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3 ways to ‘hack your hustle,’ aka grow your small business, in Philly

Three local pros shared the resources, people and places that can help new entrepreneurs get started at a recent Venture Café panel.

Venture Café's "Hacking Your Hustle" panel on July 18. (Photo by Paige Gross)

Technical.ly is one of 22 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice.

Before you launch that biz you’ve had in the back of your mind for years, you’ll need some capital.

Over 400 people showed up to the CIC coworking space in University City on Thursday afternoon for its weekly Venture Café series to talk about how small business owners, entrepreneurs and anyone thinking of starting their own venture could fund their hustle.

Thursday’s edition of the weekly series — appropriately titled “Funding the Hustle” — was co-organized by the University City Science Center, The Enterprise Center, the Sustainable Business Network, the West Philadelphia Promise Zone and Resolve Philadelphia, which parents the poverty-focused reporting collaborative Broke in Philly.

During one of the first sessions of the day, Technical.ly Managing Editor Julie Zeglen moderated a discussion between three entrepreneurs on “hacking the hustle,” aka funding and business plan basics, work-life balance, design thinking, resources available to first-timers, and mentorship.

Panelists included Garry Johnson, founder of First Founder Accelerators and KnowCapp (and former Technical.ly Delaware intern); Maura Shenker, director of Temple University’s Small Business Development Center; and Jamaine Smith, outgoing chief commons director at CultureWorks.

Here’s some takeaways from the discussion:

On what successful businesses have in common

Success comes from folks who are creating something they know people want or need and who will make it in an innovative way, the panelists said.

One of the biggest mistakes someone can make is to create something with no proof that people actually want that product or service, according to Johnson.

Smith added that knowing exactly who the target audience is will be more beneficial in the long run than trying to appeal to everyone: “Figuring out how your product continues to add to people’s lives” is essential to success.

Shenker also noted that business owners need to know “when money gets too expensive” — to have an understanding of when to pivot an idea and how to separate your mind and heart when making money decisions.

Resources to start a business

Smith credited the Business Model Canvas as great for outlining a business plan and said it works well for him as a visual tool. Johnson agreed, adding that there’s a Lean Canvas version as well that helps with the pre-planning of a business plan.

Each panelist also gave shoutouts to local resources like The Enterprise Center and various small business development centers around the city. Also noted were organizations like Philly Startup Leaders, the West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution and numerous accelerator and incubator programs through universities and research centers that offer feedback, training and networking opportunities.

“I believe in exhausting your resources,” Johnson said. “It’s about finding the right resource, pitch competition or program for you.”

Shenker said that she learned a lot from her dad, who ran his own business. It’s also been essential to her to have people around who will be honest in moments of struggle.

“There are important mental skills in looking to find the opportunity in the challenge,” she said. “You have to have the uncomfortable conversations with people who are poking holes in your plan, saying, ‘What about this or this?’ Cast your net far and wide.”

On mentorship

Outside of formal mentorship programs like accelerators, the panelists agreed that mentors can be sourced from the communities that you’re operating in.

Smith said he’s built himself a “personal advisory board” of folks he can turn to when he needs help filling in the gaps, like legal or marketing advice.

“Who are the people in your life who you can go to for different things?” he said. “You’ll need people in your life to pump you up, call you out and check you when you need it.”

Johnson said that he often identifies accomplished people that he admires and consumes as much information about them that he can via podcasts, books or Youtube videos — beauty influencer Jackie Aina, for instance.

“People who do a lot with little resources are who I want to learn from,” he said.


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