Startups

PACT, tech-investment member nonprofit, has evolved its mission

Let other civic marketing and economic groups worthy of consolidation take notice, the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technology, better known as PACT, has stayed relevant for 30 years. Here's what's to learn.

The event, which features the internationally known Diamond Challenge for high-school entrepreneurs, draws people to Delaware from all over the world.

The Horn Program's three-day Youth Entrepreneurship Summit returns to University of Delaware in April, bringing together students, educators and supporters from over 45 countries and 26 states — and this year, there are some new features, including opportunities for Delaware high school students to attend for free. This year's theme is "A World Made By You" and will feature the Made by You Market, a new event offering items created by young entrepreneurs. "This is our first year with a market so we’re starting small and seeing how well it’s received," said Julie Frieswyk, manager of youth programs for Horn. "Some of the featured makers include a young woman from the Republic of Georgia’s handmade goods, a young artist from Germany who hand-paints silk scarves for wall or wearable art, a Diamond Challenge team from Texas with a specialized cutting board system and a young entrepreneur launching his first book. We’ll also have two UD-alumni companies, one who makes jewelry and another who creates day planners." In addition to being a place to buy and sell goods, the market will provide a forum for ideas and discussion driven by young entrepreneurial leaders. "This is truly going to be like a mobile 'Shark Tank' of new ideas and products,"  Frieswyk said. Also featured will be five keynote speakers including Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer and The League app founder Amanda Bradford, workshops by internationally recognized leaders, pop-up innovation challenges, entrepreneur mentoring sessions, panel discussions and, of course, final rounds of the nationally recognized Diamond Challenge, which is entering its sixth season. It's the renowned youth pitch competition that draws teens to the summit from all over the world. "The Diamond Challenge engages students from diverse backgrounds and geographies so they can begin to deepen and expand their professional networks at an early age," said Frieswyk. "Teams in attendance will span the USA and the world, with most other attendees from local and regional high schools." To encourage those local attendees, the Horn Program is offering every high school in Delaware five free passes. Educators from schools that have not yet requested passes should contact Frieswyk at julief@udel.edu. The Youth Entrepreneurship Summit, co-sponsored by Capital One and Paul and Linda McConnell, will take place on April 11–13 at the University of Delaware’s Clayton Hall. Tickets are $49 for Friday only, $89 for a three-day pass and $139 for a three-day pass plus entry to the gala and awards ceremony on April 12. [link href="http://horn.udel.edu/summit-application" text="Register"]

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.

The organization is the product of a 2010 merger between two of the region’s older business associations: the Eastern Technology Council and Mid-Atlantic Capital 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.

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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.

dean-miller-impact

PACT CEO Dean Miller speaking at last year’s imPACT event.

“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.

Partnerships abound.

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.”

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