“Where do I start?” It’s a question plaguing many first-time entrepreneurs seeking entry into the startup world.
For Philadelphians, the University City Science Center is working to simplify the answer with a new program called OnRamp.
The nonprofit innovation hub has been nurturing new and emerging founders through the business commercialization process for over half a century. Through carefully curated commercialization and incubation programming, such as QED Proof-of-Concept Program, the ic@3401 software incubator and the new Launch Lane accelerator, the Science Center strives to serve the entire Philadelphia entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Most recently, that has meant focusing its efforts on helping people discover that the ecosystem exists.
“The general assumption in Philly is that there isn’t one,” said Eamon Gallagher, director of strategic innovation and startup acceleration. “There currently isn’t a strong navigable backbone that allows people to get plugged into it.”
OnRamp, slated to launch on Jan. 21, will provide regular programming via Quorum and Venture Cafe with basic education, guidance and resources for people at the very beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys. Programming will be free for entrepreneurs. Beyond generating awareness of Philly’s entrepreneurial community, Gallagher hopes the program will reach a larger cross section of Philadelphians interested in starting their own businesses.
Garry Johnson, founder of early-stage startup KnowCapp and First Founders Accelerator, understands the struggle to get started.
“Regardless of your industry, trying to figure it all out, flesh out your value and your services, get the lay of the land, go to events — it costs money, it takes time,” said Johnson.
A Delaware native, Johnson immersed himself in Philly’s entrepreneurial ecosystem as a grad student a year ago, taking the train weekly to attend the Science Center’s Venture Cafe community-building event on Thursday nights. Consistency and participation paid off, and Johnson was eventually given the opportunity to host his own session at Venture Cafe.
“Being able to host at Venture Cafe gave me a platform to make myself more well known and opened up many more opportunities in the ecosystem,” he said. “It made all the difference. Everyone should have this access.”
Today, Johnson serves as entrepreneurial program manager at Venture Cafe Philadelphia, and has seen the gaps in introductory entrepreneurial education first hand, even in Science Center programming.
“While the Launch Lane accelerator is helpful for entrepreneurs who have gotten their ideas off the ground, there is still a population of nascent founders that aren’t prepared to even fill out the application for the program,” said Johnson. “OnRamp will help founders get ready for and have access to these types of opportunities.”
OnRamp’s program structure will be iterative, but like all Science Center programming, Gallagher says support is a two-way street.
“There’s give and take,” said Gallagher. “Every week we’ll host a variety of sessions and participants can talk about their challenges, ask questions, practice elevator pitches, and give and receive feedback from the rest of the room. Investors, consultants and founders will show up. Everyone contributes.”
Ultimately, OnRamp’s goal will be to help set up a foundation that will enable founders to apply for the entrepreneurial opportunities in and around the city, such as Comcast NBCUniversal’s LIFT Labs Accelerator powered by Techstars, DreamIt Ventures, Philly Startup Leaders, Pennovation Works’ Accelerator, and the Science Center’s own commercialization programs.
To stay informed about OnRamp’s official launch, check out the Science Center’s website. Those looking to get plugged into the Science Center’s entrepreneurial community right away can attend Venture Cafe’s virtual community events every Thursday night.-30-