6 Takeaways From This Year’s Philly New Tech Meetups
The Philly New Tech Meetup capped off 2016 last week at its annual holiday party. But instead of pizza in the crammed University City Science Center Quorum space, where many of the monthly meetups were held, the menu was gourmet meatballs, caprese skewers, and stuffed grape leaves at Netrality in the cavernous 401 North Broad Street, the region’s telecom hub. And best of all: no waiting list.
The fact that the meetups almost always hit capacity is a testament to how quickly Philly’s tech scene has grown in the last two years. With tech demos and an impressive guest speaker lineup, the meetups have represented a point of entry for people moving into the tech space. They’ve also come to be “the spot” for tech veterans looking to stay in the know.
BizPhilly sat down with meetup co-founder Mike Krupit, who’s been at the center of each month’s event since 2014, to tap into his insights on what happened in Philly tech this year and what we can expect to see in 2017. Here are his takeaways:
1. We’re starting to see crossover between the city and the suburbs.
“People tend to use the Schuylkill and the Turnpike as dividing lines, but there’s tons of talent in the ’burbs,” Krupit says. He’s observed that more and more people at the meetups are traveling in from the surrounding suburbs. Philly’s next step should be to act more like a region. We can break geographic barriers down by seeing the suburbs as a significant part of the whole and not just the periphery. “The Bay area does it, and so does D.C.,” says Krupit, who plans to start holding meetups in the suburbs next year.
2. Technology’s value is best realized when you bring together unlikely companions.
In May, the Meetup brought in the Philadelphia Israeli Chamber of Commerce. Though it was an unexpected partnership, Krupit says it was one of the year’s most successful events because it managed to tie two communities together through technology. September’s Food & Tech event also formed a similarly unlikely partnership. To Krupit, the evening’s demos and speakers went beyond just talking about food tech: important conversations came out of just talking about food itself. And with June’s gaming meetup, Krupit says, attendees got to realize a piece of Philly tech that we aren’t necessarily known for. “These collaborations have allowed us to scratch beneath the surface of the tech community,” he says.
3. Innovation spaces need to be about the people and not about the space itself.
Larger companies from the suburbs are moving into the city and creating innovation spaces out of necessity, Krupit says, to expand their workforce. But these companies need to use these spaces to foster community, not just to say they have an innovation space. The people moving in and out of a space create the innovation, so these new innovation centers need to be mindful of how they bring people in. “The Quorum space, for example, is just an event space, but we’ve managed to bring people and conversations there. The space is confined to the people,” he says.
4. Diversity can be a unifying force in the tech community.
The organization’s meetup.com profile lists more than 4,000 members, with a mix of senior and junior people and people who are new to the region and veterans of the region. Krupit has also organized events that address the need to break down gender barriers, and he’s also made it a point to focus on tech beyond the startup community so as to not step on Philly Startup League’s toes. “We want to be complementary,” he says, “and not just do what’s already been done.” And though Philly is known as an eds & meds town, Krupit says they’ve specifically chosen to remain agnostic about the tech they highlight. By presenting a diverse array of tech industries and topics, Krupit says he’s bringing people together who don’t come from one particular background.
5. Access to capital will be a continued challenge for Philly in 2017.
The challenge in growing Philly’s tech scene isn’t a lack of talent, but a lack of investment. “I don’t see the money,” Krupit tells me. The local VCs do a great job of funding companies, he says, but they’re not necessarily here to only invest locally. “We can’t look to them and compromise how they raise funds,” he says. Some possible solutions? The community needs to take care of itself. Big and small and old and new companies in the region need to collaborate. Leaders having exits need to share their successes with others in the community through a commitment to mentorship. And the local companies with relationships outside of Philadelphia need to work to bring those relationships and connections into Philly.
6. Good content and good food anchor a community.
A lot of people in tech tend to be on the introverted side, Krupit says: “These big events are overwhelming, so our job is to make the community feel warm and inviting.” Food and drinks are a must.
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