ll provide all the food and ingredients… We’ll basically build the restaurant for them.”

But there is a caveat for the cash-strapped. The entrepreneur will not receive a paycheck and any dollars gained during each residency will get poured back into the pop-up space, Valvardi said.

Each fellow can put their own personal touch on the 1,400-square-foot space, which they'll occupy for about a month.

They will also receive technical training and financial advice as part of the approximately six-month-long program.

Anticipating the space will be unoccupied during some portions of the year, Valvardi said Common Table would welcome established restaurateurs to fill those gaps and test out their own ideas.

Many culinary stars may be excited about the opportunity to showcase their cuisine, but the real benefit is Common Table’s educational component, said Daniela D’Ambrosio, chef and co-owner of Pickled Heron, a French-inspired bistro.

“We would have loved to have someone guide us through financing and permits and health inspections,” said D’Ambrosio, who opened Pickled Heron at 2218 Frankford Ave. in the city’s Fishtown section nearly 3 years ago. “For someone who finds all the paperwork daunting, this is great.”

But the hospitality industry veteran warns the future Common Table participants that one busy month in the pop-up location does not ensure their enterprise will survive elsewhere.

“Because your restaurant is successful for a month in West Philadelphia does not mean it is going to translate well to other places,” she said. “Restaurants have so many variables to their success and location is a huge one."

Scheduled to open late fall, the pop-up location at 310 S. 48th St. is currently under construction. The deadline for the first round in the application process is Aug. 15.


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 10 Philadelphia

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<![CDATA[New Business Helps Veteran Combat PTSD]]> Fri, 11 Jul 2014 11:21:54 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/litton+sanding.JPG

Matthew Litton struggled to find work that accommodated the disabilities he sustained during his nine years with the Marine Corps. Unable to connect with an employer willing to adjust to his medical conditions, the 32-year-old veteran took matters into his own hands -- literally – when he opened his own custom woodworking business in January.

"You get so focused into the woodworking that you forget about everything else," said the Philadelphia native and owner of Litton Woodworking. "I find that it is therapeutic for myself and my doctors noticed a great turnaround, as well as my partner and family."

Prior to starting his own business, Litton held other jobs, including one as a tools and parts attendant at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.

"I worked for not even a year when my disabilities just started affecting what I could and couldn’t do,” he said.

Litton says he experiences pain in his back and legs if he sits in the same position for too long.
“It just kills my back and my legs start going numb,” he said. “It just snowballs.”

He was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and suffers from short-term memory loss due to a traumatic brain injury.

"I have to write down where I left off so I know where to pick it up again," he explained. "If I couldn’t find something, I start getting frustrated and angry because now the PTSD and traumatic brain injury are kicking in."

Unable to modify his Naval Yard position to meet his medical needs, Litton left his job in January 2013 and opened his business a year later.

He operated out of his home’s garage for the first half of the year. Using skills he gained working with his uncles as a teenager, he makes one-of-a-kind jewelry boxes, shadow boxes, wine cabinets, tables and more for about five clients a month.

In mid-June, he relocated his workshop to a space within the Lower Bucks Senior Center at 301 Wood St. in Bristol. The new location is more than double the size of his garage and gives potential customers a chance to stop by and see his products, he said.

"Now I have four new clients," Litton said. "And thus far, my disabilities have not gotten in the way."
Even though running a business brings about its own stresses, being able to set his own limitations has helped Litton manage the conditions that held him back in other jobs, according to an expert with the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.

"He is able to titrate what he can tolerate in relation to his symptoms," said Dr. David Oslin, the VA’s Chief of Behavioral Health, who has not treated Litton.

And having a passion for one’s work also aids those dealing with mental illness, he added.

"Having a purpose in life is important to all of us," Oslin explained. "When a veteran with a mental illness, like PTSD, finds a role that they are confident with and can do – that is a substantial benefit to them."

Oslin cautions that becoming an entrepreneur is not the solution for all veterans adjusting to life after their service. Instead he suggests any veteran struggling on the job should seek help.

"Get treatment," urged Oslin. "Don’t try to do this alone."

Along with providing medical treatment, the VA helps connect veterans with work that matches their skills in an environment that does not aggravate any of their symptoms.

"Veterans are folks that volunteer and contribute to society in a very powerful and meaningful way," Oslin said. "When they come as civilians, they want to continue to do that."

For local veterans who want help getting their conditions under control, call the VA Medical Center’s eligibility office at 215-823-6000.

Litton, who regularly checks in with his own doctors, says his woodworking business is the best treatment for him.

"I’ve been a lot less anxious and stressed since I’ve started the business," he said. "Just being able to do something that I love...it’s something I take pride in doing."


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Alison Burdo]]>
<![CDATA[Landlord Boots Popular MontCo Cafe]]> Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:31:40 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Corner-Cafe.jpg

A group of ten boys are eating cheese-covered omelets with sides of bacon at The Corner Café in Abington, Montgomery County while 34-year-old Rebecca Hagelin has lunch with her mom across the restaurant. 

“Usually I come here for breakfast,” said Hagelin, who was one of about 75 customers at the 120-seat diner on Wednesday.  “They have the best blueberry pancakes.”

But Hagelin is running out of time to enjoy her favorite morning dish as the property manager, King of Prussia-based Kravco Company LLC, is forcing the nearly 14-year-old family business to vacate the 3,600-square-foot space in the Huntingdon Valley Shopping Center.

“They don’t care about mom and pop businesses,” said John Graff, The Corner Café’s co-owner.

During summer 2012, Graff, along with the owners of the other businesses in the shopping center, met with Kravco officials to discuss the complex’s future.

Graff says that meeting was the first time Kravco’s representatives told him the Corner Café would remain at its current location, while several other businesses would not have their leases renewed. 

Those shops, like Extreme Karate and Salon En-Jolie, occupied retail space in a mostly vacant portion of the commercial property, which would soon become a new medical center.

“They assured me I was safe,” said Graff, who invested about $100,000 upgrading equipment and remodeling the restaurant over the past two years.

But when Graff contacted his landlord about exercising the 5-year extension option on his lease, they refused.

