ranks high on the list.
Startups and enterprise institutions alike have increasingly thrown the term around
as they vie for the eyes and ears of investors, customers and the world at large,
promising to shake up their industries with new innovations that alter a market’s
Greater Philadelphia is no exception. It’s home to scores of companies that put the concept of disruption at their core, whether or not they choose to use the word. It’s
one that’s often used to describe Lia Diagnostics, a Philadelphia-based company that’s developing the first-ever flushable pregnancy test, made with paper to be discreet and biodegradable.
Its co-founder and CEO Bethany Edwards recognizes some industry backlash over the term disruption, a fate that befalls
many buzzwords, but she doesn’t mind the label.
“It’s the best terminology right now that we have,” she said. “It’s a way to describe creating something new in the world
that didn’t exist before.”
There’s no exact synonym for disruption in this context, and she’s found that it takes continuous repetition and widespread
adoption of a term like disruption to move the conversation deeper and discover new words to describe its subsets. This
happened with “user experience” or UX, she said. After reaching peak prominence, people who talked about UX have now
moved on to specifics like user-centered design and user interface.
She sees two subsets of the concept of disruption that are begging to be broken out. First, there’s the disruption caused by
the global shift from a paper-based society to digital record keeping and communication. Innovations in that sphere have
horizontally disrupted nearly every industry, from health care to the media to paper mills. Second, Edwards sees disruption
that’s vertical within a specific industry, a complete reinvention of a supply chain. That’s where she works.
“[Disrupt] is a very broad term that I think we’re now starting to understand, what does that mean if you’re creating more
specific pockets around it?” she said. She sees women’s health as especially ripe for disruption as more women
themselves move into roles where they can design products based on their own experiences and points of view — which
hasn’t always been the case. That’s an important point to make, especially in a region where health care is dominant, but
she said any industry where there’s a disconnect between creator and user is vulnerable to disruption.
designing those systems or products are not the same people those products are for,” Edwards said.
There’s value and opportunity in finding those points of disruption. That’s one of the reasons the Philadelphia Alliance for
Capital and Technology (PACT), decided on “Growth Through Disruption” as the theme of its annual IMPACT Capital
Conference last fall. It isn’t enough to just talk about disrupting an industry or market, said PACT’s Amanda Nardi, the group
wanted to dig into what happens after disruption — and how businesses can profit from it.
“You hear all these disruptive things that are happening in a very good light, and we wanted to ask how do we grow from
that, and how do we keep it growing?” Nardi said.
This batch of technologists, executives and innovators from across the region, that have been nominated and selected as
the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Tech Disruptor awardees, are showcasing how to do just that — take an industry or a
company in need of new perspective, and shake it up.
TECH DISRUPTOR AWARDS
Arpit Mathur, principal engineer, Comcast Innovation Labs
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? This year I have been
working on a few virtual and augmented reality prototypes at Comcast Innovation Labs. While it’s still early days for the
technology (never mind the hype), VR/AR have a huge potential to change the way we work and play. It’s exciting to see the
technology and business models evolve on a daily basis.
Which local industry or sector is the most ripe for disruption? There is a huge opportunity for edtech startups to
revolutionize the way education is imparted in the future. Current education models were invented in a world of information
scarcity and don’t work in today’s world of information abundance and constant re–skilling. There is a lot of potential in
AI-based systems delivering tailored content to mobile devices.
If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? I’d like to see more
startups going B2C by leveraging emerging technologies to challenge conventional businesses. We have a lot of
companies focused on improving efficiencies in the current way we do things, but new technologies like AI, machine
learning, natural language processing and blockchains have the potential to fundamentally rewrite the rules of the game.
Mary Campbell, executive vice president, U.S. commerce platforms, QVC
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? At QVC, we recently
launched the world’s first live, multiplatform network dedicated to beauty. Beauty iQ is a social shopping experience for
beauty lovers, influencers and brands to discover their own true beauty, be inspired, and share ideas and tips. It delivers
robust beauty content in one place that’s accessible everywhere — via the Beauty iQ network, BeautyiQ.com, QVC.com,
Apple TV, Roku, on the QVC mobile app and via social channels such as Facebook Live and Instagram. This year, we are
planning to launch an exciting update to our iPhone apps to further integrate our live broadcast and social platforms into
one discovery-based shopping experience.
