Twentieth Anniversary: Philadelphia Emerges as an Innovation Center

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We’ve been celebrating Chariot Solutions’ 20-year anniversary this year with a series of lookbacks across specific industries, team members and types of technologies. But any reflection on the last two decades would be incomplete without a deep dive on the tech-related changes in our hometown of Philadelphia during that same span.

The pre-Y2K tech scene here was very different, as evidenced by the top startups list for 1999 published by Philadelphia Business Journal technology reporter Peter Key. It was largely made up of enterprise companies from the suburbs. There was no tech community or ecosystem to speak of, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone willing to call Philadelphia a thriving tech hub.

At the time, our founding team was still toiling away at their prior company, Skylight Systems. Despite Philly flying under the radar, their work there was a great entrée into the nascent local developer community and helped position them to grow along with the region after the turn of the century.

By the time Chariot launched in 2022, the world of software development had changed significantly. The dotcom boom had become the dotcom bust and Java and open source software were beginning to gain traction as alternatives to Microsoft.

This shift was one of the first ingredients that helped propel the growth of Philly’s startup scene. It enabled our team to distinguish itself as one of the few software consulting companies specializing in Java in the area. It also provided an opening for them to connect with the Philadelphia Java User Group (Philly JUG), which was one of the largest in the country and one of about 20 different technology user groups in the region.

We were encouraged by the passion by local developers and their collective desire to build a community. Yet, there remained a disconnect with the mainstream business community as many leaders (and the media) were vocal about what they perceived to be a lack of developers and overall innovation in Philly.

Inspired by this lack of awareness and desire to boost the technology prospects for the region, a number of early startup founders in Philadelphia-proper banded together to start what would later become Philly Startup Leaders. Their goal was to create a connected community for increased support and better funding opportunities. This would prove to be a vital network and backbone that could serve as a launching pad for ideas and future leaders.


University of Pennsylvania graduate student Divya Ramesh demonstrates a Minitaur robot at a Philly Tech Week showcase for cutting-edge robots. Photo by Eric Sucar.


It also coincided with the third important piece of the puzzle – the founding of Technically Philly, a tech media outlet that gave voice to the area’s many new startups. It provided an opening to publicize the changes in the local tech community and gave innovative new founders a chance to tell their stories alongside the legacy enterprise companies in the region. This also spurred greater tech coverage from more mainstream publications like Philly Magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

These elements all aligned to help propel an amazing period of growth in Philly technology over the last 20 years. It has diversified to include tech adjacent industries as well as the biotech and life sciences sectors within the broader tech ecosystem.

It even spawned a number of technical conferences like our own Philly Emerging Technology for the Enterprise, Philly Tech Week, Liberty JS, Super Meetup, Women in Tech Summit, Scala Northeast, GiveBackHack and many others.

And despite sometimes still getting a bad rap by the uninitiated as not having a strong developer community, Philadelphia’s software developers have formed a deep bench of talent with many top-flight companies around the world tapping them for remote support and work in 2021 and 2022.

Today, Philly boasts a thriving startup and innovation scene that stretches far beyond the big brands like Unisys or SAP. Founders with successful exits have remained in the area and become serial entrepreneurs. And the level of dealmaking has matured to the point where Philadelphia set a quarterly funding record last year with nearly $1.9 billion in deals in the first few months of 2021.

It has been truly amazing to have a front row seat to all these changes and growth. We are proud of our role in pushing the Philly market forward and thrilled to witness the sea change in perspective and belief regarding our region. In looking back, perhaps that is what has been so remarkable about the changes over the lifespan of our company – that innovation has become the new normal for Philadelphia.