“They lied to me. They flat-out lied,” he said. “I would not have invested one dime if I knew I had no chance of staying here.”

Despite what the property management firm may have promised during in-person meetings, a clause in the lease allows Kravco to boot the Huntingdon Valley breakfast favorite when the lease expires on Jan. 31, 2015.

“Tenant’s reported Gross Sales for 2013 did not meet the required amount of $2,300,000,” Kravco’s Chief Operating Officer Lisa Fair Plisken wrote in a letter to the small business owner.

The stipulation – known as percentage rent – is common in commercial leases. It grants the landlord extra rent based on a percentage of gross sales.

Kravco representatives declined to comment, but Graff admits gross sales last year were around $800,000, less than half what the contract demands.  

Graff, who inherited the lease terms when he purchased the business nearly 13 years ago, insists Kravco is only concerned with the bottom line, missing the importance the local eatery brings to the community.

He has 14 employees, about half who are full-time, that will be out of work.

And customers love the social atmosphere.

"I like the waitresses -- they all know my name," said 64-year-old George Tomezsko, who has visited the diner regularly for 10 years. "It is a friendly, family place."

“We’re devastated,” said 89-year-old Stella Lukiewski, who has lunch at the Corner Cafe with her husband, Edward, five times a week. “I can’t imagine going anyplace else.”

Unwilling to go down without a fight, Graff started a petition, which has already gained 1,700 signatures, and launched a Save the Corner Café Facebook page.

And his customers, many of whom voiced their support to Graff as he doled out change at the register, are prepared to battle alongside the business owner.

“It’ll be tragic if this place closes,” Lukiewski said.

“Where are we going to go to eat?” asked Hagelin. “It is the only good breakfast place in the area.”

Graff acknowledged that the official documents will make this an uphill battle, but says Kravco reiterated their verbal commitment to keeping his business as a tenant as recently as October 2013. 

“I was misled,” Graff insists. “I’m finding out big corporate could care less.”


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: NBC10.com]]>
<![CDATA[Does Social Media Really Boost Business?]]> Wed, 02 Jul 2014 11:55:16 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/10-3-2013-instagram-generic.jpg

Suggesting the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform at the Divine Lorraine on Facebook, sharing their Twitter followers photos of Philadelphia and posting images of their product on Instagram are just a few of the ways Philly-based clothing company Aphillyated uses social media to market their brand.

“Without social media, our brand would not have been able to reach customers in over 60 different countries,” said 24-year-old Vincent Sannuti, who cofounded the Philly-centric brand with his 26-year-old brother Nicholas in May 2010.

The siblings, who grew up steps from the city limits in Lower Moreland, use social media far more than traditional advertising to market their retail business, well-known for its t-shirts emblazoned with the city skyline. 

Nicholas estimates the pair, along with their four employees, spend a total of 20 hours a week planning their presence on social media, but only dedicate about five hours a week towards traditional advertising.

But local experts, and even the Sannuti brothers, warn that their marketing strategy is not going to pay off for every business.

“It comes down to what type of business they are,” Nicholas said. “You have to be able to reach your target market.”

The heavy investment in social media marketing works for Aphillyated because it is an online only business trying to reach teens and young adults, who are native to social media, Vincent said.

Earl Boyd of Entrepreneur Works, a nonprofit microenterprise development firm, suggests new entrepreneurs view social media as a complement to other advertisements.

“Social media alone just isn’t enough,” Boyd said. “You can build engagement; possibly build some awareness that helps your sales efforts. But, for the most part, that alone doesn’t drive sales.”

And research on the success of social media outreach has mixed results, according to Pinar Yildirim, a social media marketing expert from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“We don’t know statistically speaking if it provides more significant returns when it comes to economics,” Yildirim said.

“It allows you to reach out to a wide variety of customers, some that may have never heard of them,” she continued. “But a consumer may be following them on social media, exposed to the actions of the firm, and that doesn’t mean they will go buy the product.”

A recent Marketing Science Institute report shows a lot of effort is required for social media to affect the business.

"For both new and well-established bands, it is difficult to move followers out of an unengaged state," the Building a B[r]and: Understanding How Social Media Drives Consumer Engagement and Sales study shows.

The report suggests incorporating more emotional than informative content to better connect with one's audience.

Vincent and Nicholas say they have been able to leverage the platforms by continuously monitoring the changes Facebook, Twitter and Instagram make to their platforms and regularly tracking what drives customers to their site.

“We can track everything down to the actual checkout of the customer,” said Nicholas, who added that sales continue to rise month-over-month even though the firm is spending less on advertising.

Despite their success, the Sannuttis still advise other businesses to evaluate the best plan for them.

“Some people think social media is the end all be all,” Nicholas said. “You really want content that can spread and go viral. If you keep it cut and dry, it isn’t going to work in the digital age.”


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Walkable Suburbs Improve Local Economy: Study]]> Wed, 25 Jun 2014 16:25:18 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/west+chester+borough+street+scene.jpg

Suburban communities looking to strengthen their economy should mimic the walkable real estate development that boosted downtown West Chester, according to a new study.

"You need to urbanize your suburbs,” said Christopher Leinberger, president of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors. "There are many, many market segments that don’t want to move into the city for many reasons. But they want a walkable urban lifestyle.”

The greater Philadelphia metro region ranked 13th among the country’s 30 largest metropolitan areas for "walkable urbanism," according to a joint study from LOCUS  and George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis. 

The study ranked the country's largest metros based on the number of large commercial districts -- more than 1.4 million square feet of office space or 340,000 square feet of retail space -- in walkable areas.

The Philly metro region had 17 walkable commercial locations, making up just 19 percent of the total area's square footage, the report shows. 

In top-ranked Washington, 43 percent of the metro’s square-footage is composed of walkable commercial developments. New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago round out the top five ranked metros, the study shows.

West Chester was one of the few locations within the Philly metro, yet outside city limits, to meet the walkability and commercial square-footage standards, Leinberger said.

"From an economic development point of view, this certainly has a major impact on future growth," said Leinberger, who pointed to a strong correlation between walkable urbanism and education level, as well as a connection to the local economy. "The more walkable urbanism of your area, the higher education of your workforce and higher [gross domestic product] per capita."