If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? As a leading
multichannel retailer, QVC is so proud to be a part of Philadelphia’s vibrant tech scene. Our hope is that the Greater
Philadelphia tech community continues to receive the recognition and visibility it deserves in our region and beyond,
attracting even more talent and innovation to our region.
Apu Gupta, CEO and co-founder, Curalate
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? For the past five years,
I’ve been working with an extraordinarily talented team, incredibly supportive investors, and some of the most recognized
brands to build Curalate. Transforming how people form relationships with brands and enabling consumers to discover
things they never knew they needed in their lives has never lost its excitement.
Which local industry or sector is the most ripe for disruption? It seems appropriate that Curalate got its start in Philly.
The region was one of the pioneers of digital commerce going back nearly two decades. Today, some of the most loved
to dramatically impact the next chapter of digital commerce, enabling consumers to have a far more personal and mobile
commerce experience than ever before. Fundamentally, this will shift the mental model of bringing consumers to a
commerce site and instead bring commerce to consumers.
What does the regional funding environment look like in
2017? As startup costs have dropped, entrepreneurs and
capital have become more mobile. Geography as a restriction to raising
venture capital is increasingly becoming less
relevant. I see awesome teams building amazing companies that are
getting funded here in sought-after rounds that both
local and Valley VCs compete for. Philly is rising and it’s rising, in
part, because we’re retaining and attracting entrepreneurs
that have the audacity to dream big.
If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? We’ve got a lot of
people building great businesses here. But I’d love to see more people building truly crazy businesses — founders whose
vision of the world is so audacious that they’re either going to go big or go home. That sort of disruptive thinking, if
successful, can lead to outcomes that can have a lasting impact on our region.
Scott Kinka, chief technology officer, Evolve IP
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? We’re currently
extending our support and development operations overseas to Tel Aviv, Israel. Tapping into additional cultures, with
varying histories and lifestyles has been a shot in the innovation arm. One of the projects that we’re working on together is
further integration of social channels into our contact center solutions.
Which local industry or sector is the most ripe for disruption? I think nearly any industry is at the edge of tech
disruption given increased democratization of IT and increased cloud adoption, but specific to this region, I believe that
health care is most ripe for disruption. Due to compliance concerns, we’ve found that health care organizations have
considered the cloud as an option at a slower pace than their peers. However, truly supporting compliance has proven
harder than many organizations care to admit, and the health care move to the “cloud” is on.
What does the regional funding environment look like in 2017? My entire career has been based in the Philadelphia
market, so I’ve grown up in businesses that were focused in fundamentally sound, profitable growth strategies instead of
innovate and exit style technologies — a practice we see every day on the other coast. I think we’ve been rewarded by our
Philadelphia roots in business fundamentals, and I don’t think the region is changing its stripes. Innovate responsibly.
If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? I don’t think we tell
our story well enough. There is incredible innovation occurring every day in this market. We don’t have to apologize for not
being Silicon Valley. We make cool stuff that people pay for!
Joe Callahan, chairman, Ciright Systems
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? We are very excited
about our Source Digital initiative where we are revolutionizing the data inside all video files and content. The concept is
founded on second screen technology, engaging consumers to interact direct from their phones or tablets in the proximity
of screens displaying synchronized content. The possibilities to track, personalize, and monetize on the content are
endless. There is a lot more info on our website.
This is one of our many powerful partnerships. We are currently continuing to build our channel partnerships to empower
others to make money in perpetuity with our utility.
