Jeff Gelles: Philly Tech Week highlights the grand and the small

In Technically Philly's West Philadelphia office are cofounders Christopher Wink (left) and Brian James Kirk, the master networkers behind Philly Tech Week.
In Technically Philly's West Philadelphia office are cofounders Christopher Wink (left) and Brian James Kirk, the master networkers behind Philly Tech Week. (JEFF GELLES / Staff)
Posted: April 19, 2013

Tracing the seeds of a successful idea is a traditional kind of journalism. But if any of the proposals on display at Tuesday's Switch Philly event someday bear fruit, Christopher Wink and Brian James Kirk may be able to claim a huge head start.

It's only fitting, since Wink and Kirk are anything but traditional journalists. As cofounders of the Technically Philly blog, they're the master networkers behind the third annual Philly Tech Week, of which Switch Philly is just one small part. For the next 10 days, they'll be hosting or cohosting 110 events around the city that share a common thread: celebrating and fostering Philadelphia's growing high-tech community.

Want to hear the latest creations of local music hackers? Check out Music Hack Night next Thursday at Hive76 on Spring Garden Street.

Interested in how the Web is changing minority-focused media? Go to "Blackout: Reinventing Black Media in the Digital Age" at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Central Library of the Free Library.

Want to network with other women in technology, or developers of mobile tech, or green tech, or dozens of other niches? You can find the whole Tech Week schedule at Ph.ly/ptw2013mag.

Some Tech Week events reflect technologists' tendency to dream big. You'll see that Friday evening or Wednesday if you catch a glimpse of the north face of the Cira Centre, when Drexel computer scientist Frank Lee turns the West Philadelphia skyscraper into a mega-display for a massive game of Pong.

But Wink and Kirk are equally engaged in some of the smaller ideas that are the nuts and bolts of innovation and entrepreneurship. And the story behind this year's Switch Philly illustrates the role they've taken on - a blend that pushes past the ordinary bounds of journalism while seeking to play a valuable civic role.

"We get pushed back all the time, because we write about people who sponsor us and partner with us," Wink says. Their response is transparency. "We disclose everything," he says.

Not all their connections are corporate. This year's Switch Philly traces its origins, oddly enough, to an idea from the U.S. State Department, which Wink says was interested in experimenting domestically with a concept that's proved fruitful overseas: "tech camps" that bring together technologists with nongovernmental organizations, such as aid groups, that want help.

Kirk says the proposal came to Technically Philly via a foundation connection - the value of networking - and without any offer of funding. "They just wanted to pass on the idea," he says.

The initial result was TechCamp Philadelphia, which brought together 150 educators and technologists one weekend in February. It started with presentations by technologists about problems they'd addressed in the past. Then they teamed with educators to brainstorm other problems and potential solutions.

Since then, nearly 20 projects have been winnowed to five finalists. Teams will deliver lightning presentations Tuesday evening at the offices of First Round Capital at 4040 Locust St., where the venture firm hosts a technology incubator that also houses Technically Philly.

What kinds of solutions will be presented? Kirk says one project marries a walking-directions app with crime data mapped by local police. It was born of a simple desire among teachers: getting their students to and from school as safely as possible.

As entrepreneurs, Kirk and Wink have built a business that employs five people and already boasts a Technically Baltimore spin-off. A Technically Brooklyn project is planned, and Technically Boston is on the drawing boards.

As tech evangelists, they have other aims. They like to think of themselves as technological "Johnny Appleseeds" - helping to plant and nurture ideas that may someday give them more stories to tell.


Contact Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776, @jeffgelles, or jgelles@phillynews.com. He blogs at www.philly.com/consumer.

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