The Philadelphia region is recognized as an important nexus of original computing invention, starting with the creation of the ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer invented at the University of Pennsylvania. This was followed by the 1946 Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (who employed the famous Grace Hopper programmer) and their 1949 launch of the BINAC (BINary Automatic) computer that used magnetic tape to store data. Later in 1950, the Remington Rand Corporation bought the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and changed the name to the Univac Division of Remington Rand. Their research resulted in the UNIVAC (UNIVersal Automatic Computer), an important forerunner of today’s computers. In 1955, Remington Rand merged with the Sperry Corporation and formed Sperry-Rand. Eckert remained with the company as an executive and continued with the company as it later merged with the Burroughs Corporation to become Unisys (NYSE: UIS), a Philadelphia regional IT hardware and services provider. Also significant in evolutionary development was PHILCO (of Wissahickon Avenue), and its Transac S-2000, an all transistor data processing system. Additionally, the region boasts Commodore International a home computer and electronics manufacturer. Commodore participated in the development of the personal computer industry in the 1970s and 1980s. The company developed and marketed one of the world’s best-selling desktop computers, the Commodore 64 (1982) and released its Amiga computer line in 1985.
In 1975, Philadelphia-based Sun Oil Company devolved a unit named Sun Information Services (SIS) to enable it to pursue business opportunities in computer services. Under leadership of John Ryan, it had an IPO with the name SunGard Data Systems, providing industry leadership services in data center back-up and recovery and financial systems. SunGard Data Systems, later under the leadership of Jim Mann, first passed Sun Oil (name changed to Sunoco) in market capitalization in the early 1990’s and quarterly earnings in the mid-1990’s. Later, 401 North Broad Street became an industry model for data centers as it was a famous site in the industry for its first data centers. Today there are many data centers still on that site because of its security and redundant access to power and communications; legacies of the past breakthrough milestones from SIS.
Exxon Office Systems in Delaware Valley/Southeastern PA
Lionville/Exton, PA is the site of an infamous Exxon Office Systems initiative with a series of then-popular products. Team members at the site developed a predecessor to Exxon Qyx, a word processor typewriter which was then attempting to break IBM stranglehold on that market. Dan Matthias was the President and Founder of this division of Exxon Corporation which designed and produced the first desktop word processor and he was also a director of Zilog, an early micro-computer chip startup, for which he led initial funding. The plant closed in 1981. Exxon Office Systems was considered to be a $1 billion mistaken attempt by an oil company to enter the digital, information technology market. None-the-less it accelerated IT growth in the Delaware Valley/Southeastern Pennsylvania region.
Philly Has a Fundamental Cultural, Scientific and IT Nucleus
Philadelphia is the sixth-largest city in the United States with a strong cultural and scientific legacy filled with a large “college crowd” of youthful innovators. Philadelphia has the fourth highest gross domestic product (GDP) among United States cities, outranked only by New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Philadelphia has the nation’s largest per capita concentration of higher education institutions, with over 85 colleges, universities and technical schools, as well as seven schools of medicine known for heavy use of newest computing technologies. The Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington SMSA encompasses approximately 7 million people. The University of Pennsylvania is ranked in the top 10 national universities according to U.S. News & World Report, while PENN Wharton and the Drexel schools of innovation and entrepreneurship provide valuable fuel for support in the form of active student interest. And, notably the New York Times put Philadelphia number 3 on a list of its “52 Places to Go In 2015”. Further, according to Indeed.com, there are over 9,000 infotech-related job-holders located within the Philadelphia region, forming a fertile base for support, visitation and use. Fortunately for tomorrow’s tech elite, it’s no longer a case of “Silicon Valley or bust.” Take a look at nearby adjacent cities like New York, Princeton, Philly and Baltimore and you’ll find a thriving tech scene in each of these places.
The Compuseum in Time
Philadelphia has a rich history in electronic milestones with the first radio station going on air in 1923, followed by the ENIAC in 1946, with 1953 being regarded as the year television was born, and the internet began in 1973.
Location, Location, Location
Three geographic locations in Philadelphia preliminary present the best opportunities considering the volume of current visitor traffic. The Compuseum could be a success as a destination in the museum-rich Independence Mall area; the three block area packed with destinations for tourists in reasonable proximity to Interstate 95. Further, the science museum row of Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences would bring a computer nexus to that science museum region. Conversely, a location near the train corridor at 30th street provides traffic up and down the eastern seaboard. Such a location on or near either the Drexel, PENN or the University City Science Center, is also convenient. A possible fourth location with high traffic is the King of Prussia Mall, adjacent to the popular Valley Forge destinations.
The Philly IT Sector is Thriving
Recent information and demographics offer a good sign for the Compuseum opportunity. Information technology companies’ sales in Greater Philadelphia generate $34.8 billion, which is about 8.3 percent of the region’s gross domestic product, discussed here. There are more than 6,000 IT companies alone in the region, and they employ nearly 90,000 people, according to a report from the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies on tech investment and impact. (Source: Philadelphia Business Journal – November 2015.)
Recent Metrics (2010-2015)
Over 1,000 investment rounds were closed in IT companies; more than 250 M&A deals, valued at $10.2 billion; over 400 funded deals, valued at over $1.1 billion. The industry grew from $21 billion in sales to $35.8 billion in sales from 2001 to 2014, accounting for approximately $8.3% of the region’s GDP.
A layered IT ecosystem has flourished; built of pre-seed/seed investment partnerships, startup communities, co-working spaces and incubation and acceleration programs, university challenges, regional initiatives, corporate partnerships, media, and even targeted community programs.
We all know the events of 1776 in Philadelphia kicked off the American Revolution. Those important events are being displayed in Philadelphia’s newest museum; the Museum of the American Revolution (www.amrevmuseum.org). The Museum will be located in the historic heart of Philadelphia, the city that served as the headquarters of America’s founding. The site is just two blocks from Independence Hall, across the street from Carpenter’s Hall, where the Continental Congress first met, and within a block of Benjamin Franklin’s home. This impressive new museum of 118,000 square feet with a multi-million dollar endowment (now in capital raise for $150 million) demonstrates the regions ability to support an expanding array of cultural and educational institutions. No less important and transformative were activities also spawned here in Philadelphia in the creation of the modern computer and the computer industry named by us and affectionately known as Revolution 2.0; to denote a more advanced version of revolution. In computer parlance or jargon, a new better version of something is called 2.0 (two point oh). For example, Web 2.0 is the new format and level for website design, BMX 2.0 – the new type of large wheeled BMX bikes and Fashion 2.0 – the next new look. Hence, the computer generation is Philadelphia’s Revolution 2.0 creation and the Compuseum aims to chronicle these important milestones.