It sounds like the beginning of most startup stories: the scrappy founders who discovered a better solution to an existing problem and devoted time and effort to creating change.
The Women in Tech Summit (WITS) started 10 years ago right here in Philadelphia, with an event in University City, led by a volunteer group of women technologists and entrepreneurs inspired to make a change in the status quo of the tech community. In 2012, after its first event, the Philly Women in Technology Summit, as it was then known, won a Philly Geek Award for Best Event of the Year. That was just the beginning …
WITS is the only technical conference with all women speakers. It provides programming designed to educate, inspire and connect women working in technical and non-technical roles in all fields in tech at any level of their careers. Since that first year, it has grown to be held in multiple regions across the United States, as well as virtually, serving thousands of women and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for tech education nonprofit TechGirlz annually.
Many people will look at WITS and only see a conference. They likely won’t see that it is, and has always been run like, a Philly startup. They may also not see that it is a big Philly success story. So let’s take a look at things we often use to define a Philly startup success — growth, revenue, name recognition and customer loyalty.
Growth: CHECK — How about consistent year-over-year growth amounting to over 800% in 10 years plus expansion to a national level, then a global level with the addition of virtual events?
Revenue: CHECK — WITS has raised no funding, but has increased ticket and sponsorship revenue to cover operating expenses, the transition from volunteers to full-time salaried employees and contractors, and over a half million dollars donated to TechGirlz over the last nine years.
Name recognition: CHECK — WITS has been recognized as one of the top conferences for women in tech globally multiple times.
Customer loyalty: CHECK — WITS averages a 35 to 40% attendee return rate per summit.
Whatever your defining factors of what makes a successful Philly startup, WITS has not only met it, WITS has likely exceeded all of them. WITS has exemplified all of the other attributes that Philly startups are known for:
- Bootstrapping, or making the most from the least money, resources, staffing, etc.
- Perseverance, or never giving up, no matter the obstacles
- Always looking for the next opportunity, yet always being cautious that the next opportunity is the right one
- Following the lead of our founding mothers and fathers, evaluating the risks and taking actions others might not be willing to
- Always putting our community and customers first, always listening, always watching, always making choices and decisions based on their needs and their feedback
And most importantly, always leading with a balance of short and long term vision, mind, heart and soul.
So as we celebrate WITS 10th anniversary, we are not only celebrating 10 years of a conference for women in tech. We are celebrating 10 years of the building and growth of a successful Philly startup. One, like many, that started with an idea on the back of a napkin and an email thread, and has grown into an organization with global recognition, positive cashflow and a bright future.
Happy 10th anniversary, WITS!-30-