Philly is not at a loss for nerds, as Geek Awards prove

Posted: August 20, 2011

IN HIS YOUNGER YEARS, Adam Schmidt, now 29, was a self-proclaimed geek - he had braces and headgear, and the sound track to "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" was the first CD he ever bought.

But last night, being a geek paid off for Schmidt. His website, Drink Philly, took home the award for best new blog at the inaugural Philadelphia Geek Awards, a black-tie event complete with a red carpet and held at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

The Geek Awards, which organizers plan to hold annually, are the brainchild of the creators of tech website Geekadelphia and Jill Sybesma, who coordinates programs for adults at the Academy.

Mikey Ilgan, 26, a blogger and interactive designer at Geekadelphia, said that he already sees Philadelphia as a tech-savvy city, and that the awards served as a place for geeks "of all sorts of flavors" to meet and overlap.

The awards were chosen via votes and a panel selected by Geekadelphia, Ilgan said.

"We're amped up to do this next year and would like people to submit new categories and new nominees for the future."

Geekadelphia co-founder Eric Smith, 28, said he wanted to hold the event because the city's "geeks" and its tech community are underrecognized.

"Keeping our young creative people here in the city and recognizing their contributions to the city and our economy is extremely important," said Councilman Bill Green, who's pushed for technology initiatives including making city government records paperless. "I think this is the kind of event that highlights an area where we need to focus and grow."

Awards given at the event honored the best and brightest geeks in areas including best new podcast, best new annual local event and outstanding achievement in locally developed iPhone and iPad apps, among others. A cocktail hour preceded the awards ceremony.

Green said the city needs to find ways to keep the young, tech-savvy set "engaged and employed" here. The $120 million the city has to spend on technology during the next six years, he said, presents an opportunity for that.

"My hope is much of that work, or some of that work, can be done by young entrepreneurial firms - sort of the independent-contractor types rather than big integrators and companies," he said.

"I think it's amazing" this event is happening, said nominee Chris Illuminati, whose "Message with a Bottle" blog about being a stay-at-home dad was nominated for best new blog. "I'm very honored. I'm a true geek at heart."

Jon Hof, who said he was less of a geek than his co-podcaster, Chris Schmidt, said that even though their podcast, "Social Interruption," didn't win an award, he was thrilled to be there.

"I'm surprised there's this many geeks in the room with dates," joked Hof, 27, who drove 10 hours from North Carolina to make the event and got a $227 speeding ticket. "It's a great experience. It's an honor to be nominated."

Geekadelphia writer "Jo Pincushion," who came to the event dressed as Dr. Who's T.A.R.D.I.S., said she was thrilled to be at an event that brought so many members of Philadelphia's young tech community together.

"People laugh, but these are the elite young Philly," she said. "We're smart, ambitious, and we're going to run the city."

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