Which local industry or sector is the most ripe for disruption? The construction and service industry is prime for
disruption with the utilization of new technologies to replace or increase efficiencies of human capital. We have built tools
that push notifications of a mechanical problem on an HVAC unit before the machines fails including fault detection and
diagnostics, automating dispatch of a technician to service the equipment. This is a game changer as we create an
Uber-style technician servicing offering with significant financial rewards for the individual technician. Most of our current
projects are based on financially incentivizing the parties involved utilizing our technology.
What does the regional funding environment look like in 2017? For startups and new idea companies, the market
remains very challenging compared to the West Coast or New England areas where the mindset of rapid angel investment
gather the required core human capital necessary to execute. As we continue to develop strong partnerships and
technologically advanced projects here in Liberty Valley, we anticipate the pendulum swinging in our favor in the next five to
If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? To create an open,
comradely ecosystem! A community that first and foremost is led by a technology leadership team that is driven and
focused on open APIs to allow for full open interoperable stack for all apps and platforms to be able to securely and
effectively connect to one another. This would allow for more efficient and effective technology initiatives to be born out of
Liberty Valley and strengthen the Philadelphia market.
Ani Vemprala. CTO and co-founder, Picwell
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? Picwell is working on
technology to help Americans make better choices in health insurance. With the number and complexity of plans on the
rise, we help consumers make smarter and more confident decisions in selecting a health insurance plan that best meets
their needs, through our novel use of machine learning and econometric modeling.
Which local industry or sector is the most ripe for disruption? The health care sector is really ripe for technology
disruption. Our system is complex, and is being challenged by the needs of the modern consumer. The Philadelphia region
is home to incredibly talented people and has a deep network of health care institutions including insurers, providers,
medical research centers and leading universities. Taken together, I believe that Philadelphia is on its way to becoming a
major center for health care tech
What does the regional funding environment look like in 2017? We see growing interest in investing in startups in
Philadelphia. Many startups in the area are focused on macro-trends that are going to shape large parts of our economy,
including health care and data analytics.
If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? While Philadelphia
may not have the aura that Silicon Valley does, there’s so much that our city has to offer folks looking to build a career in
the tech industry. There are some great businesses and business leaders here, and I think we could do more to highlight the
benefits of starting and building a career in Philly to folks looking westward.
John Weidenhammer, president, Weidenhammer
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? An industry leader in
global pharmaceuticals recognized Weidenhammer as one of the region’s Digital Disruptors. Our client, also a disruptor,
wanted a strategic partner to assess, design, and implement a new global technology infrastructure to foster digital
transformation across the enterprise. We implemented technologies including unified communications, video collaboration,
and secure network infrastructures on a global scale. Ease of use and enhanced collaboration were welcomed by executive
Which local industry or sector is the most ripe for disruption? There are many local industries that are ripe for
disruption. They include: health care, financial services, education, manufacturing, and government. Health care,
representing 20 percent of the U.S. economy, presents the greatest opportunities.
What does the regional funding environment look like in 2017? We believe the regional funding environment is very
favorable in 2017. There are more dollars available for funding than good opportunities of which to invest.
If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? We need to build,
attract, and retain a greater number of tech workers in the region as we are not growing a capacity of tech workers needed
to meet demand.
Dawn McDougall, operations manager, PromptWorks
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? One of our most exciting
projects at Code for Philly is our Civic Engagement Launchpad. The event brings together technologists and government
administrators to think through challenging problems around civic engagement. The “solutions” are prototypes that help
technologists and government administrators increase their literacy about the other.
Which local industry or sector is the most ripe for disruption? Over the last five years, the public sector in Philly has
had pockets of innovation operating within local government departments. As assumptions about the status quo are
challenged, there is increased opportunity to bring innovative products and services to local government. The demand is
there for change, waiting for the right supply.
What does the regional funding environment look like in 2017? Slowly but surely there is a bigger push for investment in
companies with social benefit as part of the core business mission. As we see organizations like Benjamin Franklin
Technology Partners and Impact PHL emerge and put attention on the role of business at an ecosystem level, there will be
more impact investment focused on the long-term effects of a business.