And office space in walkable commercial districts commands 74 percent higher rental rates than offices in traditional business parks, he added.

In the West Chester Borough, market value increased nearly fourfold since 1999, according to the West Chester’s Business Improvement District (BID). A square-foot of commercial space went for $153.15 last year.

Other signs of an improved economy -- the 1.8 square-mile Borough gained 241 businesses and more than 1,000 new residents in the last 13 years, said Malcolm Johnstone, BID’s executive director.

"Their interest in moving to West Chester is they can park their car and forget about it," he said.

Downtown West Chester has fewer parking lots today than it did 10 years ago and construction has added high-density residential developments alongside the business district, he said.

"People can walk from these residences to virtually anywhere," he said.

Investing in downtown led the Borough to collect an additional $320,000 in property taxes since 2000, according to the BID.

Before other suburbs model themselves after West Chester, Johnstone suggests thoughtful, long-term planning. “You can’t do it overnight,” he said.

But Leinberger reiterates the importance of rethinking downtowns in Philly’s suburbs.

"Regionally significant walkable urban places – this is the future of our country," he said. “These are the models for future development.”


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: www.downtownwestchester.com]]>
<![CDATA[BucksCo Native Wins 'Chopped' ]]> Fri, 04 Jul 2014 16:14:57 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/lindsay+mcclain+jamonera+chef.jpg

The Food Network crowned its latest culinary star Tuesday when the "Chopped" judges named Bucks County native Lindsay McClain the episode's winner.

Twenty-six-year-old McClain, who is a trained chef specializing in Mediterranean cuisine, made the cut through the show’s first two rounds and faced Brooklyn-based chef and restaurateur Josh Cohen in the final “Dessert” stage. Like in the “Appetizer” and “Entrée” bouts, the competitors were forced to use four mystery ingredients sprung on them only moments before the clock starting ticking.

McClain used the skills she gained from her schooling at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts and her experience as chef de cuisine at Jamonera at 105 S. 13th St. in Philly’s Midtown Village to wow the judges and net the win. 

You first applied to the show in March 2013, found out you were cast August 2013 and taped the episode Oct. 30. What was it like keeping your win and the dishes you created a secret all this time?

It was so hard to not say anything. My husband and my parents definitely had an idea because they came to New York with me. The Jamonera staff have been trying to trick me into slipping. If I made a new dessert or a new dish here, they would say, "Is this something you made on 'Chopped?'"

Since you had a few months between casting and taping, did you do anything to prepare?

I practiced at Jamonera a lot. Our other cooks went to one of the corner markets and bought a bunch of crazy ingredients and they would make baskets for me twice a week. One of the baskets had pink lemonade powder, Brussels sprouts, chiles and tahini. I ended up making a roasted Brussels sprout with bacon and a pink lemonade vinaigrette with tahini. One of the chefs was like, "I’m going to make this at home tonight."

Aside from incorporating the mystery ingredients in your dishes, you must complete each course in less than 30 minutes. How did that compare with cooking in Jamonera?

The time goes by like that! You have to keep the timer in the back of your head the entire time. Just get this stuff done, go with the first idea that pops in your head. When it came down to the judging, it was the most nerve-wracking thing ever. But I’m naturally a really calm person. So it was fun and exciting too. And it was really fun to be around chefs from other cities and see how I stand up against them. I stood up against them pretty well.

If you could do the show over again, would you do anything differently?

The dessert that I made I was definitely not happy with. Now cookies are my arch nemesis. I didn’t like the cookie because I didn’t transform it. I would have rather made the cookie and raspberries into maybe a crumble instead. I can’t back cookies to begin with, but I can bake bread and I can make any other kind of dessert.

What dish from the show are you most proud of?

The first dish -- falafel with herb buttermilk dressing, lemon, scallions and basil. It was a falafel mix, date paste, habanero peppers and chicory. Dates are something we use a lot in Spanish cooking so I was really familiar with that. Obviously the falafel mix is the one that throws you for a loop because it is a dry mix, so I just added some fresh herbs and lemon to brighten it up. I love chiles. They actually said I didn’t use enough! I thought it was really bright, one of the dressings I made for that dish is actually a dressing we use here at Jamonera.

What menu item from Jamonera would you recommend to customers interested in trying your unique flavor style?

My favorite dish is probably our mushroom coca. It is a flat bread with roasted mushrooms that we buy local and an arugula pesto and truffle oil. Then it has urgelia cheese, which is a Spanish stinky cheese.

You are a head chef of an award-winning restaurant and scored $10,000 with the "Chopped" win. How have you accomplished so much at only 26-years-old?

The things I accomplished in my career are goals that I set for myself in culinary school. So for me, this is what I should be doing. I knew that I wanted to be running a restaurant by the time I was 25.


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Alison Burdo]]>
<![CDATA[Baker Aims for Bread to be Philly's New Iconic Food]]> Wed, 25 Jun 2014 11:42:55 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/pete+merzbacher+philly+bread+closeup.jpg

Cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, water ice and….bread?  Philadelphia may soon be known for another iconic edible item thanks to 25-year-old Pete Merzbacher, who won a year of marketing services for his bakery Philly Bread in the inaugural Lightning in a Bottle competition.

"I got the product, I got the bakery, I own the equipment, I have the staff, I already have a market that’s buying it,” Merzbacher said. "But I haven’t had any time to market it.”

Like a bagel, Merzbacher's Philly muffin comes in white, wheat, cinnamon raisin and everything varieties. But he says his product is an English muffin-bagel hybrid.

"There are nooks and crannies in it. …The appearance is a lot closer to an English muffin and there’s no hole in the middle,” he said. "A bagel is very dense. The dough has very low hydration. My dough has very high hydration, which gets a different texture.”

Since launching Philly Bread in May 2013, Merzbacher says his business has gone from producing a few hundred muffins a month to about 7,000 with essentially no advertising. 

“Sometimes I’ll pull out my smartphone and snap a picture of what I’m doing, write a little blurb and post it on Facebook,” he said. “But it’s really been the last thing on my mind.”

