If you wanted to join the Philly tech community today and hit the ground running, who should you meet? Who would help you on your way?
It’s a question I get asked all the time. After three years reporting on this community, I can tell you — but it’s not a short answer.
For the third year in a row, we’ve set out to build our RealLIST Connectors, the “who’s who” to look toward if you want to raise some venture capital, learn about the early days in a startup, connect with the public sector or get involved with a tech-focused community group here.
In 2020, we dug deep into our institutional knowledge, and published our inaugural list of 100 very real connectors, the folks we looked to time and time again for resources, info or opinions about Philly’s evolving tech scene. Last year, we added 20 new people influencing the ecosystem for good, and this year in 2022, we added 22 more.
Each year’s list is inevitably influenced by current events, changing landscapes and new resources available in our community. It’s a joy to meet the innovators and connectors piecing together the community here, like glue for newcomers and mainstays alike. This year’s list welcomes some who are fairly new to Philadelphia as well as honors those who have been around longer than we’ve been publishing.
But they all represent a fraction of the ecosystem. If they’re not the right person to answer your question or give you advice, they sure know who to pass you off to. Let’s jump in.
- Incoming president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia
- Cameron will wrap her 11-year tenure with the Philadelphia International Airport this month, then join the Chamber as its CEO in July. Cameron has chops running one of the largest economic hubs for the region and will bring that experience to the new role, which has major influence over Philadelphia’s businesses and economy.
- President of The Enterprise Center
- Clark has a long tenure serving small businesses through her work at West-Philly based The Enterprise Center. Her chief role at the organization is connecting entrepreneurs to resources and capital, like the current Innovate Capital Growth Fund which is raising $50 million to invest in women- and minority-owned businesses throughout the mid-Atlantic region with revenues between $2 million and $20 million.
- Director of Temple University’s Center for Ethics, Diversity and Workplace Culture
- In her new position, Eisenstadt is shaping the minds of Temple students around ethical decision making, and the creation of healthy workplace cultures while they are learning to be business leaders of the future. This former lawyer frequently hosts or works with local business groups, like the Institute for Business and Information Technology, to amplify the Center’s research.
- CEO and cofounder of cloud computing company Switchboard Live and Philly Startup Leaders president
- Ellis has been in various senior leadership roles over the past 10 years in both network operations and live streaming services, and now runs Switchboard, a Techstars-backed company that landed him in Goggle for Startups’ Black Founders Exchange program.
- Founder and chief strategy officer of digital marketing agency From the Future
- During the pandemic, serial entrepreneur Eubanks created Leverage Coworking within From the Future’s offices, which recently turned into Indy Hall’s new digs. Eubanks is also an organizer of new meetup group NFT Philly, which held its first event last month.
- Principal at Osage Venture Partners
- Foote comes to the investing side of VC after life as an edtech founder. She’s a draw for the firm for founders who want someone with operational experience, and she’s always down to talk venture trends, or how to change careers. Listen to her insights on founders, power dynamics and collaboration during an interview for Technical.ly’s investor education podcast, Off The Sidelines.
- President and CEO of the African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ & DE (AACC)
- Hairston took the role in early 2021, and comes from a background working for the City of Philadelphia, as chief deputy for the Honorable Tracey L. Gordon, the Register of Wills, and clerk of the Orphan’s Court. She’s led the AACC through one of the toughest times for Black-owned small businesses during the pandemic, and she’s advised corporate and government stakeholders on economic development strategies, mobilized community resources and facilitated local partnerships.
- Program director of Philadelphia Global Identity Partnership and founder of METRODAO
- Hines’ position with the PGIP puts him at the center of connecting 50+ organizations and leaders to better “sell” Philadelphia to retain and attract talent, capital and business. Hines’ nominator called him the “glue” of the group, a true connector and a humble leader that is always looking to invite in rather than exclude.
- Directors of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia
- Hornstein and Lawrence are the org’s executive director and deputy executive director, respectively, and are go-to for any and all Philadelphia economy questions. Consider them local thought leaders as the region wrestles with how to recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Hornstein has been at the helm since early 2018 after working as director of financial and policy analysis for the Philadelphia city controller and several leadership roles for local civic associations. Lawrence, for her part, recently moved into the deputy role after serving as the Economy League’s Philadelphia Anchors For Equity and Growth program director, working to increase the number of local and minority-owned businesses in the supply chain.
- VP of client engagement at Jarvus and co-director of Code for Philly
- Jost has an experienced career as a project manager before becoming an executive at Jarvus, and recently took on the role of co-director of civic tech nonprofit Code for Philly. She’s leading the org back to in-person programming again, after virtual meetings and projects during the pandemic, and is aiming to “bring public interest technology projects to life in Philadelphia” during her tenure.
