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October 02, 2019

Upcoming B.PHL Innovation Fest inspired by SXSW

Executive Director Michelle Histand details the origins of Philly's first citywide innovation festival

Innovation B. PHL Innovation Fest

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B. PHL Michelle Histand Courtesy/B. PHL

Michelle Histand, executive director of B. PHL, speaks at a recent dinner promoting the upcoming innovation festival.

Excitement is building for the B.PHL Innovation Fest, Philadelphia's first city-wide innovation festival.

The three-day event, which takes place October 15-17, will include interactive workshops, speakers, and exhibits exploring innovation in health care, business, education, science and technology, social impact and the arts.

RELATED STORY: Attend B.PHL: Philly's inaugural city-wide innovation festival

The festival's name pays tribute to inventor Benjamin Franklin, who would sometimes sign his name "B. Franklin."

PhillyVoice recently interviewed Michelle Histand, executive director of B.PHL and director of innovation at Independence Blue Cross. She provided the lowdown on this new festival, which is partly inspired by the annual SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas.

  • Receive $100 off your badge by entering the promo code at checkout: PhillyVoiceBPHL19

PhillyVoice: How did the idea for B.PHL evolve?

Michelle Histand: It all started when we were launching our innovation space at Independence Blue Cross. We were looking for a unique way to promote it, and one of our team members suggested an innovation street festival like SXSW. From there it quickly became about so much more than just us, so we decided the festival should be about innovation across all sectors.

PV: Why is Philadelphia the perfect spot for an innovation festival?

MH: I have a lot of Philly pride. We are one of the best cities to live and work. We are walkable and accessible. I like to think of us as a big city with a small town vibe. It is a great place to meet people and develop new businesses.

I feel like there is a gap in the Philly innovation story. We have something special here and our story needs to be told.

PV: As director of innovation for Independence Blue Cross, what does innovation mean to you?

MH: To me, innovation is the habit of doing things in new ways, the ability to pivot and change. For some people it is mostly about big disruptors, but I still think small day-to-day changes are important too.

PV: What are your goals for this first festival?

MH: Our biggest goal is to create meaningful connections across innovation ecosystems. We want to connect people to create new partnerships and foster new ideas. 

Last (month), we hosted a B.PHL dinner at the Independence Beer Garden and one of the coolest things to happen was that one table of guests outlasted us. They said that they didn’t know each other before that night, but now they are collaborating on new ideas. This is when the magic happens.

PV: Which events are you most excited about?

MH: There are so many. I am particularly excited about the social impact sessions and “Form & Fashion: How One Idea Can Change the World” with Mindy Scheier, founder of Runway of Dreams Foundation, who is on a mission to make adaptive clothing that is also fashionable more accessible for people with disabilities.

We also have great panelists, like Duncan Wardle, former head of innovation and creativity at Disney and founder of iD8 & innov8, and Jahlil Beats, a hip hop record producer and songwriter who has worked with Jay Z.

We want to be true to the city so we focused on how to use innovation to solve problems particular to Philadelphia, like the high number of women being incarcerated and biking safety in the city. Sessions like “Right Turn Ahead: Paving the Way for Transportation Solutions and Community Connections,” “A Bicycle Built for Too: The New Old Vehicle for Inclusion and Innovation,” and “Pregnant, Parenting and Incarcerated: Advocating for Philadelphia’s Mothers in the Criminal Justice System” will address these issues.

I am also very excited about our new panel, “The Nitty Gritty on Gritty: The Birth of a Mascot” which will share the story behind Philly’s latest mascot.

PV: Do you have any tips for attendees on how to get the most out of their B.PHL experience?

MH: Download our app once you have your badge so you can start to build your schedule. There are 20 minutes between sessions so you will have plenty of time to get where you want to be. Most events are walkable and there will be a discount available for Indego Bike Share.

The different locations include:

• Independence Blue Cross campus

• Drexel University

• Temple University

• Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia

• Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

• Curtis Institute of Music


• Science Center

• Entercom

• Community College of Philadelphia

• The Fitler Club

• Pennovation Works

• Design Philadelphia

Badges are $250 through B.PHL Fest. You can register here. For every badge purchased, we will be giving one away for free. We want everyone to have a chance to participate in the festival.

Don’t forget to also join in with some of the social events we also have planned. Attend Bunker Brews, a networking event at the Venture Café located inside the Science Center or stretch your legs at the City Fit Girls Fun Run. You can also listen to live local music by Know Hope Records at Original 13, or at Love City as part of the closing ceremony.

B.PHL is offering PhillyVoice readers a special promotion. Receive $100 off your badge by entering the promo code at checkout: PhillyVoiceBPHL19