The Smartest People in Philadelphia

Meet the brains behind the brightest ideas in Philly right now.

The Smartest People in Philadelphia

Business & Economics

Kristin Norris

The Anthropologie Auteur
As chief creative officer for Anthropologie and a founding creative spirit behind BHLDN, the company’s wedding line, Norris, 43, is a driving force behind the boho-chic brand’s knack for selling an entire aesthetic along with those $300 day dresses and whimsical throw rugs. Here, some of her guiding principles:

  • Innovation sometimes means reinventing the (perfectly fine) wheel. “We have such loyal customers that it can create an innovative dilemma,” she says: The brand must be familiar, yet always push forward. Hence Anthro’s endless collaborations with artists. The arty aesthetic stays; the specific artistry shifts.
  • Expanding the concept of competition. “For us, competition is the blogs our customer visits, the magazines she reads. It’s all those aggregators of inspiration out there, because we want to be her inspiration.” And so everything Anthro is designed to be “clever, whimsical, witty and op-timistic”—because it’s an inspiration jungle out there.
  • Creating an environment for the merchandise is just as important as the merchandise. “It’s this idea that the store should be a backdrop for what’s in it,” says Norris. It’s a whole world to desire.
  • Constantly show how the ordinary can be extraordinary. This goes beyond belts and jewelry, Norris says. Consider the floor displays: That larger-than-life unicorn made out of paper plates and straws? Those fabric flowers in the windows, dyed pink with beets? Extraordinary. Also: Clever, whimsical, witty and optimistic.

Richard Vague

The Economic Crusader
Financial heavy hitter Vague, 56, is many things: credit-card mogul, energy honcho, major patron of Philadelphia arts, creator of the eclectic blog, venture capitalist. But is he also our economic savior?

A “just curious” Vague did a little research on debt in the U.S., and what he found turned into a paper co-authored with journalist Steve Clemons in July. The thesis? Personal and private debt—not government debt—is what’s sinking us all. If we want to fix the economy, they argue, we don’t need more government austerity or spending, but a focus on “re-jiggering and triggering private spending” and on restructuring problem loans. The paper hit the big time, noted in the Huffington Post and the Financial Times, and now Vague and Clemons have hit the road, taking their ideas to “policy-makers and regulators here and in Europe.”

“We can’t have a robust recovery because consumers are still overburdened with debt,” Vague, a Texas transplant, drawls. “That’s the key point. We can’t pretend we’re going to have a recovery like we did in 1970 and 1980, when private debt levels were well under 100 percent of the GDP. Now they’re equal to or greater than 150 percent. So this is a different moment. Something needs to be done. We’re doing what we hope are productive things to bring attention to one of the biggest problems in modern economic history—maybe the biggest.”

Josh Kopelman

The Venture Capitalist
Venture Fund Funded: First Round Capital
The Big Idea: The city’s been abuzz over FRC’s recent move from West Conshy to University City, because where Kopelman goes, Internet start-up su-ccess follows. “We want to be an entrepreneur’s first call,” he says. “The first call when they want to brainstorm an idea, the first call when they want funding, and the first call when they need advice.”

The Portfolio: Generally, “capital- efficient” companies—“which has historically led us to focus on software/Internet companies” such as Uber, Mint, Square, Bazaarvoice and Warby Parker.

Bob Adelson

The Venture Capitalist
Venture Fund Funded: Osage University Partners

The Big Idea: Investing in university start-ups as a “co-investment” vehicle with schools. OUP helps universities take advantage of their rights to finance in all investment rounds of start-ups built around inventions coming from the schools. OUP watches start-up activity and helps partnering universities invest in their own.

The Portfolio: University partners include Penn, Duke, Caltech and more. Adelson’s “incredibly talented” OUP team seeks out groundbreaking technology, well-known scientists, great business leaders and solid group investors.

Wayne Kimmel

The Venture Capitalist
Venture Fund Funded: Artists & Instigators

The Big Idea: Pushing innovation and companies that “re-imagine” the world—what Kimmel and partners call “the maker class”—into the venture market. One partner is Mark Ecko, founder of the billion-dollar lifestyle brand Ecko Enterprises; together, all A&I partners offer experience and “curation” along with cash.

The Portfolio: A&I looks for “macro-innovation and consumer- based businesses.” Some portfolio highlights? Fisker Automotive, NutriSystem and Seamless Web.