Professional Development

The new Innovation Lab PHL aims to fill a gap of community-based entrepreneur development

"To be a newbie is not [just] to be a certain age group — it can be early 20s, but it can also be middle age," Director Neil Kleinman said of those in need of free resources and connections. "It's anyone who's going through a realignment."

The view of Center City Philadelphia from Northern Liberties.

(Photo by Julie Zeglen)

The college-to-job market pipeline doesn’t look anything like it once did.

Educator and innovation advocate Neil Kleinman, a professor emeritus of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of the Arts, has worked in higher education for more than 40 years, leading droves of students toward careers in the creative arts and media. But the system set up to raise students and send them off into the world can’t operate in a silo anymore, he believes, especially in the current climate.

“When I grew up, you got a BA, and there were jobs out there, career ladders, and that was true for artists and creatives, too,” he told Technical.ly. “All those things have fallen apart. So I’m sort of spending this part of my life providing payback. I was in a lucky generation; life was organized in a way to let me and my peers move ahead without thinking too much about how we’re going to make a living.”

Until 2020, Kleinman was the director of UArts’ Corzo Center, which guided students through the entrepreneurship process. When he retired from his formal position, Kleinman began thinking about how to replicate the type of support, resources and connections a higher education institution provides within the wider Philadelphia entrepreneurship community.

Neil Kleinman. (via innovationlabphl.com)

About a year ago, his intentions started to come to fruition. Kleinman, along with a growing group of consultants, “experts” in different fields, formed Innovation Lab PHL. It’s a free, virtual (for now) resource that offers programming, office hours, blog-based resources and networking. The idea came from a need for post-graduate creatives, but the resources are really for anyone, Kleinman said.

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Along with recent graduates, they’ve seen an influx of interest from people in their 40s and 50s who are going through The Great Resignation or who have been displaced from traditional jobs. There’s also people in their 60s who are retiring and have some economic strengths, who are trying to figure out their role in society, Kleinman said.

“It’s for people who are looking for a road way forward, to help them take control of their own economic lives,” he said. “To be a newbie is not [just] to be a certain age group — it can be early 20s, but it can also be middle age. It’s anyone who’s going through a realignment.”

Innovation Lab PHL also operates office hours and “idea clinic” programs, supported by local experts in business, marketing, law, education and other fields. They donate at least two hours of time a month, offering up skills, advice or mentorship to folks who want to grow in their area of expertise.

There are places that serve a similar need, Kleinman said; he admires NextFab’s makerspaces and community, and knows universities that provide similar resources. But he’s aiming to create a model that’s easily replicated, free and reinforces a sense of community beyond private institutions.

“It’s a depressingly fragmented society. What we’re trying to do with the Innovation Lab, I hope other people steal it and replicate it,” Kleinman said. “I wish the government would take on some of these roles, but most institutions are incapable of doing it because they’re focused on their own success. But I do think you’re going to look a the landscape in five years and see more of this existing.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Innovation Lab, connecting with experts or becoming one yourself, you can reach out at info@innovationlabPHL.com.

People: Neil Kleinman
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