When it comes to high tech, Philadelphia is no Silicon Valley. We’re not even Boston’s Route 128, bumptiously designated “America’s Technology Region.”
But Vijay Kumar, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering, is optimistic about the region’s future as a high-tech center.
“I think we are hitting an inflection point in the area of technology,” Kumar said. “We are approaching critical mass here.”
Among the Philadelphia 100, 2019’s fastest-growing privately held companies in the region, more than a quarter identified their businesses as being in the technology sector.
One source of Kumar’s optimism is that the region’s universities are graduating more engineering students who are putting down roots here. In July, The Inquirer reported that Philadelphia was second only to Washington, D.C., among 13 metropolitan areas in retaining graduates.
“To me, the biggest positive indicator is the number of graduates who stay in the Philadelphia area,” Kumar said. “We are no longer a net exporter of talent.”
Incubators such as the Penn Center for Innovation and the Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies are playing a key role, leading to more start-up businesses and research, something that was not happening five years ago.
While computer data are being crunched for use in every conceivable business, the most exciting area of innovation right now is in biotechnology. In the last five years, Kumar said, Philadelphia has established itself as the immunotherapy capital of the world.
“To me, the number of tech people who choose to take jobs in the Philadelphia area, who choose to start companies, that is the inflection point that I already see happening.”
The Inquirer asked a few of the tech companies among the Philly 100 to talk about what makes them cutting edge. Here’s what they said.
In a digital sector swarming with competition, Media Components’ differentiator is its “holistic” approach to branding and marketing, starting with a well-choreographed, technology-driven, customer-engaging campaign.
Media Components – which saw steady revenue increases from 2016 to 2018 – uses geo-fencing, which draws a virtual fence around the client’s strategic target area – anything from a trade show floor to an entire zip code. When a consumer has a mobile phone’s “location enabled” on, geo-fencing captures the information and sends marketing messages.
Media Components used geo-fencing for a country club client that had condos for sale near a PGA tournament. Media Components geo-fenced the tournament golf course, capturing attendees’ mobile information that the client then used to send a marketing message.
“There are simply too many options for savvy shoppers,” said Denis Sinelnikov, the company’s founder and president. “The biggest part of what we strive to do for brands is retain [shoppers] and make them loyal, repeat customers.
When it comes to high-tech innovation, Singularis Solutions isn’t exactly SpaceX -- or, for that matter, a cool-app developer. But according to Brendan Sullivan, Singularis produces some pretty cool custom system designs, technical analysis, testing and implementation assistance.
“We’re an all-around, in-house engineering team,” said Sullivan, one of the company’s three engineer/owners. Singularis reported $820,745 in revenue for 2018 and projects revenue of $1.5 million for 2019.
Roughly 95 percent of Singularis’ work is done in its office. The team uses such software programs as AnyDesk and ShareFile to meet virtually with clients. Out in the field, the engineers use a remote desktop to review schematics with clients and make real-time updates. The added benefit? The technology is secure.
With expertise in the medical, aerospace, defense and automotive industries, Singularis has doubled its income each of its five years in business. And although the company is proud of its work on therapeutic and surgical devices, its coolest projects, Sullivan confided, are the “ones we can’t talk about.”
Hero Digital works with a Fortune 500 financial institution that enables local banks and credit unions to offer credit cards. With today’s consumers relying more on personal experience when choosing brands, Hero Digital was “purpose-built” to help the modern chief marketing officer create a great customer experience, said Kenneth Parks, the company’s chief marketing officer.
Hero, which had revenue of $29.1 million in 2017 and $48.5 million in 2018, developed and manages a proprietary, turnkey technology solution that provides product training, application processing and instant decisions, access to internal tool platforms, and the ability to process customer payment in branch. It also has created a go-to-market message and customizable campaign templates for promotional, seasonal and business events.
Hero is a national company headquartered in San Francisco. Its primary local office is in Manayunk, with a secondary satellite office in Center City.
“We spot new opportunity, envision new experiences, build complex technology ecosystems, optimize every sales interaction, and achieve new business growth,” Parks said.
Edtell virtual curriculum platform is available to high school students across America. Using a series of cloud-based applications tied together, Edtell connects students to an array of courses unavailable at their local school. So, a student interested in Arabic can log onto Edtell to take a class at the Arabic Academy in Egypt.
“We work with other providers around the world so their courses can be in our catalog,” said Mike Mansfield, Edtell’s president. The company reported 2018 revenue of $960,000, up from $720,000 in 2017.
Once a school joins, Edtell’s virtual platform does the rest. Classes are mostly work modules, but some include video. A student with a question simply clicks a button and within minutes a teacher appears on screen.
Parents, teachers and guidance counselors are apprised of a student’s performance through weekly emails and bi-weekly phone calls. To use Edtell, a student must be enrolled in a brick-and-mortar school.
“All this education technology is great but it has been our philosophy that you have to be in a brick-and-mortar school to start,” Mansfield said. “Then, we will do everything we can to fill in the gaps.”
When Curotec was launched a decade ago, Brian Dainis recalled, it was “flying by the seat of our pants.” But since then, Curotec has been soaring with 10 straight years of growth of 20 percent to 150 percent. The key, Dainis said, is creating digital business solutions that deliver value to clients.
“That is what makes you stand out,” said the company founder and CEO. “And that always comes back to the people on your team. Cutting-edge technology comes naturally when you have the right people.”
Those “right people” had the solution when a prescription drug company needed a custom online ordering system. The team went to work building a platform with a search engine, multiple log-ins and price points, plus a cloud-based order archive with a “favorites” list.
Last year, Curotec had revenue of $1.65 million and is projecting to reach $2 million this year. For Dainis, the challenge is keeping the company’s growth flying high.
“We are looking to how we can continue that for another 10 years,” he said.