His muffins are currently available at 15 different locations in the area, including the Swarthmore Co-Op Food Market, MOM’s Organic Market in Bryn Mawr, and Weaver’s Way Co-Op in both Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill.

But Merzbacher knew he needed to start advertising if he hoped to reach his ambitious goal of scaling the “Philly Muffin” -- an updated version of the English muffin -- so it would become known as the city’s bread of choice.

“San Fran has the sourdough loaf, New York has the bagel and Paris has the baguette,” he said. “My intention is to make the Philly Muffin as world famous as our cheesesteaks are.”

The texture and the taste first caught the attention of the Lightning in a Bottle judges, a mix of business, advertising and communication professionals deciding who would win a year of marketing services, valued at $60,000, from Wilmington, Del.-based AB+C Creative Intelligence

But Philly Bread’s potential effect on the city’s economy is what led the judges to select the year-old bakery from among the 29 businesses that applied.

“[Philly Bread] could have high impact on the local economy, has good growth potential and can be easily leveraged by marketing assistance,” Joel Vardy, president of Vardy & Associates who judged the competition.

Several others pointed out the effects Philly Bread has already had on the local economy. Merzbacher employs two part-time and two full-time workers and rents a commercial space at 4905 N. 5th St. in the city’s Olney section.

Although Merzbacher is not yet sure what the marketing strategy will be, AB+C executives say they’ll likely begin by overhauling his website.

Whatever the plan, Merzbacher is committed to doing what he does best.

"As they start pushing the marketing,” he said, “I’m ready to do what I need to do in the bakery.”


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[Philly Coffee Shop Among Best in Country]]> Thu, 19 Jun 2014 16:33:48 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/aaron+ultimo+at+shop.jpg

Local java lovers can enjoy a cup of joe at one of the best coffee shops in the country, right here in Philadelphia.

For the second consecutive year, Daily Meal named South Philly’s Ultimo Coffee as one of the 50 best coffee shops in America.

"We have a reputation for our focus on the details and bringing the best possible cup of coffee to the table,” said Aaron Ultimo, owner. 

He opened the first location at 1900 S. 15th St. in 2009 and, three years later, a second shop at 2149 Catherine St.  

Ultimo, which topped the list in 2013, fell to fourth this year. Everyman Espresso in New York took the top spot, followed by Go Get Em Tiger in Los Angeles and Saint Frank's in San Francisco.

But the drop doesn’t bother the owner, who credits his baristas for creating a welcoming environment that helped them earn a spot on the list two years in a row.

"A lot of shops get a little too preachy,” he said. "We will go to the Nth degree if customers want to know about coffee or if they just want a cup and to go on their way, that’s fine too.”

The sincere, yet restrained style set Ultimo apart.

"Well-versed but unpretentious,” said Daily Meal Editor Jess Novak, "Ultimo stands out from the pack.”

Hand-brewed, individually prepared drip coffees are one way the shop distinguishes itself from others throughout the city and the country, Ultimo said.

"Everything we do is by hand with a kettle filter and coffee," he said. "We really went back to the old way and resurrected manual drip coffee brewers. At this point in time we don’t have any coffee brewing machines, other than an espresso machine."

And Daily Meal noticed more than the uncommon brewing style.

"Their space is bright and inviting, and their treats are delicious," Novak said. "Their chevre and fig spread on a bagel may be heretical to a New Yorker, but it’s secretly delicious – and pairs beautifully with a cup of their pristinely crafted brew.”

For hours and more information, visit Ultimo Coffee’s website.


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: www.facebook.com/pages/Ultimo-Coffee]]>
<![CDATA[New Outdoor Concert Venue Opens]]> Wed, 11 Jun 2014 07:31:22 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/guitar+generic+wood.jpg The Sun Center in Aston will hold it's first concert of the summer tonight.]]> <![CDATA[Jobs to Surpass Pre-Recession Levels: Experts]]> Thu, 05 Jun 2014 20:38:45 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Computer-mouse-generic-0311.jpg

Experts are predicting the Department of Labor will announce U.S. employment has exceeded pre-recession levels Friday with the addition of 200,000 more jobs, but add the breakthrough should not be a reason to celebrate.

“It is a milestone without meaning essentially,” said Ryan Sweet, a director with West Chester, Pa.-based Moody’s Analytics, “because if the recession didn’t occur, employment would be substantially higher.”

And while the figure may indicate the country has returned to a pre-recession state, the current conditions don’t match the economic environment that existed prior to the crash, said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

"If we kept going at 2007 labor market conditions, we would have about 7 million more jobs right now,” Shierholz said. “We are definitely in a recovery, but it is agonizingly slow.”

The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is 5.7 percent, while Delaware sits at 5.8 percent and New Jersey has a rate of 6.9 percent – all below their recessional highs, according to the monthly job report released by the Department of Labor last month.

The positive trend is likely to continue in Pennsylvania and Delaware, but New Jersey might not be so lucky, Sweet said.

“An ongoing consolidation within pharmaceuticals is hurting parts of South Jersey,” he said. “When you lose pharmaceutical jobs, it has a spillover effect on the rest of the economy.”

The changes in the pharmaceutical  industry are also hurting parts of Montgomery County, Pa., where the industry has a large hub, but other sectors are making up the difference, Sweet added.

“In Philadelphia, it has been tourism,” said Sweet, who attributes the industry’s growth partly to the casinos in the city and nearby suburbs. “But Philly’s gain has come at the expense of South Jersey as Philly specifically and Pennsylvania generally have been able to steal away some business from Atlantic City.”

Yet the area’s employment gains are made up mostly of low-wage jobs, another indication that the labor market has not fully recovered from the Great Recession.

“When the job market is strong, people don’t have to accept those jobs,” Shierholz said.

Sweet added, “It is still a long road ahead.”


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[Small Business Optimism on the Rise]]> Thu, 29 May 2014 16:37:26 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/160*120/generic_office_448x336.jpg

A recent national survey shows small businesses across the country are looking forward to a successful year. But some experts say the positive outlook is sector specific and simply a reaction to the end of a lengthy recession.

