Entrance Exam: What it’s like to meet Philly’s biz scene during a pandemic

Here's how entrepreneur Marcus Smith, who just moved to the Philly 'burbs from Austin, is thinking about launching his connective digital business locally.

Marcus Smith, cofounder of Axon Collective.

(Courtesy photo)

Marcus Smith, cofounder of contracting and resource networking company Axon Collective, had just moved with his wife to the Philly area, eager to tap into the business scene here, when a global health crisis began.

He’d been developing his idea for Axon, a community for aspiring entrepreneurs, with a few friends down in Austin in what Smith called “the nerd house.” He’d moved to the city from Longview, Texas after graduating from college to understand the entrepreneurial scene there.

He and three friends-turned-cofounders took engineering roles after college, but began talking about an online community that could exist in ways that networking groups or coworking spaces did. After paying off his student loans, he jumped into the business full-time about a year ago.

Axon’s ideal customer is a self-starter who’s probably working a 9-to-5 job right now and dreaming of starting their own business, but might not have any of the resources, Smith said.

“The ultimate goal is to service that individual until they are ready to hop all the way into entrepreneurship,” he told “Connect them along that process.”

So, the business will offer contracting services — helping clients figure out a software, for instance, or connecting them to someone else to help with that technical aspect of their business, or handle email marketing. Smith said he’s currently building out a customer base of entrepreneurs and a network of people who have needs and will further add to its technical offerings.

“We’ve sort of pathed out how we want to do that, but while connecting into an existing ecosystem,” Smith said of the move to Wayne about three months ago, which was spurred by a job in sales for his wife.

So, how does one build a business based in community and collaboration during a pandemic? talked with Smith about this paradox and how Philly stacks up against Austin. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

### In your short experience here in the Philly area, what are some differences you’ve observed between Philly and Austin?

Marcus Smith: I’m pretty bad at comparisons, but it seems like there’s a lot more dispersed efforts to inspire entrepreneurship in Philly, where Austin seems like a smaller, tighter nucleus. Philly is a larger city and it seems to have an equally larger variety of opportunity.


How have you been handling setting up your business here amid a global pandemic? 

As much as it all sucks, I’ve tried to stay thankful. Things being digitized means that I can connect into some things with less barriers to entry. A “new normal” gives a new perspective for strategies and validates our model (because we are fully digital). I can’t wait to set up physical meetings, but until then we are trying to take advantage of this digital [environment]. I knew a handful of people in Austin that have connections here in Philly, and I’ve been plugging in to some existing communities here (like Philly Startup Leaders and Philly’s 1 Million Cups chapter, which hosts monthly conversation for the entrepreneurial community).

What are some goals for Axon Collective for the rest of 2020? And the next few years?

Axon’s goals for this year are to build strong partnerships with other actors in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and double our software contracts. Within the next few years we would like to start connecting and catalyzing the existing players in the entrepreneurial ecosystem across borders, multiplying their efforts and decreasing the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs.

What’s some quick advice to someone who’s thinking about starting their own business?

If you are trying to start a business, plug yourself into your market long before you try and serve it. Be a learner and consumer before you’re a teacher and a producer.

Series: Coronavirus
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