As new executive director of Philly Startup Leaders — the 10-year-old nonprofit striving to be an entry point to the local tech community — Kiera Smalls is hoping to capitalize on the city’s momentum.
“More than ever, Philadelphia is in the national spotlight,” Smalls, 28, said in an open letter to the community. “Business is booming, public spaces are thriving, and people are staying and reinvesting in their communities. We are Super Bowl champions, on Amazon’s radar, and now ranked as one of the top three startup cities in the country. It’s a great time to be in Philadelphia and be a part of its amazing evolution, and nowhere is this energy more evident than in the thriving startup and tech community.”
But Smalls said the hype about Philly, which Mayor Jim Kenney alluded to in his budget speech last Thursday, also carries over to the organization she’s joining.
“It’s really an exciting time for PSL,” Smalls told Technical.ly. “We have a new board with fresh, new perspectives and that’s promising.”
The 12-person board the new ED mentions began its term in January. The board restructuring process was sped up last October when former executive director Yuval Yarden stepped down amid backlash over her remarks on a panel on diversity and inclusion. At the time of Yarden’s departure, PSL president Bob Moore said the upheaval was a “reflection of our poor efforts around diversity and inclusion.”
Smalls, a Black woman, names diversity and inclusion among the areas of opportunity as she joins PSL. The lifelong Philadelphian joins PSL after three years as marketing manager of Bicycle Transit Systems, the Philly-based operator of bike-share programs in four cities, including Philly’s Indego, where she also the head of the company’s Diversity and Inclusion committee, created in February 2017.
Alongside Takia McClendon, she also took to community building by starting City Fit Girls, a fitness community looking to provide women with access to physical activity.
“We had almost 100 applicants and a very competitive process,” Moore told Technical.ly. “Kiera stood out because of her amazing combination of skills and experience: Her work building and scaling communities through City Fit Girls, her successes working with big brands and local influencers through Indego bike share, and her thoughtful perspectives on our city as a lifelong Philadelphian, just to name a few. She’s an exceptional person and the Board is thrilled to be working with her.”
Smalls’ approach will aim to keep all communities in mind regarding access and promotion of events and programming.
“I’d say a lot of my work with both Indego and City Fit Girls has been about connecting all individuals to resources in order for them to succeed,” Smalls said.
That connection will start by listening. Smalls said she was committed to being visible and accessible to the community the nonprofit represents. In tune with her work at City Fit Girls, Smalls prefers a walking or running meeting versus the more traditional coffee sit-down. As for her longterm goals, the director said she’d want to help make PSL an immediate reference for startup founders.
“When potential entrepreneurs need a tool or resource to help them grow, I hope someone in that conversation brings up PSL,” Smalls said.
Here’s the open letter Smalls penned to the PSL community:
Dear Philly Startup Leaders Community: A Letter From Your New Executive Director
More than ever, Philadelphia is in the national spotlight. Business is booming, public spaces are thriving, and people are staying and reinvesting in their communities. We are Super Bowl champions, on Amazon’s radar, and now ranked as one of the top three startup cities in the country. It’s a great time to be in Philadelphia and be a part of its amazing evolution, and nowhere is this energy more evident than in the thriving startup and tech community. Effective today, I’ll be joining Philly Startup Leaders (PSL) as its new Executive Director.
I’m coming to PSL with a background in marketing, community building, and strategic partnerships. I spent three amazing years building and maintaining Indego bike share’s marketing efforts at Bike Transit, a local startup that operates bike share systems across the country. I also co-founded City Fit Girls, an all-levels fitness and wellness community for women. As a born and bred Philadelphian, I am deeply invested in the success of this city. The common theme in my work has been connecting people to resources and building strategic partnerships, two strengths that I believe can help take PSL to the next level.
As I step into this role, I’m most excited about new opportunities for growth, networking, success stories, diversity and inclusion, and resource sharing. PSL is in a unique position to connect entrepreneurs, funders, and supporters to each other and we will continue to build a strong and supportive community. Philly has some amazing success stories happening across the city and on the national level, including the Nehemiah Davis Foundation’s work in West Philadelphia, Girl Develop It’s national growth model, and an increasing number of financial investments by local and national businesses of all sizes. PSL has an opportunity to help elevate these and other stories to ensure those connections can deepen and blossom.
PSL has done great work for the Philly tech community and beyond and I’m excited to work with you to keep the momentum going. 10 years in the game is no small feat!
As your new Executive Director, I will strive to:
- Make sure Philly Startup Leaders’ programming and activities continue to serve the needs of all members and supporters
- Engage with you early and often to hear what’s important to you, learn from you, and grow with you
- Make it easier to search and find leads on jobs, funding, networking, and developmental resources
- Work with our staff, volunteers, and Board of Directors to continue to create great programming and tools to keep our network (and city) growing and thriving
- Continue to keep the entire city, including all of its neighborhoods, in mind with regards to expanding access to resources
- Make new and growing business success stories for Philadelphia
Philadelphia’s success is rooted in the success of its people. There will be challenges and roadblocks along the way but together, we can learn, build, and grow with each other. Thank you for the support and I look forward to working with you!
Full disclosure: Technically Media CEO Chris Wink sits on the Philly Startup Leaders board. He was not involved with this report.
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