A year and a half ago, Michelle Histand, director of innovation at Independence Blue Cross, and her team were thinking about how to launch the Independence Blue Cross Center for Innovation. The center, which opened on October 3, looks for ways to provide space and resources to engage the community, members, customers, health care professionals and other partners in innovative projects.
At first, someone on Histand’s team suggested a block party. The next day, inspired by SXSW, he came back and suggested something bigger: the B. PHL Innovation Fest, which they envisioned as a citywide event to highlight the innovative work being done in Philly across different industries.
Histand and her team then pitched the idea to the Office of the City Representative—and over the course of the next few months, the festival came to life.
Now, the three-day B. PHL Fest is designed to build the city’s reputation as the most innovative city on the East Coast—a place of choice for those looking to inspire new ideas, make connections, and ignite novel ways of doing things.
“Putting our new center aside, there is a need for this type of festival in the city,” says Histand. “We need to highlight and identify Philadelphia as a place people choose to live and work. We are often overlooked by cities like Boston, New York, or D.C. We want to highlight all the innovation that is happening right now by people that make Philadelphia such a great place.”
Histand stresses that B. PHL will also serve as a way to connect people from across different innovation systems—building connections across different organizations and disciplines—and to inspire and incite new projects.
“We made a concerted effort to build meaningful connections. I do design-thinking work and I love meeting new people, but I hate traditional networking. So we built a different way for folks to engage and interact,” she says
“We need to highlight and identify Philadelphia as a place people choose to live and work. We are often overlooked by cities like Boston, New York, or D.C. We want to highlight all the innovation that is happening right now by people that make Philadelphia such a great place.”
Many of these networking opportunities will happen before the festival even begins—and they’ll all be open to the public.
The first pre-festival event will be held at the Mosaic Community Church Neighborhood Bazaar, starting at noon on Saturday in West Philly. The bazaar will highlight the neighborhood’s innovative small business owners while also including food and musical performances.
That afternoon, SEAMAAC, a South Philly nonprofit that supports refugees and marginalized communities, will host a party at a South Philly library. Organizations and community partners dedicated to improving innovation and increasing neighborhood resources will be on hand. The party will begin at 2pm at a location to be determined.
On Saturday evening, Javier Ávila will put on his one-man show, The Trouble With My Name, at Esperanza Art Center. The show examines the issues of language, race and social justice through the telling of Ávila’s life story, highlighting the cultural barriers he has encountered.
Over the course of the three-day festival, registered attendees can choose from over 170 different sessions, in disciplines like the arts, business, education, healthcare, science, technology, and social impact. (Once registered, you can build your own custom schedule.)
The Citizen’s founder, Larry Platt, will moderate Changing the Course of Discourse, a conversation about civil discourse with Jeffrey Rosen, Bret Perkins, and Dr. Julie Wollman; and participate in Read All About It, a conversation with local media professionals on how local news can survive and thrive in the digital age.
Other special guests will include Questlove, who will discuss his latest music and food book with Todd Carmichael, co-founder and CEO of La Colombe Coffee; award-winning actress, producer and director Tracee Ellis Ross, in a fireside chat about her work as an entrepreneur; and actress/comedian Abbi Jacobson, co-creator of Broad City, about her work as a woman in comedy.
Histand recommends arriving at sessions a few minutes early, as they are only open on a first-come first-serve basis. Between sessions, attendees can connect with one another at “Chill and Charge Lounges,” where people can get together, grab a drink, and talk about sessions they just saw.
Histand expects 2,500 people to attend—which would make it the largest event her department has ever thrown. Badges for admittance to B. PHL Fest cost $250. Student discounts are available for $35.
“Really our goal for this festival is that there’s something for everyone,” says Histand. “Innovation happens in all forms and in all industries, and we wanted that to be reflected in our event.”
October 12–18, $35–$250, various times and locations.Photo by Antenna on Unsplash