"It’s got to depend on what business you are in," said Ian Cross, principal of Philadelphia-based I-Site, a digital marking and software company made up of 7 people.  "What is happening in entrepreneurship in tech isn’t happening downtown."

The results of the 2014 Chase Business Leaders Outlook shows 73 percent of the nation’s small businesses leaders have a positive perception of how their company will perform in next 12 months and 57 percent have an optimistic view of the local economy’s coming year.

"This is a really big signal because this is a community that is very challenged by the downturn," said Jim Glassman, a senior economist with JPMorgan.

Data from the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center (SBDC) also indicates growing strength in the Keystone State’s small business community.

From 2012 to 2013, the amount of investment owners made in their small businesses rose 30 percent in Pennsylvania, according to the SBDC’s Diane Sandstrom.

"Anytime a business invests to grow or expand they are taking a risk," said Sandstrom, who described that willingness as an indication of confidence.

Despite the encouraging indicators, Sandstrom said Pennsylvania’s small business community is far from comfortable.

"We’re still digging out of a recession," she said. "There are still a lot of struggling entrepreneurs out there."

Cross agrees, describing the community’s outlook as "conservatively optimistic."

"Anyone who has been through the topsy turvy last few years has a sense of realism," he said. "They may be excited about the possibilities, but they manage their business very tightly these days."

Glassman adds the positive perception can’t overcome the need for investment in the right industries.

"It is important to build the culture of interest in technology," he said. "There is a synergy that comes from building up critical mass."

The city’s tech scene gained steam recently with the establishment of N3rd Street and the excitement surrounding Philly Tech Week events, but Cross says the local industry still needs help.

"Finding the right people in my line of work, I still find that is a major challenge," he said.

Glassman suggests leveraging the city’s established assets, like the universities, to spur further development in the tech industry, but adds it will take time to see the results. 

"We are really only in the fifth inning of economic recovery," he said. "When we stumble like we did, it takes a long time to get back on our feet."
 


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[Former History Teacher Turned Gym Owner]]> Sat, 31 May 2014 08:07:35 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/steelworks+gym+main.jpg

When the School District of Philadelphia laid off Brian Terpak in May 2013, the former history teacher transformed the extracurricular fitness club he ran at Girard Academic Music Program high school into his new business, Steelworks CrossFit gym.

“I thought this was the last chance in my life to do something worthwhile and different,” said 33-year-old Terpak. “And through the kids’ program, I thought why don’t I do that for the rest of my life?”

His parents, both teachers, urged him to reconsider, but Terpak persisted. “When I was younger, the biggest thing I wanted to do was be a coach,” he said.

With the help of his family and a loan from the nonprofit Entrepreneur Works, Terpak poured nearly $10,000 into opening Steelworks at 1415 Melon St. in the city’s Spring Garden neighborhood in September 2013. 

The location, which he updated with a new bathroom and lights, was a somewhat risky choice since CrossFit Fairmount opened about four blocks away a month earlier.

“I had no clue he was opening,” Terpak said.

Steelworks’ membership packages range in price from $108 to $218 per month depending on the number of visits desired—a similar setup to the nearby competitor.

“But the thing about crossfit gyms is they have different personalities,” added Terpak, who leads his 42 clients through one of the nearly 30 sessions involving kettle bells, jump ropes, medicine balls and squat stands each week.

“You can do curls until you are blue in the face, but can you pick up a weight, put in on your shoulder and run a mile with it?” he asked. “As opposed to having muscle for aesthetics, this creates energy systems that are designed to make you a better person.”

An incentivized membership package, which included a free t-shirt and attendance at three seminars at no extra cost, attracted some of his first clients to try out the program he once led students through for 60 minutes three days a week after school.

“I remember there were a lot of painful moments, particularly my first pull-up. I could not do a pull-up at all,” said 19-year-old Alex Palmer, who participated in the high school club from its inception in January 2012 until he graduated in June 2013. 

Before Terpak coaxed Palmer into using his free time to lift weights, complete squats and do deadlifts in the school cafeteria, the Girard Academic Music Program graduate says he was out of shape.

“I was obese. I had very bad asthma,” Palmer said. “Doctors were telling me I should get out and do something besides staying in and doing school work.”

But he shed 60 pounds with the help of Terpak’s program.

“I found myself health-wise always feeling out of breath and tired and now I’m a whole lot more energetic,” he said. “I became a lot happier.”

Palmer, who can now do nearly 30 pull-ups in a row, still finds time between his classes at University of Pennsylvania to get to Steelworks for Terpak’s instruction.

“He is still teaching,” Palmer said. “It is just in a different setting and atmosphere.”

Aside from hoping current members, like Palmer, tell others about Steelworks, Terpak is hosting fitness challenges to introduce his business to other potential clients.

A pull-up contest is set for June 28. It costs $30 to enter and all proceeds will go to BooCancer, an organization that gives children an opportunity to raise money for a cause of their choice by putting their artwork on shirts or stickers which are then sold.

The entry fee also gives competitors a chance to test out Terpak’s program since he is offering coaching to prepare the participants’ upper body ahead of the challenge.

He expects to hold more contests in the future to build the local fitness community and Steelworks’ membership.

“One idea I’ve had is to try to find the strongest man or woman in Fairmount,” he said.

While he fleshes out the details, Terpak –standing in front of a chalkboard and wearing thick-rimmed glasses – readies his current members for the next physical challenge they’ll face.

“While I’m no longer in public education, that need to teach is still satiated.”


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Alison Burdo]]>
<![CDATA[New Business Opts Out of Manayunk Location]]> Wed, 28 May 2014 13:36:47 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/transfer+station+rendering.jpg

The latest coworking space to open in Philadelphia shut its doors last month, raising questions about the fate of a project that gained support from hundreds of community members and the plans for the $1.5 million raised through crowdfunding to purchase and renovate a long-time vacant Manayunk building. 

“There is not an easy way to get yourself in the property owning industry for the first time,” said Simon Rogers, who co-founded The Transfer Station with his brother Adam. “Everybody wants to see what you’ve already done.”

