Rebooting Innovation Philadelphia

Last week, Mayor Street's once-promising Innovation Philadelphia initiative started over. Here are our recommendations for the economic development group.

Before its tenth birthday, Innovation Philadelphia will have to decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

The grant-funded economic development group, with a goal of attracting young professionals to the city’s “creative economies,” was formed in 2001 during Mayor Street’s administration with support from economic and academic leaders. More recently, though, the group has been better known for underwriting research to help postulate how the city can attract young professionals. With those ends, it hosts the annual Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit and produces the Entrepreneur’s Resource Guide. [SIGNUP]

The organization is also broke.

Last week in a newsletter to supporters, Innovation Philadelphia announced that it will be reevaluating its operations, and it’s not hard to see why. In 2008, Mayor Nutter cut all city funding to the group, and earlier this year one of its primary grants was not renewed. The news prompted CEO Kelly Lee to leave the organization, and three-person full-time staffers have been laid off. Richard Bendis, founder and chairman of Innovation Philadelpha’s board, will be leading an effort to reassess the group’s operations and its role in the city. That won’t be an easy task. Recently, the organization was criticized by the Philadelphia Business Journal. The Inquirer, too, expressed apathy about the its future.

Philadelphia’s creative economy ecosystem is far from reaching its full potential, and we think there is still a role for the organization. But it’s going to take some serious steering:

Trim down

Previously the group prided itself on producing reports such as the “Creative footprint,” which measured the impact of the region’s creative economy. But research is expensive, time consuming and its return-on-investment is difficult to pin down. Drop it. And drop GCECS’s national focus so that the high-profile event is centered on the region’s economy.

Don’t be redundant

The organization often sees itself as a cheerleader of sorts for the region’s creatives, but that is a function better left to the city’s grassroots organizations or existing economic development organizations. Find the gaps in existing groups and fill them.

Be a hub

Philadelphia’s various creative industries have their own trade groups and organizations. IP should be a central platform for all creative sectors to communicate and collaborate. It shouldn’t be top-down. Instead, it should explore how it can better facilitate those existing groups.


Until recently, the group had an uncanny ability to attract large government grants to fund operations. Why not route that money to help foster the create of new companies and jobs? For example, continue supporting startup incubator DreamIt Ventures and state-funded, early-stage investor Ben Franklin Technology Partners but make them priorities. With a federal and state emphasis on creating green tech and technology jobs, it should be an easier sell. There is no better way for Philadelphia to champion itself than if it was the home to a handful of the world’s most innovative companies.

Promote your web resources

The group’s excellent job board and its entrepreneur resource guide are incredibly useful to small business and freelancers and shouldn’t require too much effort to maintain and update. Keep ’em. But there’s one crucial problem: they’re buried on the website. Put them on the front page.

Communicate and be transparent

Innovation Philadelphia’s blog is a 404 placeholder, its Twitter accounts have been suspended and press releases are few and far between. We would venture that even amongst workers in the creative economy, the majority don’t know what contributions the organization has made. If it is to be successful, its constituents must know the value it provides.

In a previous conversation with Technically Philly, Bendis promised a “rational and analytical” look at the way Innovation Philadelphia operates. He left all options on the table and emphasized a need to be flexible to the needs of the city.

That’s something we can get behind. — Sean Blanda

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