The Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies, or PACT for those who know it well, just might have the lessons that those lobbying for civic marketing group consolidation need.
- ETC was once a 600-member strong coalition of IT firms and service providers started by Hubert Schoemaker, the founder of now rebranded Horsham biotech firm Centocor, the celebrated biotech entrepreneur Frank Baldino and Pete Musser, the legendary Safeguard Scientifics founder.
- The MAC Alliance was a trade association for investment and venture capital firms dating back to 1982. It went by several names, including the Delaware Valley Venture Group when it hosted the region’s first investment fair in 1989 and later the Greater Philadelphia Venture Group before becoming the MAC Alliance.
After years of board discussion about their crossover by both organizations, the result is a trade association that aims to strengthen the area’s tech community by connecting entrepreneurs with investors, large enterprises with universities and becomes a haven for service providers, like lawyers, bankers and accountants to source deals and socialize.
But like other efforts for nonprofit consolidation, even though the two former groups shared similar goals, combining them was a challenge.
“Both organizations had large boards,” said PACT part-time CEO Dean Miller, the Managing Director of Wayne-based investment firm Novitas Capital. “so in putting them together, we had to reconstitute the board, freshen up the participants and focus on the entities and individuals that had been really committed to either one organization or the other.”
In other words, there required a lot of discussions about how people were best serving the organization’s mission, and leaders had to shuffle their roles. Miller oversaw the merger as chairman of the MAC Alliance. Dianne Strunk, who was then CEO of ETC, took a different role and is still today a vice president at the reconstituted PACT.
The consolidation also came as the Philadelphia technology community was fast changing. It was getting younger, more urban-based and wider ranging — the region’s enterprise and life sciences roots were being complimented by design firms, consumer web startups and a slew of niche product and software companies that define this second wave of technology.
Since then, PACT has adopted a broader focus on the business community.
“We’ve been concentrating not just on the seed-stage entrepreneur, but also on the enterprise, so the Comcasts, the Independence Blue Crosses of the world that have real innovation initiatives are now increasingly a part of PACT,” Miller said. Those are organizations with more traditional economic impact profiles — so they also are more likely partners for the sponsorships and memberships that help drive this six-person event group, an affiliate of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
With such backing, the group does events that aim to connect companies to investors, like a recent bus trip taking entrepreneurs to see New York investors. Today is the group’s annual luncheon, which benefits its foundation and is among several annual events — like Phorum and imPACT.
Miller, a local investor for more than 15 years and the president of Novitas Capital, said he’s recently noticed a growth in technology entrepreneurship, particularly in the city. He attributes the increase to groups like his own and Philly Startup Leaders, as well as programs at nearby universities.
To be sure though, PACT is the more traditional, buttoned-up father figure to a group like PSL. Their missions seem distinct for now, but like ETC and MAC, the groups might be well suited to recognize when their work aligns. It’s something the technology community might do better than others in Philadelphia.
For one example, encouraging entrepreneurship is the premise for Innovate in PA, an initiative boosted by PACT and the Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP). Inspired by similar laws in other states, the program uses $100 million in insurance company tax credits to raise capital for startups.
To promote the plan, representatives from PACT and BFTP visited legislators in Harrisburg with a group of CEOs and investors who were recipients of pre-profit money.
“We wanted to share with them how important it is to have this early-stage capital to prevent entrepreneurs from moving to another state, but also to expand jobs here,” Miller said. The plan passed through the legislature in about a year. It’s projected to create almost 2,000 jobs statewide, according to state figures.
“This is important for Pennsylvania because we have a lot of great assets here, but we don’t have a lot of early-stage venture capital,” Miller said. “Without those dollars, we’ve been struggling,” Miller said. “In other areas, like the Silicon Valley, Boston or New York, there’s much more early-stage capital to support those entrepreneurs. Here in Pennsylvania, we need to be creative in how we generate that.”
Now, PACT’s six-person staff is developing a mentorship program to connect new and experienced entrepreneurs, as well as growing its foundation, which backs STEM-based education initiatives.
“Education is an issue that is deeply enveloped with our core mission,” Miller said. “When we look at this city, there is great potential and I believe that that potential will be underachieved if we don’t correct the education issue in Philadelphia.”
PACT’s annual luncheon today is one of about 30 the organization hosts yearly for its members.
“That face-to-face connection is something you only experience by getting out from behind the walls of your office, or your garage or apartment,” Miller said. “That’s what helps people create business relationships that are relevant to what they’re doing.”