The brothers planned to open the Transfer Station – a shared space for paying members to use for their retail, office or event needs -- at the former power substation at 114 Green Lane. 

The pair partnered with Philadelphia-based developer Shift Capital and Washington-based Fundrise LLC to generate a portion of the capital needed to acquire the property through a  crowdfunding campaign, which allowed Pennsylvania residents to invest as little as $100 in the project.  

The unusual financing model quickly surpassed their $500,000 goal, reaching more than $1.5 million with the help of 623 “investors.”

But the renovations required to repurpose the Green Lane building, which lacked plumbing and other necessities, to suit the Transfer Station’s needs were too costly.

“There are more important parts to what we are trying to do than having that specific location,” Simon said.

Regardless, no one who gave money towards the purchase was bilked out of their cash, said Shift Capital’s Brian Murray.

“It was a test the waters campaign,” Murray said. “No money whatsoever exchanged hands. If you were on Fundrise… the statement is if this investment was available to the public would you be willing to invest and how much would you invest.”

The Transfer Station co-founders’ aborted pursuit of the vacant substation means Shift Capital no longer controls the building and, in turn, the developer’s role in the organization is over.

“Our primary role was to try to put together a project at the Green Lane property,” Murray said. “Now we’ll support them from a cheerleading standpoint.”

The decision to abandon the building the co-founders had set their sights on came just as the short-term lease at 4120 Main St., the temporary location where they opened in November, was ending.

“The roadblock we kept coming up against,” said Adam, “to customize a space to the extent that we need to, it doesn’t make sense to pour that much money into a space that we do not own.”

The building lacked flexibility and its retail-based design didn’t fit the Transfer Station’s other intended uses, he said.

Instead the six-month run in the cavernous retail building at the end of Main Street’s business corridor served as a “pilot period” for the Transfer Station’s business model.

“It felt like a lot of people were so excited about the transfer station, and we were too, but they didn’t know what they were excited about,” Adam said. “In the next revision, we are focusing that excitement to be more controlled.”

Both Adam and Simon admit to saying yes to proposals, like a gallery space, at the temporary location that were not part of The Transfer Station’s original purpose.

When the next location opens, the co-working space will refocus on its core mission – providing a space for entrepreneurs and business consultants to connect and collaborate.

“When you get to the root of why we created [The Transfer Station], we met so many talented people who have something to contribute to society,” Simon said. “There are people who have incredible talent, but don’t have the know-how or the resources to convert that into an active business or to bring a product to market.”

The search for the next location is underway and Simon and Adam say they are not limiting themselves to the city’s Manayunk neighborhood.

“We are honing in on what makes the most sense as far as public transportation, safety and distance from Center City,” Adam said.

Simon added, “The case could be made that North Philadelphia could be a great place to build a testing ground.”


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/THEXFR/]]>
<![CDATA[Philly Tech Week's Feminine Side]]> Wed, 28 May 2014 13:37:11 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/PTW2014+women.JPG

Female participation at Philly Tech Week was higher in 2014 than in the previous two years, but some local experts say even more women are needed to bridge the industry’s gender gap and shed stereotypes about the fairer sex. 

“A lot of new faces attended this year,” said Tracey Welson-Rossman, a founding member of the Fort Washington-based app and mobile development consulting firm Chariot Solutions, who also helped organize some Philly Tech Week events. “There was growth in the number of students and educators from the college level, a mix of executives as well as freelancers and women who were starting businesses.”
Nearly 650 people attended the six women-focused events this year, up from the 200 that showed for the single event dedicated to females -- the Women in Tech Summit -- last year, according to Corinne Warnshuis, events coordinator with Technical.ly, which spearheads the week-long technology and innovation seminar.
“Women are really trying to get advice and insights on how to get started in the entrepreneurial sphere of the tech world,” Warnshuis said.
But one first-time attendee said the insights confirmed some of the issues she has faced as a female in the industry.
“There are different standards for men versus women,” said Kari Bancroft, a software engineer based in King of Prussia. “As first impressions go, there is a lot more bounty placed on a woman’s appearance while men are taken for their worth and their work.”
Welson-Rossman backs up Bancroft’s assessment of the tech industry’s fluctuating standards based on gender, adding that more effort is needed to normalize female’s presence within the rapidly expanding field – expected to grow at double the average rate across all occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“This issue is not just about one thing. It is an onion,” Welson-Rossman described. “When you start peeling back the layers, there are many issues along the way as a girl turns into a woman and decides on this for a career.”
“Girls are not encouraged to go into this field,” she said.
In the 2012-2013 school year, undergraduate females earned 14.5 percent of the computer science, computer engineering and information degrees awarded, according to the latest research from the Computing Research Association’s Taulbee Survey, which collects data from Ph.D. granting departments in North America.
“Information we have shows, around 9th grade, girls opt out of a tech career because of images in the media, a lack of knowledge on what a tech job is all about,” Welson-Rossman said.
Along with dispelling the geek stereotype and increasing encouragement from parents and educators, more schools need to offer technology courses, she added.
Bancroft credits high school courses covering programming for her entry into the tech industry. “The more we make it available to students, the more they realize the opportunities are out there,” she said.
Welson-Rossman, who wants seminars like Philly Tech Week to continue to offer events geared specifically towards women in the near future, says her long-term goal is for gender-specific programming within the tech industry to no longer be necessary.
“We are at a seminal moment in our industry where women need to come together and support each other and grow their own networks so we can grow the number of women in the field,” she said. “We are not there yet, but when there is a critical mass, when there are more women in the field, there will be changes that happen organically.”

 


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Corinne Warnshuis]]>
<![CDATA[Local Teen Launches a Chinese Exchange Program]]> Wed, 28 May 2014 13:37:33 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/michelle+lu.jpg

Whether 14-year-old Michelle Lu was attending school in China or the U.S., her peers always asked her questions about the other country.

“Do you know how to say this? What’s my name in Chinese?” asked 14-year-old Lu, repeating questions friends in her freshman class at the Agnes Irwin School would ask her. “They think the writing is beautiful. They want to see historical monuments like the Great Wall.”

