Startups

Philly tech ecosystem needs a ‘four-legged chair:’ Mike Krupit

A lot of people have their own recipes and metaphors for making Philadelphia a better received and respected technology hub. This one from serial entrepreneur and Real Food Works COO Mike Krupit involves a chair and doesn't include the phrase "more investment."

Mentor Chats organizer and DuckDuckGo founder Gabe Weinberg, at left, interviewing Real Food Works COO Mike Krupit earlier this month.

Technically Philly is a media sponsor of Mentor Chats and is a tenant of the First Round Capital building in which this event was held.
A lot of people have their own recipes and metaphors for making Philadelphia a better received and respected technology hub. This one from serial entrepreneur and Real Food Works COO Mike Krupit involves a chair and doesn’t include the phrase “more investment.”

“It’s not a three-legged stool because I really think there are four things you need for a full ecosystem,” said Krupit, sporting his wry smile and a navy blue suit jacket during an hour-long conversation with DuckDuckGo cofounder Gabe Weinberg in the first of his Mentor Chats. “And we already have one of them.”

  1. Desire for impact — You need an early-stage community of leaders and people and legislators who have an ecosystem on their radar. “We already have plenty of that.”
  2. Big companies that hire and spin off talent — Comcast has failed to have a big visible impact, the life sciences industry is too insular and nobody leaves academia gigs, Krupit said. Where are the big technology successes?
  3. Universities that play better in the ecosystem — We can bluster all we want about the quantity of students and number of institutions but Philly universities are not true actors in shaping how the technology scene is seen or grown, Krupit said.
  4. City infrastructure — SEPTA doesn’t allow for enough intersection between the city and the suburbs and there lacks enough broader cultural cohesion to identify as a strong, unified region, Krupit said.

The fourth one, this reporter will say, is where Technically Philly got off the same page as Krupit, but the more interesting point is how Krupit’s recipe didn’t include getting the National Guard to parachute in big piles of early-stage capital.

“The investment would follow all of that,” Krupit said, dispelling what is often thought to be an age-old chicken and the egg situation (does the talent come to the money or the money come to the talent.)

The conversation, which brought more than 40 of the entrepreneurial and technical set of a broad range of ages to the First Round Capital University City headquarters, was an informal one, as Weinberg tracked Krupit’s half-dozen entrepreneurial experiences and closed by talking philosophy on startups generally, with some Philly angles to boot.

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Some of our favorite takeaways:

  • Of the post 2001 dot-com boom — “Everything fizzled and nothing replaced it… None of the exits were big enough to recycle capital….It wasn’t a setback because, really, what happened in the 90s was a blip.”
  • Why was the 1990s tech boom on the suburbs than today? — The Route 202 corridor from King of Prussia to Malvern had old Main Line capital, that’s where houses were growing up as people moved there.
  • Why is there more happening in the city today? — “There’s a tremendous more amount of opportunity in the city and the city itself went through a transformation, so it is predominantly led by young people who want to live here…That said, there are significant missing pieces. There are great companies happening in the city, but there are just as many happening in the suburbs.”
  • The city and suburban divide here is different than in Boston or other cities, Krupit said — “Very few regions put up the barriers that Philly has between the city and the suburbs, in terms of the literal boundaries of Schuylkill and driving [I-76], but also through a mass transit system and through perspectives of people here… The animosity goes both ways: people in the city and suburbs look down at the other and question why people are doing the work there.
  • Why are you not more of a founder? “I don’t have enough good ideas… There are a lot of guys who have ideas but can’t make a company. I’m comfortable with everything else and that’s something there’s a need for.”
  • Investment: Don’t just raise money to do it because you’ll miss out. When you’re seeking investment, you’re also seeking relationships, mentorship, direction, introductions. “Go into an investment pitch with asks to get something out of it.”
  • Mentorship: Give advisers an equity with even a token value
  • “If I were looking for a job in Philadelphia, where would I even look?”
  • A native of New York City, Krupit spent time in the Valley and Boston before he and his wife sought out a place in the early 1990s to raise a family on the East Coast. Philly, in another person’s life, won out because of its middle ground: relative temperate multi-season climate, proximity to other big markets and more jobs than ,say the Lehigh Valley, where Krupit also looked.
  • His interview for 1990s-era Infonautics at the legendary Wayne diner Minella’s was “non-traditional,” Krupit said. “Basically [cofounder] Marvin Weinberg talked for an hour and then at the end said ‘Are you an Infonaut?” Later that day, Krupit spoke to then-20 something Wharton student and cofounder Josh Kopelman to close the job.
  • Three months before the Infonautics IPO, Krupit and a dozen of his 40 IT staff, along with another dozen consultants, rebuilt their information portal product to work what was then new technology: the internet.
  • How did pioneering Infonautics, one of the first internet companies to go public, miss being an early adopter of the search engine? Krupit lays the blame on his IT team being split into multiple operations.
  • What happened to Founder Institute? Krupit was lobbying to bring the franchised tech startup accelerator class program to Philadelphia but failed to gain enough traction for a spring semester. He’s postponing, hoping to do it in the fall. He lays the blame on there being a “small community” and “few media outlets to get the message out on.” It’s probably worth adding that Krupit’s proposed Entrepreneur Summer Camp failed to take flight last year.
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