Opinion

Thank You, Philadelphia. We Amplified Philly.

Amplify Philly organizer David R. Silver reflects on the city's SXSW 2018 effort and explains what it took to bring this year's program together.


Amplify Philly house at SXSW.

Less than two weeks ago, a group of Philadelphians — representing more than 40 different companies and organizations — packed their bags, boarded planes and headed down to Austin to take part in the Amplify Philly initiative at SXSW 2018. It was set to be our biggest showing yet, and after a year of planning, the result exceeded even my wildest dreams.

There’s something special about being halfway across the country and being surrounded by so many familiar faces. Even the ones you aren’t familiar with, they were sitting with a La Colombe coffee, Tony Luke’s Cheesesteak, and holding a GoPuff bag filled with Tastykakes. This is what I and hundreds of others were able to experience on March 11 & 12 in Austin, TX at the first-ever Amplify Philly House.

Amplify Philly 2018 was one for the books. For those who were in Austin, the impact was obvious. For those following along on social media, a sense of pride was apparent. None of it would have been possible without the support of the Philadelphia community — from local government and big corporations, to home-grown startups and burgeoning artists. I want to thank all of them for realizing the value of this initiative. Amplify Philly strengthened bonds, created relationships, and sparked collaboration that can be carried on in the months and years ahead.

There was a woman from Europe, who worked at a Healthcare Firm in London, sitting in on a Healthcare Panel happening within the Amplify Philly House. Before she left, she was able to meet the Philadelphians who were speaking on the panel, and ended up hanging around the House for over four hours — taking in all of the other discussions and meeting other members of the Amplify Philly crew. She only visited Philly once before, briefly; but after experiencing the Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection that our House had to offer, she is ready to book her next trip.

Panel discussion at SXSW Amplify Philly house.

Todd Carmichael, co-founder of La Colombe, one of the country’s top coffee brands, traveled across the country just to have a 30-minute one-on-one fireside chat with local hip-hop artist and music ambassador, Chill Moody. That was impressive on its own, but then Todd stuck around to enjoy a concert featuring an all-local music lineup.

When I looked into the sold-out crowd of our third annual Amplify Philly Music Showcase and saw Todd Carmichael dancing in the front row, I was amazed. It was incredible to see an influential entrepreneur like Todd rocking along with our local bands and greeting these artists to discuss music and what it’s like to create their work in Philadelphia. This is what makes our city special — one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs can bond with young musicians from West Philly over their shared love of music and Philadelphia, and it seems like the most natural friendship in the world. More of that, please.

Todd Carmichael and Philly’s Ill Fated Natives.

Go ask Todd who some of his new favorite bands are. I bet he mentions a few of those Philly bands he discovered at the Amplify Philly House, and that alone, is special. That’s the support our creative community needs.

While the end result of what we were able to pull off at the Amplify Philly House was a site to behold, the journey we took to get there was even more special. After a series of unforeseen events in late 2017, Amplify Philly co-organizer Yuval Yarden was no longer working on the initiative. This left a large hole in the planning efforts, and several organizations opted to back away from Amplify Philly for 2018. We went from planning for the biggest Amplify Philly activation yet, to wondering if we would even be able to pull it off at all. Thankfully, members of our community stepped up to support in whatever way they could. They were not going to let this initiative go down without a fight.

DJ Jazzy Jeff at the SXSW Amplify Philly house.

The leadership team that makes Amplify Philly possible year after year is owed a deep sense of gratitude. Danielle Cohn of Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs, Rick Nucci of GURU, Tracey Welson-Rossman of Chariot Solutions, Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg of Zivtech, and Lauren Cox of StartupPHL. These five individuals are the catalysts who make Amplify Philly possible. Without their support, there is no Amplify.