Her father’s job caused the first-generation American to move between the two countries several times, spending four years of her childhood in China.

“My parents would speak to me in English and my grandparents would speak Chinese to me, so I was forced to learn both languages,” she said. “It is like a whole new world.”

Her experience combined with a desire to be a businesswoman -- “I thought wearing a suit automatically makes you important” – planted a seed in the ambitious girl’s head.

“I’d like to bridge the gap and connect the dots to the two worlds,” said Michelle Lu of Villanova.

So the budding entrepreneur developed her idea for an exchange program into a full-fledged business during a 30-week program with the Philadelphia (YEA!) Young Entrepreneurs Academy.

“IChina is a two-part business,” Lu described.  “During the school year, the company offers an after-school program, which is focused on learning about the Chinese language and culture. And during the summer, it provides an exchange program for Chinese and American students.”

The business already has two Chinese students committed to the 16-day trip and several tentative agreements from Philly-area teenagers interested in going abroad, she said.

“The beauty of her program is that a high school student is designing it so that [the participants] will be more engaged,” said Ellen Fisher, executive director of Philadelphia YEA! “She has a sense what other high school students are interested in.”

The People to People International program established in 1956 shares many similarities with IChina, but Lu distinquishes her program with an educational element.

"The goal is for them to bettter understand the language by becoming immersed in the culture," she said.

A fee of $3,875 covers ground transport in the host country, room and board, language classes, tickets to museums and other cultural attractions, and the salary for a chaperone-slash-teacher. Airfare is not included and the exchange is only open to high schoolers, although Lu might consider rising 8th graders in the future.

“The classroom portion will serve as a feeder for the exchange program,” the whiz kid explained.

During the 12-week program, which costs $300, students will take a 60-minute class that covers the Chinese language and culture.

“When they learn to read, they might read a famous poem and they’d celebrate Chinese holidays,” she said.

Her business plan, along with the two confirmed sales, impressed judges at an investor panel in March so much they selected Lu to compete in the Northeast YEA! Saunders Scholar Competition in Rochester, N.Y. Friday.

“Her presentation skills are impeccable,” Fisher said. “She has a grasp not only on business, but on networking. …She’s flexible and that is a really good attribute of an entrepreneur.”

If IChina is one of the two businesses selected from among the 22 presented, Lu will compete against the western and southern regional competitions’ winners for a chance at a $50,000 college scholarship and an audition for the reality show Shark Tank at America’s Small Business Summit in Washington June 11.

Lu is excited about the possibility for a win, but says she isn’t in it for the money.

“My goal is to bring awareness to the world,” she said. “I’d really like to make a difference and leave my mark.”

When IChina’s first exchange students arrive this summer, the 14-year-old entrepreneur’s mark will be made. 


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[Philly Grocery Store Needs Cash]]> Wed, 28 May 2014 13:38:07 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/234*120/KCFC+rendering.JPG

The Kensington Community Food Co-Op announced its permanent home Sunday, but opening the doors on the brick-and-mortar location is still a distant milestone for the organization.

“The co-op needs to raise on its own around $500,000,”said Jeff Carpineta, a founding board member of the Kensington Community Food Co-Op (KCFC).

That capital, along with additional financing from a lender, is needed to build-out the 4,200-square-foot first-floor commercial space at 2654-2672 Coral St. in the city’s Kensington section  – a working-class neighborhood that has a Thriftway and a Save-A-Lot that many say lack healthy food options.

“It is not like opening a typical clothing store,” said Carpineta, who added KCFC could begin the rehab in 2015 if funds are in place by the end of the year. “There are intense needs for power and cooling. City standards for health compliance."

Other cooperatively-owned local grocery stores, including Mariposa in West Philly, CreekSide in Elkins Park and the 41-year-old Weavers Way that began in Mt. Airy, have experienced similar financial challenges as they evolved from a community initiative to a fully-operational shop.

“We had the same struggles they are having,” said Glenn Bergman, general manager of Weavers Way, which opened its second location at 8424 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill in 2010.

Weavers Way carried no debt and had about 3,000 households as members when it bought the Chestnut Hill property, Bergman said.  But before it could acquire the building, the co-op raised nearly $700,000 through member loans, he added.

“It helped us leverage more loans from the bank,” Bergman said.

Carpineta said KCFC will roll out a member loan campaign this fall to help generate the $500,000 needed.

“These are not things that people have to do,” Carpineta explained. “But even if a portion of the membership base does that, it gives us the funds to help us secure a loan.”

Even though member loans, which are typically short-term with percentage rates ranging from 0 to 4 percent, are not required, one local banking expert says it is crucial step.

“Co-ops that have been the most successful are the ones that get the most amount of member loans in conjunction with bank financing,” said Jay Goldstein, president of Philadelphia-based Valley Green Bank. 

“You are going to need certain people to step up to the plate,” Goldstein continued. “Otherwise it is a startup business with no one standing behind it because no one is going to personally guarantee it since they are just members.”

Meanwhile the organization, which has 415 members prior to the announcement, is working to more than double the current membership base to further demonstrate its fiscal strength. 

“When we can go to the banks and say we have 850 members,” Carpineta said, “it is important to hit that target in order to get the financing commitments from the lenders.”

Another 25 people signed up after learning the location Sunday, when KCFC leaders also touted the various payment plans that let members spread the $200 fee across 5-, 10- or 20-month periods, Carpineta said.

Aside from the affordable payment options, KCFC officials say the highly visible location along the busy Lehigh Avenue corridor will attract more people to join.

“A lot of people didn’t feel confident until they knew where the store was going to be,” said Carpineta, who described the Coral Street location as a nexus between East Kensington, Port Richmond and the area north of Lehigh Avenue.  “It could be a uniter of people.”

The now-defunct O’Reilly’s bar sits on the co-op’s future site, which angel investors acquired for $280,000 in February, according to city property records.  The acquisition includes an 18-car parking lot and a liquor license, which allows KCFC to sell take-out alcohol and serve alcohol in the approximately 400-square-foot café the organization has planned for part of the first-floor.

