Design / Startups

On-demand design startup Penji is moving from Camden to Philadelphia

Cofounder Khai Tran said that the company was struggling to find space to fit the growing company in New Jersey.

Penji teammates in their former Camden office. (Courtesy photo)
Update: Addition comment from CEO Khai Tran has been added. (11/25/19, 12:45 p.m.)

Two-year-old graphic design startup Penji, which in recent months has grown its staff to 60, recently moved operations from the Camden waterfront to Philadelphia, despite its leadership’s previous public commitment to the challenged New Jersey city.

Cofounder and CEO Khai Tran told that the move simply boiled down to lack of space.

When the company set up shop, it had just a handful of employees, many of whom lived in the area. But the last few months have shown incredible employee growth — Tran said the design firm is hiring on a monthly basis.

Tran recognized there could be concerns about the company’s mission, initially stated to help revitalize Camden and its nonprofits. The company does so by offering free design services to nonprofits such as Hopeworks, which brings tech training and job opportunities to youth in Camden.

Work for those organizations will still happen, Tran said: “The mission didn’t change. Just the location did.”

As the company has grown in employee numbers and achieved fairly quick success, leadership has struggled to find a space in Camden that would accommodate the team, he said. So much so, he added, that the company even rented apartments in the Victor Lofts building adjacent to the its Market Street office building just to have enough space to put everyone.

“We decided to move to Philly largely because our own growth was at stake, and we needed the resources to support the organizations that are doing so much good,” the CEO said.

So, at the end of October, Penji moved out of its office building and across the river to Philly. The team is currently working at the WeWork near 15th and Market streets and CultureWorks in The Philadelphia Building.

That’s the plan for the time being, Tran said, until some time in 2020 when hiring slows down and leadership has a better understanding of what the team looks like and its needs.

“We know that us leaving Camden is somewhat of a big deal for the city; we championed the city for a while, I can’t imagine too many people will be thrilled about it,” he said. “We don’t want to undermine any of the work that anyone is doing in Camden, but we couldn’t find a space for us.”

Tran said that he’s also still involved with Waterfront Ventures, an organization that aimed to attract or provide resources for 100 startups in Camden. Currently running the program is Tran, an intern and a handful of volunteers.

At the moment, Waterfront is “more focused on supporting other non-profits with similar missions” that are more developed in their youth-serving operations, he wrote in an email, adding that “we still have our day to day operations and our collaboration with other organizations still continues.”

Companies: Penji / Hopeworks Camden

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