Innovation Philadelphia, the economic development group with the mission to “attract and retain young professionals” is starting from scratch.
On April 16th, IP announced that CEO Kelly Lee, organizer of the GCECS conference last October, was stepping down. Three full-time staffers were also let go as the Board of Directors – all unpaid volunteers – will take the next 90 days to assess the future direction of the organization.
“It is not about saving an organization,” board chariman Richard Bendis told Technically Philly in an interview. “It’s about how can value be added to region. If IP can do that in some capacity, great.”
The reason for the reshuffling? Innovation Philadelphia’s funding, which depends largely on grants, has dried up.
“We’ve had a lot of proposals out since the first of the year and a major one with the Department of Labor did not materialize,” founding CEO and board member Richard Bendis says. Bendis, who has been largely absent from the group since 2006, busy with Innovation America, promised to lead an “analytical objective look” at the group as he takes the reigns in the interim.
Bendis says the failed grant proposal was “less than $5 million but more than $1 million.” The group also has out an application for an Economic Development Administration continuing-grant totaling $560,000.
“Until new funding emerges, there is not a lot of funding available to address ongoing programs,” he says.
Bendis says everything any option is on the table, including leaving the group’s Center City office to become a virtual organization. He also pointed to the merging of the MAC alliance and Eastern Technology Council as evidence of the changing landscape of economic development firms. This year’s GCECS conference is also in limbo.
Under Lee’s leadership (read our Q&A with Lee here) the group came under some fire last year from Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mike Armstrong who said that if the group disappeared, he “wouldn’t miss it.” Indy Hall co-founder Alex Hillman also refused to speak at GCECS, sparking a debate in his comments section about Innovation Philadelphia’s role in the city.
Since Bendis left the organization to head up Innovation America, also based in Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter has slashed the IP’s city funding and grassroots groups like Philadelphia Startup Leaders have emerged to help support local entrepreneurs.
Bendis says that the emergence of Philly Startup Leaders and other grassroots organizations will factor in their analysis, but he was quick to add that Philadelphia still has some growing to do.
“If you go to Boston, you’ll find ten times as many grassroots organizations as you’ll find here.”
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