10 Ways to Push Philly Tech Past the Tipping Point
WeWork’s first “Future of Philly” event this week gathered a sizable crowd to discuss the future of Philadelphia tech. And the panelists who led the discussion—all women—weren’t called to talk about what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace. Stimulus CEO Tiffanie Stanard, Comcast’s director of entrepreneurial engagement Danielle Cohn, Salesforce VP of SMB Sales Stephanie Glenn, and Robin Hood Ventures executive director Ellen Weber shared their thoughts on how Philly tech has changed and where it will be in the next decade. Right now, Philly is at a tipping point, they all agreed. How can the city move past that? Here’s what they had to say:
1. Philly tech should continue to be inviting and its leaders should be accessible.
“Philly is good at getting people in the room,” said Stanard. “You can easily sit down with people for coffee because we’re a close community.” As Philly grows, tech leaders should strive to maintain this intimacy, and a commitment to mentorship is one way to do that, said Glenn, who traveled from New York City for the event. In all of her work with successful tech communities across the country, mentorship is a common theme. Having “follow-on conversations” and not letting plans fall off is key, she said.
2. Continue to spread the news about what’s happening here.
According to Weber, the best tool to come out of Philly last year was PSL’s “Philly Tech Guide.” “People have to be able to navigate the system,” she said. Entrepreneurs who are new to the city sometimes have no idea who to call or when the next meetup is. But now outsiders interested in learning more about the tech community can reference this comprehensive guide. To move the city forward as a whole, we need to keep building these kinds of resources, she said.
3. Recognize that Philly’s diversity is an asset and leverage it.
“Events never looked like this,” said Stanard, reflecting on the diversity at the WeWork space Wednesday night. Events were mostly full of mostly white men, she explained. But now she never misses Tech Week because of how inclusive the tech space has become. To Cohn, Philadelphia’s diversity is what will push the city forward. Tech should focus on attracting people from all neighborhoods and backgrounds, Cohn said.
4. Make room for products and services outside of the healthcare space.
“If it wasn’t for Philly’s strong eds and meds sector, the city would’ve been in trouble during the recession,” Cohn said. But while the healthcare and life sciences industries remain strong, Cohn said it’s exciting to see consumer goods and products that aren’t in healthcare take root in the city. “We have diverse people, but we also have diverse projects,” she said. Moving in this direction is what will get us more momentum and recognition, and amplify the startup scene even more.
5. Corporations should be eager to partner with startups.
Good things come out of corporate sponsorships, the panelists agreed. Cohn has observed that in other cities, corporate partners are eager to try products from a venture and commercialization standpoint. In Philly, while some big names like Comcast and IBX have partnered with startups, there’s still room for far more collaboration. And how can startups sustain corporate relationships over time? Deliver and over-deliver, Cohn said. “Do your homework and know who you’re selling to.” And on the corporate end, corporations need to be set up for collaborations; they need to open up a collaboration pipeline. “You need to have a champion in place who can constantly review opportunities for startups within the company,” Weber said.
6. Get more competition and VC’s in the city.
Compared to other cities, Philly doesn’t have a lot of VC’s, Stanard observed after traveling around the country for a year as a Microsoft ambassador. How do we change that? Stanard recommends getting out to other cities and networking to find out who may be interested in visiting Philadelphia. While a big part of it is organizing trips for venture capitalists to visit, there’s a lot of networking that also has to be done before they even agree to show up. Philly-based corporate partners can also help tech companies tap into venture networks, Glenn said. Cohn argued that angel networks will continue to grow here and had a message for startups, too: “Focus on your first customers; don’t focus on your first round.” If you build great products and have a strong customer base, you will find funding and the funding will also find you, she said.
7. Forge more partnerships between universities and the entrepreneurship community.
While spaces like the Pennovation Center are here, there’s more room for universities to step up with a focus on commercialization, the panel acknowledged. When Cohn traveled to Atlanta, for example, she noticed that a number of startups had their offices located right on Georgia Tech’s campus, with access to the school’s resources. “We’re starting to see this at Pennovation and in the Drexel and Temple areas,” she said. “We just need to make sure that commercialization is in mind.”
8. Bridge the suburban-urban divide.
This gap is one of the biggest challenges for the city this year, according to Weber. If we don’t find a way to foster connections between tech companies in the ‘burbs and in the city, the region won’t realize its full potential. Meetups and other events that include both locales might be good a start.
9. More exits.
10. Entrepreneurs need to care about bettering Philadelphia.
It’s important to care as much about the city as you do your startup, Cohn stressed. We can use technology to build and rebuild the city and have a voice at the table with decision makers, she said. Philly tech has a big opportunity to take the Smart Cities challenge to task.
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