If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? A larger and
diverse talent pool in a broader range of tech specialities. We have a lot of women and people of color getting into the tech
industry, but they’re concentrated in front-end development or even in tech-adjacent roles like project management and
business analysis. On the other hand, we have a small pool of predominantly male specialities, like mobile app
development. That needs to change if we want to be a competitive city.
Bob Schena, CEO, Rajant
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? Our Kinetic Mesh
technology is now the wireless network communications platform for Sharp Electronics’ INTELLOS Automated Unmanned
Ground Vehicle (A-UGV), an outdoor perimeter security robot capable of capturing and relaying mission-critical data back
to a command & control center in real-time. Selected by Sharp as the best-in-class network infrastructure choice for its
perimeter robot, the Rajant wireless network is positioned for a number of other autonomous network initiatives underway
for both UGVs and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones.
Which local industry or sector is the most ripe for disruption? Within Pennsylvania, I believe heavy manufacturing, both
within the oil and gas sector as well as across the broader energy market, and agriculture are uniquely positioned to benefit
from the technology advancements driving autonomous equipment, machines and vehicles. The addition of our
BreadCrumb wireless radios (nodes) is making a significant impact on production yields and operational efficiencies across
these industries that have historically been labor intensive.
What does the regional funding environment look like in 2017? Regarding venture or startup funding in the Philly area, I
can say this … There’s never enough! Now, to date myself, I first tried raising tech capital in the area about 25 years ago. It
was interesting … sort of The Walking Dead meets Hunger Games!….with me as the zombie at the end of the campaign.
Today, things have improved dramatically with people such as RoseAnn Rosenthal of the Southeastern Pa. Ben Franklin
Tech Partners, Karen Gryga at Dreamit Ventures and Gretchen Roede at Broadpath Communications representing, in their
own exceptional ways, the vast local eco-system that has grown to support startups at all stages of development. So, it’ll
never be easy to raise money, but if you’re crazy enough to try, Philly’s a great place to start!
If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? I would encourage
government and industry to assess their current network infrastructures and to ask their IT and technology teams the
following two questions: 1. Does our current network infrastructure allow us to access real-time data and intelligence that
we can act upon to improve decision making and streamline operations? 2. Does our network infrastructure support
mobility, ensuring that people, vehicles, cameras and other assets have reliable “always-on” connectivity when and where
they need it If the answer to both of those questions is “not yet,” I would tell them not to settle for less because all
enterprises, public and private, should have mission-critical network infrastructures.
Justin Mathews, managing director, Tonic Design
Can you talk about the most exciting project you’re working on or have completed recently? We worked on a project
with J&J/Operation Smile, an international medical charity that has provided hundreds of thousands of surgeries for
children and young adults in developing countries who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate, or other facial deformities. Our
team worked together with their team to create a 360 virtual reality video to tell a story about how to engage in community
service efforts for [Johnson & Johnson], as well as spread education to other physicians and people in need across the
Which local industry or sector is the most ripe for disruption? Personally I think real estate, construction, and just the
way homes are sold and purchased in general will see even more transformation in the near future. Realtor fees have
skyrocketed to the point where people will begin figuring out and scaling more human-centric, peer-to-peer solutions to
bypass a lot of the red tape and pain that is involved in the current, outdated process. I see a lot of disruption occurring
within the grocery and fresh foods sector as well. What does the regional funding environment look like in 2017? Regional funding may be up in the air a bit overall due to
the elections, etc., but I think dollars are beginning to come back to startups in the city. I am seeing more and more
startups being funded, although smaller rounds, at least Philly startups are getting the attention they need. If you could wave a magic wand, what one change would you make to Philadelphia’s tech scene? We need to build
or attract a large tech conference that would compete with events such as SXSW in Austin and CES in Las Vegas. Not only
would this bring a solid amount of revenue to the city, but it will continue to put us on the map and give us the respect as
the tech hub city that we really are. Technology innovation surrounds us everywhere here in Philly — let’s get the mayor and
city government on board with building this into a marquee tech city in the U.S.