(Photo by Flickr user mertonium, used under a Creative Commons license)
Hi, my name is Nadia James and I am one of the rare transplants to Philadelphia who moved here with the sole purpose of building a startup. When I first visited Fishtown, I felt with every step that I was in a city with the potential to become the next Startup Alley (New York) or Tech City (East London).
I moved to Philadelphia with great expectations of its tech scene. As any millennial would, I did a couple of Google searches and expected to see pages upon pages of resources on what groups to join, and which events and conferences to attend. I found far fewer associations than I expected and after attending a few events realized I was networking in the wrong places.
Lucky for me, the few, established startup leaders I met took great pleasure in referring me to equally as notable leaders, tech groups and spaces where I could build high-quality business relationships.
Here are some of the recommendations I received from five startup leaders and behind-the-scenes organizers who fuel Philly’s tech scene:
Morgan Berman is the founder and CEO of Milkcrate, a mobile-social platform that empowers people to live more sustainably. She is still in the early stages of building her startup, but has already had great success putting together a solid, talented team, and releasing a beta version of the Milkcrate app. In fact, Berman found her CTO and broader leadership team by attending tech events in Philly and posting on the Philly Startup Leaders listserv.
With the support of Philly’s tech community, Morgan was able to connect with the right people needed to get Milkcrate into a position where they can now seek investor funding.
2. “The associations that have most helped me are the city’s cafés: La Colombe, OCF, HubBub, Joe, Elixr, Lovers & Madmen. I seriously doubt you can have a great startup scene without great cafés.”—Michael Idinopulos
Michael Idinopulos is the CMO of PeopleLinx, a social selling platform that enables sales employees from B2B enterprises to expand their sales funnel via social networks. He has extensive experience serving on the executive board of startups across the country.
Idinopulos was not the only tech executive who found coffee shops invaluable at some stage of their startup experience. Especially for those in the midst of launching a bootstrapped startup, the coffee shops of Center City and other bustling neighborhoods like Fishtown or Northern Liberties offer enough WiFi, caffeine and positive energy to keep entrepreneurs inspired.
3. “I didn’t really find any groups in Philadelphia helpful. I found the established [legal] community a bit hostile. The actual entrepreneurs here are open and accepting. They were really helpful but the older groups and establishments were on guard. My network has been of younger entrepreneurs, initially through the Indy Hall coworking space.”—Julia Shapiro
Julia Shapiro is the founder and CEO of Hire An Esquire. For Julia, the roads of Philadelphia were not paved with gold. When she approached law firms who are the lifeline of her startups’ business model she faced great hostility.
Even so, a chance encounter at a coffee shop still was enough to get her connected with the supportive community she needed to grow her startup into the venture-backed SaaS platform it is today. If your business model is also centered on serving more traditional industries, you, like Julia, shouldn’t discount the benefits that can come from joining a coworking space or grassroots organization led by young entrepreneurs. Ignite Philly and Young Involved Philadelphia are two grassroots movements started by and for young professionals in search of events where they can connect, inspire and push one another to new heights.
4. “When I started getting involved in the startup world I cold emailed a lot of people and was surprised by how many responded.”—Yuval Yarden
PSL was created by entrepreneurs to help tech startup leaders find the funding, mentors, resources and talent they need to mature. Its upcoming event, Founders Factory (full disclosure: Technical.ly Editor-in-Chief Zack Seward is emceeing a portion of the event) is the perfect opportunity for early-, mid- and later-stage entrepreneurs to learn from and interact with one another.
5. “Happy to Help!”—Rebecca Lopez Kriss
All it took was an email for StartUp PHL Director of Marketing and Communications Rebecca Lopez Kriss, to answer my many, many questions on what resources are available to tech entrepreneurs here. StartUp PHL is the city’s answer to tech entrepreneurs who tirelessly advocate for more support from the local government. Its aim is to make Philadelphia more attractive for tech innovation. To that end, half a million dollars in funding is available for companies interested in leading programs that can help Philly’s startup community grow stronger. The main event, however, is $6 million of investment capital for funding early-stage technology-related startups.
If it weren’t for my talk with Lopez Kriss, a city employee, I may have also not realized that my office falls under the state’s Keystone Innovation Zone program or that there are two major tech conferences coming this spring that match what I’m looking for (the Philly Women In Technology Summit and Phorum).
For me, Philly’s culture of “brotherly love and sisterly affection” has been a lived experience.
Whether sending a blind LinkedIn InMail to a Philly tech leader, or walking up to C-level executive at a leading tech conference, I’ve consistently been supported. Leading and more importantly growing a startup certainly isn’t easy, but the support of Philadelphia’s tech community fuels my drive.
Want more tips on where to invest your resources as an early-stage entrepreneur? Check out this list of leading tech conferences, events and associations you should consider for 2015.
Entrepreneurs: Which events, conferences, or associations have been most valuable to your startup?