KCFC intends to purchase the building from the current owners, who agreed to 10-year lease with a 10-year extension option, as well as an option for the member-based grocery store to buy the property, Carpineta said.

“We would like people to as soon as possible to make an investment in the project,” he said. “Because we need it to make it a reality.

Until the store opens, the co-op will continue to sell groceries every other Tuesday out of the second floor of Circle of Hope at 2009 Frankford Ave.


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Kensington Community Food Co-Op]]>
<![CDATA[More Local Grocery Delivery Service]]> Wed, 28 May 2014 13:38:44 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/178*120/73393073.jpg

A same-day grocery delivery service that launched in Philadelphia less than four months ago is already expanding its services to other parts of the city and suburbs.

“The demand keeps growing so we have to keep following it,” said George Shotz, San Francisco-based Instacart’s City Manager in Philadelphia.

Instacart, which began in California in 2012, distinguishes itself from the other competitors available locally, like FreshDirect and PeaPod, with its ability to deliver groceries from higher-end markets like Whole Foods and Green Aisle Grocery, its shorter delivery window and its staff of “personal shoppers” – which has at least one customer as a fan.

"They call me when they are checking out,” said 36-year-old Bess Collier, an attorney who switched to Instacart in March after using FreshDirect for about 15 months. “They’ll say, ‘The store didn’t have this, but I got this for you instead, is that okay?’”

Instacart's grocery prices may be higher than listed in supermarkets. Delivery fees range from about $4 to $15, depending on the total order cost and the window of time the customer selects for delivery.

Shotz boasts one Philly-area customer received their groceries in 14 minutes and 14 seconds, one of the fastest delivery times for the entire company.

When Instacart entered the local market in mid-February, the company’s service area covered Center City, University City and certain neighborhoods in the northwest section of the city, like East Falls, Roxborough and Manayunk, along with nearby tony suburb  Bala Cynwyd.

Shotz received a high volume of requests for Instacart service from residents in North Philly, the Northeast and northern suburbs like Elkins Park, Flourtown, Glenside, Abington, Jenkintown and Bensalem, prompting the delivery service’s expansion.

“Philadelphia was ready for a service like this,” Shotz said. 

The expansion nearly doubles Instacart’s local service, a move that may appear risky since the company is still relatively new in the market, but Shotz says customers keep calling.

“Just last month we tripled our members,” said Shotz, who declined to name specific customer numbers, but added that the company has added 50 personal shoppers to the pay roll in less than three months and plans to hire another 15 by the end of the month.

One local marketing expert adds that the growth is sensible given how normal online shopping has become.

“People have their mobile phones with them all the time. We’ve been trained to do nearly everything online,” said David Bell, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “It is just a natural rising tide.”

He adds the idea that grocery delivery is a luxury service has been debunked, opening up the potential for new customers.

“People now have this expectation that things can be delivered, my time is valuable,” said Bell, who explained Instacart could appeal to professionals as well as lower-income families.

“You might get people in terms of demographics that look much different,” he said. “But you are essentially addressing the same need, which is to be more efficient in how you source and consume everyday items.”

To find out if Instacart delivers to your neighborhood, visit its website.


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Company Targets Philly for High-End Sweatpants]]> Wed, 28 May 2014 13:39:09 -0400 http://media.nbcphiladelphia.com/images/213*120/Sweat+Tailor.png

A Bucks County native has teamed up with two college friends to bring Sweat Tailor – a modern take on sweatpants -- to Philadelphia, where the trio expects the city's well-known penchant for comfort will lead to success in sales.

“I don’t know if it is because we are such a sport-indulgent city,” said 34-year-old Adam Bolden, who grew up in Richboro, Pa. and consults the year-old company on apparel marketing. “Maybe it is because we all want to be like Rocky or maybe because we have so many colleges in the area.”

Bolden said Sweat Tailor's sweatpants will retail for around $98, pricier than the traditional version and other crossover products like PajamaJeans. But, he added, Sweat Tailor’s product distinguishes itself from other sweats with options for skinny or regular fit, belt loops, a true zipper fly, a reinvention of the fifth pocket – capable of holding a cell phone, and sizes based on waist and inseam measurements.

Aaron Hoffman, 32, who co-founded Sweat Tailor with 30-year-old Benjy Smith, explained, “We really went for all the features of a pair of jeans but in the comfort of sweatpants."

Hoffman estimated nearly 10 percent of the more than $45,000 raised through a Kickstarter campaign has come from the Greater Philadelphia region – a solid showing considering dollars have come from at least 15 states and 17 different countries.

More than 450 sweatpants in Sweat Tailor's three color choices, black, gray or olive, have already sold through the crowdfunding site, he added.

The interest, combined with Bolden’s homegrown knowledge and the purchasing habits of Philadelphians, has led Sweat Tailor to hone in on the area for its rollout in boutique retailers this fall.

“Twelve to 15 shops in the Philadelphia region have been targeted—heavier than other cities,” Bolden said.  And the group is working to develop an Eagles tailgating event to market the product.

Considering locals’ style choices -- day-to-night wear that fits in at the office and after work at happy hour -- and the high concentration of college students, one local fashion expert expects Philly-area sales to be successful.

“This could be a staple item,” said Nioka Wyatt, a Philadelphia University professor in fashion merchandising and management. “It is a really innovative concept.”

She suggests attracting undergrads and young professionals, who are used to wearing jeans daily.

“They like to be comfortable,” she said. “So this is another versatile product that they can dress down and dress up.”

Men ages 18- to 35-years-old are Sweat Tailor’s primary target and interest from a specific segment within that age range -- golfers -- has been particularly strong, Hoffman said.

“We tried to highlight that you can dress these up or down," he said. "We’d love to see somebody wear these for a job interview."

Wyatt cautions that Sweat Tailor pants might work in some professions like construction management where one needs to be comfortable and presentable, but not all white-collar jobs. “You need to dress the part,” she said.

Despite the warning, the three men behind Sweat Tailor don't want to rule any locale out for the casual, yet stylish pants.

“From the bar to the board room," Hoffman said. "Our goal is to create an everyday and everywhere pant.”


Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.



Photo Credit: Sweat Tailor]]>