- Professor emeritus of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of the Arts
- When Kleinman retired from his formal position with UArts in 2020, he felt a lack of community-based resources that existed for many college students in the Philadelphia entrepreneurship ecosystem. This year, he formed Innovation Lab PHL, a free, virtual (for now) resource that offers programming, office hours, blog-based resources and networking. The model aims to be easily replicated, and to reinforce a sense of community beyond private institutions.
- Startup and VC partner at Troutman Pepper
- Kwon has been in Philly for more than a decade, serving the needs of startups when it comes to setting up their business, taking their first venture capital and demystifying the process for founders. He’s run startup-focused arms at various law firms, and has experience as a founder himself. He’s a go-to if you’re looking for legal resources, or someone to connect you to VC resources in the region.
- Social entrepreneur and philanthropist
- Leaphart has chops not only as a serial founder of impact-minded companies such as fintech startup Philanthropi. He’s also a medical doctor, the chair of the board of directors for the Lenfest Foundation, and a member of several boards, including the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation, Philadelphia Media Network and Comcast’s Joint Diversity Advisory Council. He also recently joined Houwzer’s new RiseUp Fund to help low-income, first-time homebuyers make a purchase. You’ll spot Leaphart just about everywhere in the tech and innovation scene, like judging the CBK Ventures pitch competition or raising VC for his own venture.
- Economy League of Greater Philadelphia’s Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange director
- Though she’s only been in her role about a year, after working as the manager of strategic planning and design for community engagement firm Connect the Dots Insights, Mailler is tasked with one of the city’s largest community-building programs, GPLEX. The program forms alliances with other cities in order to learn from and strengthen support systems to build solutions for Philadelphia’s problems. This year, she’s taking 150 Philadelphians to Detroit, a “cousin” of Philadelphia, she said.
- Security researcher for Krebs Stamos
- When it comes to cybersecurity in Philadelphia, Maleeff is one of the folks you have to know. If her Twitter presence isn’t enough of a convincing factor of her prowess in the space, or maybe her news roundups, take it from us: When we asked for cyber pros during Cybersecurity Month in April, her name was mentioned again and again. She’s a go-to for research, InfoSec updates and good tweets.
- Associate professor and director of the CARE Lab at Temple University
- In addition to teaching classes, Rege’s work is focused on expanding the pool of learners at the Cybersecurity in Application, Research and Education Lab at Temple, which offers a social science approach to cybersecurity. She’s a proponent of social engineering, the nontechnical side of cyber, and works with students at high school, college and graduate levels to learn about the field and propel in their careers.
- President and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- Rodríguez has spent the pandemic supporting the Latinx business community as it faced limited resources, government shutdowns and at times, discrimination. She formed the Diverse Chambers Coalition with other minority business groups in the region, and promoted programs — like the org’s Accelerate Latinx scaling program and Build Latino capacity-building program — to get business owners what they needed. Rodríguez is also active in the community, sitting on the boards for Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia Latino Film Festival and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
- Partner and leader of business development and investor relations at NewSpring Capital
- VeVerka’s nominator called him the “consummate connector,” using his platform as a partner to provide hundreds of founders and early-stage CEOs with priceless feedback and advice. He’s known for “generously and tirelessly” connected folks to others in his network, and for serving in the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship and the Alliance of M&A Advisors.
- Inventor and leader of Makers Meetup
- Weinberger has been on the scene in Philadelphia for decades, as an inventor and a convener of people. He’s been especially active in the makers scene in Philadelphia, and recently relaunched the in-person Makers Meetup. The virtual connections and events throughout the pandemic certainly served their purpose, he told Technical.ly recently, but he’s hoping to spur more meaningful connections for local makers, entrepreneurs and startup leaders at recurring in-person events.
- Admin lead at Philly Community Wireless and digital scholarship coordinator at Temple University Libraries’ Loretta C. Duckworth Scholars Studio
- In 2020, Wermer-Colan and a group of volunteers launched PCW, a free Wi-Fi mesh network operating in Norris Square. Wermer-Colan and the group’s goal is to partner with local community organizations, businesses and residents to extend the network’s reach, and has recently collaborated with institutions like Temple on its Digital Equity Center initiative.
- President and CEO of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia
- Zaw stepped into this role in October, coming from serving as a senior officer for the Social Welfare, Women, Labor and Migrant Workers Division at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. She’s also an entrepreneur herself, with mission-focused Khineder Creations and Khinez Organics, organic skincare companies that support veterans and survivors of sex trafficking and domestic violence. She’s made local 40 Under 40 lists, and is a board member of United Way in the Lehigh Valley.