Isabelle Kent is Philly Startup Leaders' new executive director - Technical.ly Philly

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Isabelle Kent is Philly Startup Leaders’ new executive director

The HR and talent acquisition entrepreneur brings experience in growth strategy and ecosystem development to the entrepreneurship-boosting org.

Isabelle Kent.

(Photo via LinkedIn)

Correction: Philly Startup Leaders did have two staffers working during the search for a new executive director. Mention of those positions has been added. (3/2/21, 11:36 a.m.)

Philly Startup Leaders (PSL) found its new executive director in HR and talent acquisition entrepreneur Isabelle Kent.

Kent brings experience in growth strategy and ecosystem development to the entrepreneurship-boosting nonprofit. The former VP of growth for Toronto-based talent acquisition platform JobAdX also runs her own strategy firm, Dedicova Consulting, through which she’s consulted with startups and Fortune 1000 companies. The Arcadia University grad has served as a virtual mentor through PSL, and throughout the pandemic, she has offered pro bono career consulting to help jobseekers understand hiring systems so they can find more opportunities.

“Job search is a learned skill,” she told Technical.ly. “You don’t know what you don’t know. Everybody was kind of shell-shocked by COVID and finding themselves out of work with entire industries not hiring.”

PSL has had a unique role in Kent’s journey as an entrepreneur: She came up with the idea for her company Gigsaw while attending an entrepreneurial bootcamp with the organization. PSL has been an ongoing resource for her, she said, and she hopes to help other provide other aspiring founders with similar guidance.

The ED post has been open since July, when Kiera Smalls left to become general manager for Bloc Delivery, an ebike-powered delivery company. PSL also lost its head of programs and operations, Jaclyn Allen, when she left her post in December to work for Startup Grind in partner success and startup engagement.

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During Smalls’ time as executive director, she established the Underrepresented Founders Fund and oversaw the creation of the PSL idea-stage accelerator — which will announce its latest participating entrepreneurs soon, Kent said.

While PSL hasn’t had an executive director in months, Kent is enthusiastic about picking up where Smalls and Allen left off and working with a board where, as she put it, every member is capable and qualified for the work at hand. (The org did have a communications coordinator and program director on staff while it searched for new leadership; the board oversaw day-to-day operations.)

“This organization has been a critical resource in the Philadelphia region and for my own entrepreneurial journey,” the new ED said in a statement. “I’m humbled by the opportunity to build upon Kiera’s legacy as a catalyst for representation and community engagement in Philly’s startup scene. I look forward to collaborating with stakeholders and board members for the next chapter of PSL.”

As a professional who remembers the effects of the last recession, Kent is optimistic that she can collaborate with her PSL colleagues to help entrepreneurs and their businesses succeed in a challenging time, and help Philadelphia shine on the global stage. Driving digital engagement is one of her top priorities: “We hope to ramp up our digital presence, and get more engagement in the community,” she said.

In addition to Kent’s new role, Switchboard Live CEO Rudiger Ellis will become the new PSL board president as 1776 CEO Jennifer Maher shifts to chair. Four new board members will also begin three-year terms: Juno Search Partners cofounder Mikal Harden; Comcast NBCUniversal’s senior program manager of startup engagement, Keenan Corrigan; On the Goga founder and CEO Anna Greenwald; and Deep Fork Capital managing partner and founder Timothy Komada.

Below, read Kent’s introductory letter to the PSL community for more on her plans for the org.

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Hello Philly Startup Leaders community and entrepreneurs everywhere!

I could not be more excited to meet you all today!

As we move toward reopening and reemerging into a world inevitably different than what we’ve known, we have the unique opportunity to reform, revolutionize, and revitalize our city by doubling down on what has worked and exploring what Philadelphia can be. We’ve come far over the years as a community and are excited by the prospect and potential of the future. As businesses and communities alike define what’s next, there will be unprecedented demand for new proposals and solutions.

Philadelphia is uniquely positioned to meet these demands. Innovation is in our blood. For centuries, Philly has challenged the status quo and brought forth new ideas. The startups that’ll define our future are preceded by countless successes. In every corner of the city, leaders are stepping up to create the changes they want to see in their industries and neighborhoods. For over 14 years, Philly Startup Leaders has evolved from a volunteer-led organization to become a central hub for early-stage innovation and entrepreneurial empowerment. Today, it brings together an entire ecosystem, fostering new economic development and welcoming newcomers to both the city and to entrepreneurship. This past year has challenged us all but it has also ignited our imaginations.

I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area most of my life, after immigrating from Crimea. I moved into the city 12 years ago to attend Temple and Arcadia, where I majored in Sociology. For over 8 years, Philly Startup Leaders has been a career-defining resource for me as I explored my own entrepreneurial path. I’ve met so many incredible people through the organization and have learned so much from this welcoming community. I bring 10+ years of innovation, organizational development, and growth strategy experience, consulting enterprises and early-stage startups alike. Most recently, I’ve worked in the Recruiting Technology space as a strategy consultant and as VP of Growth for Toronto-based JobAdX. Additionally, I’ve coached displaced job seekers through my project, Gigsaw, by helping them transition to fulfilling new career paths. My passion is connecting others and deciphering complex problems through ecosystem development and systemic problem solving.

I’m honored to be chosen to lead Philly Startup Leaders through one of the most exciting and uncertain times. Building upon the incredible accomplishments of my predecessor, Kiera Smalls, I’m committed to unifying the entrepreneurial community in Philadelphia over our goal of inclusive and equitable economic development and innovation. I am joined on this journey by an accomplished Board of Directors, featuring several new members and incoming President Rudiger Ellis.

As Executive Director, my priorities will be to promote our Mission & Vision for our community through our sponsors, peer organizations, and the City. Some initiatives I’ll be working on are:

  • Deepen relationships with community partners and sponsors to align our efforts and resources, maximizing support for local startups
  • Create new entry opportunities into the entrepreneurial ecosystem for founders and talent
  • Form alliances with sister cities to share tactics, ideas, and introductions
  • Develop national and global visibility to attract funding, business, and talent. I welcome newcomers to our city and encourage them to get involved in the incredible organizations in their communities.
  • Coach, mentor, and facilitate growth in scaling startups
  • Launch digital programming via events, Slack, and social channels to improve accessibility
  • Work with The City and corporate sponsors to make it easier to pursue entrepreneurship

With every recession comes a wave of innovation that shifts the course of culture and business. We invite our corporate, municipal, and individual sponsors to lift up our entrepreneurs through funding and mentorships so that innovators in Philly are empowered in their experimentation to meet advancing demands.

I’m hopeful and energized for the future and look forward to working together with you all. I’ll be available via email and through the PSL Slack channel, and would love to hear from you! Looking forward to building the next iteration of a spirited, collaborative entrepreneurial community together. Thank you for joining me in this mission!

With all the warmth,

Isabelle


Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-
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