Not only does each of their organizations support monetarily, they also provide their time and energy to make sure we cover all the bases in our planning process. I’d also be remiss to not thank Yuval for her initial efforts in fundraising and planning. Prior to her resignation from Amplify Philly, she played a crucial role in securing sponsorship and setting the vision for what our 2018 activation would be.

The Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs team is a true example of an organization that practices what they preach. They are pushing messaging that empowers startups and entrepreneurs, and with their support of Amplify Philly they are doing just that. It’s refreshing to see firsthand a large corporation such as Comcast have a dedicated focus on providing opportunities for young entrepreneurs to access the resources they need to grow.

Comcast elevator at SXSW Amplify Philly house.

The City of Philadelphia is also another example of this. Mayor Kenney, as well as members of the StartupPHL team, made it their number one priority to have Amplify Philly be a diverse initiative — representing what our city truly looks like — while on the ground at SXSW. Instead of sending the Mayor back to SXSW this year, they decided to provide funding for four young, entrepreneurs of color to be represented as part of the Amplify Philly initiative. The Mayor was still able to show his own support for Amplify by sending out this tweet during SXSW:

Even City Councilman At-Large Allan Domb was able to make the trip to support the Amplify Philly initiative for the second year in row:

Down a co-organizer as we headed into crunch time, the leadership committee suggested we bring on Michelle Freeman and her team at Witty Gritty to make magic happen for 2018. And magic they made. The Witty Gritty team joined the Amplify Philly initiative at the start of 2018 and got moving with some seriously tight deadlines.

We had to make our vision come to life on a shoestring budget, and with only a few months of lead-time. I want to thank the Witty Gritty team for being everything I love about Philadelphia. They made it happen. They brought a combination of teamwork— their willingness to collaborate with my REC Philly team — and a relentless pursuit to get things done, no matter the challenges. When we finally made it down to Austin, they went into overdrive and pulled off the Amplify Philly House without even a hiccup.

It wasn’t just Witty Gritty that helped make our vision a reality, though. In order to make this happen on such a short timeline and tight budget, we needed to get help from other community members who could perform specific services like printing, branding and sound production. One by one, partners started to step up making this a true citywide effort.
Without hesitation, Joe Warner and 20/10 Solutions was ready to take on the branding needs of Amplify Philly.

Steven Rubin of Fine Line Tees took care of all of the printing, including signage, t-shirts, flyers and more.

The team at Mid Atlantic FX provided all the sound and lighting we needed to make the Amplify Philly House a memorable experience. They even drove from Philly to Austin to make this happen.

When people see Amplify Philly happening over social media, most of them have no idea the community effort that goes into making this happen. There were dozens of individuals ready to sacrifice their time, energy and resources to make sure Philadelphia was represented the right way at SXSW, and that’s exactly what we were able to do. For that, I want to thank you all.

I also wanted to thank our additional sponsors Webjunto, Tonic Design, Mio Culture, Campus Philly, GoPuff, Ballard Spahr, Arcweb Technologies, Tastykakes, and Tony Luke’s for being a part of Amplify Philly for the first time this year, and returning partners Visit Philadelphia, Innovation@Penn, Philly Startup Leaders, and the Temple University Alumni Association.

I have to take at least one sentence to thank my REC Philly team for putting up with me during this planning process, especially those on my team who made the trip and put in the work to make this come to life.

Lastly, I want to thank the local artists who joined us in Austin. As someone who has grown passionate for Philadelphia’s music and arts community, it was a surreal opportunity to watch you take the stage in the Amplify Philly House and pore your energy into the hearts of those in attendance. Thank you for that energy.

Hardwork Movement performs on stage at the SXSW Amplify Philly.

The final impact of Amplify Philly is still to be determined. We will see what business gets done and what partnerships are made from this experience. But one thing we already know for sure is that new relationships were built, existing relationships were strengthened and our community as whole is now stronger. We put Philadelphia in the international spotlight, and we shined bright. Thank you to all who made this possible. I look forward to what is to come for this initiative, and for our city.


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