After a year of change for Philly Startup Leaders, the entrepreneurship nonprofit and community organizer is looking forward to the next five.
In 2020, PSL had to go virtual like most everyone else, moving its programming, idea-stage and MVP accelerators online. It also lost Director Kiera Smalls and Head of Programs Jaclyn Allen, finding new leadership in Director Isabelle Kent and Director of Programs Beth Lawrence. It also gained new board members and recently moved its online community to a new platform called PSL Connect.
It’s all a part of how the organization is thinking about its future, Kent told Technical.ly. On Tuesday, PSL published a plan for its five-year vision, a way to clarify its core mission and outline actionable steps. Its main priorities include increasing the number of entrepreneurs in the city, growing the startups that are positively impacted by the community, create a positive perception of Philly’s startup ecosystem and form equitable entrepreneurial development.
“When we took over, we saw it as opportunity to understand the community’s needs,” Kent said of the org’s new leadership. “We’d grown so much, there were so many members in our group, and we thought, ‘We have a golden opportunity to do this more systemically.'”
These points of mission haven’t changed from when PSL was founded, but there have been many different strategies over the years, Kent said. She said they realized that the org operates similarly to the startups they work with and often face the same problems of finding user fit and engagement. After feedback from members, partners and accelerator cohort participants, the org will roll out some changes.
First among them is PSL Connect, a platform where members can connect with each other, see announcements and invitations to events, share their startup milestones, and post and apply to jobs. The idea is to allow members to be more self-sufficient in connecting with one another and welcomes in “outsiders” like investors or media a place to jump into the ecosystem.
In a casual and low-barrier-to-entry offering, PSL is also launching a “Welcome Wagon” series of monthly meetups for anyone in the community, but especially newcomers to Philadelphia to get to know folks in the startup scene. It’s an homage to the way PSL was founded, Kent said — with pizza and beer nights. The meetups will take place the first Wednesday of the month around different parts of the city and nearby, as they’re partnering with Startup Bucks. (The first event was scheduled for last night, but canceled for rain.) Expect more targeted, topical events to be coming down the pipeline too, Kent said.
And a few changes are also coming to PSL’s accelerator programs: Its MVP (aka minimum viable product stage) accelerator for more established business ideas will run as usual with 10 startups this fall, but its idea-stage accelerator will take a different approach.
Instead of the same 12-week program, those with early-stage business ideas will be able to participate in weekend sessions for folks to have ongoing support without the weekly commitments. Folks will meet every few weeks and spent time in between implementing strategies before moving on to the next idea. It’s a better situation for parents, students or those working full time while testing a business idea, Kent said.
Another big idea outlined in the five-year plan was a workforce development program, which Kent said could launch in the spring. The idea comes from wanting to build a sustainable, equitable pipeline of talent for founders from underrepresented backgrounds. There’s lots of untapped talent held back by systemic issues in the city, and the plan aims to create career opportunities in the go-to-market space for those traditionally left out. The program will seek workers from hospitality and hourly work, people in the street economy or transitioning talent to help build social capital for these individuals. It will also call on investor, scale-up and enterprise partners to source talent from nontraditional places.
These programs came from the user research we conducted with the community, and PSL’s listening tour. Its calls-to-action for members or interested members? “Sign up for PSL Connect, volunteer to be a community liaison for Welcome Wagon and donate to support our organization,” Kent said.
“We’re looking big picture and setting an action plan in place to tackle complex systemic programs that are hindering Philly’s growth but certainly aren’t unique to our city,” Kent said. “We hope these solutions well pave the way for our place on the global stage and create opportunities for collaborative partnerships with digital sister cities.”
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