You’ve worked across a variety of industries including neighborhood revitalization, environmental protection, and finance— all in the spirit of uplifting communities and small businesses. What are the common themes you’ve seen across these industries?
For many years, the key themes across my work worlds have been public-private partnership and the related power of public purpose mashing up with market discipline. When I graduated with a Masters in Public and Private Management 30 years ago, that was a strange and different way to look at life. In our modern day, it seems quite the norm. It is clear today that an organization’s ability to make good in the world is not tied singularly to its tax status (for-profit, not-for-profit, or public). It takes the full stew of innovation and ability to get scale—and sometimes policy change—to make a difference on the kinds of problems we have to solve.
How does Ben Franklin Technology Partners drive impact?
You know, Ben Franklin was an impact investor decades before that term was even coined. We invest specifically for regional economic impact and have been deliberate about the extent to which our investments create social impact as well. We are the region’s most active seed and early-stage investor—among the most active nationally, in fact. Our portfolio is far more diverse than you’d find across the venture capital industry, but that still is not enough. That’s why we have partnered with PACT to diversify the Mentor Connect program, participated so actively with 1Philadelphia, and provided significant support and investment for Plain Sight Capital. We still have so much to do to make the regional tech ecosystem one that offers equitable economic growth. We know that to the extent to which we can invest in young ventures making a difference in the region and in the world and be there to help grow them up, we can drive impact.
It is clear today that an organization’s ability to make good in the world is not tied singularly to its tax status (for-profit, not-for-profit, or public). It takes the full stew of innovation and ability to get scale—and sometimes policy change—to make a difference on the kinds of problems we have to solve.
What’s your best advice for startups in this tight capital market?
Bring your very best communication – with your team, your customers, your investors. Are you super clear on your own value proposition? Vision? And differentiation? If you are a very early startup, get out in community so you can leverage learning and find diverse allies and advisors. Conserve: focus and conserve cash as you can. And for most who are attracting capital, don’t get so stuck on a particular valuation today (that certainly may be different than what you imagined a year ago) that you lose your eye on the prize.
You work with organizations and leaders across the region to drive impact across the startup community. What is Philadelphia’s greatest asset when it comes to the startup ecosystem? What is its biggest obstacle?
In Philadelphia, we have a vibrant world of innovation. We have incredible business support resources, top-flight universities, and a robust startup ecosystem with many young ventures tackling great problems worth solving. I would suggest three key obstacles hold us back. First, we haven’t had sufficient risk-friendly friends-and-family capital to support early innovations, particularly driven by under-represented founders. Second, we haven’t had the resources to grow up Philly-born companies. From an article posted when the Eagles played the Patriots in the 2018 Super Bowl, I noted that even when a similar number of Philadelphia companies attracted investment in 2018, that same number of Boston companies received 10X the dollars. Not enough local money grows up our local innovation. Ben Franklin’s GO Philly Fund and now our GO PA Fund specifically seek to grow up the all-stars from our portfolio. We want to reverse that trend for the next Super Bowl article and welcome others to join us.
You ask about the startups, but I’d say the same for other social enterprises and high-performing nonprofits. We too often work from a scarcity model.
And that leads to a third obstacle. It is hard to trust and collaborate. We’re making progress there, yet we don’t do it well enough. I’m so proud to be a part of ImpactPHL, which has worked for seven years to build the ecosystem for impact-driving startups, social enterprises, investors and others. But it is hard to build community and encourage working together. Harder than it should be.
What advice would you give young people just starting out in their careers?
Philadelphians were so welcoming when I got here 30 years ago. So many of those I met opened their networks to me. I encourage young people to keep putting themselves out there, meeting as broad a variety of interesting people as possible. Be interesting and be interested in the world around you. I can’t tell you how special some of those early colleagues and role models were. With that power of hindsight, I’ve suggested to many young people that they pick up a phone or show up in person. That little bit of differentiation goes far. And the people you meet may stick with you as dear friends for decades.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? What keeps you up at night?
I live an extremely fortunate life. I have always worked for and been on the boards of organizations that have the potential to make a real difference in the region. I get out of bed seeking progress and hoping I bring my best: some days progress is making good on work and civic goals, and some days it is a good long early morning walk with a friend or gardening with my 3-year-old neighbor.
These past few years have offered sobering reality: losing dear friends, experiencing such civil unrest, and facing our political instability. Nobody wants to be in my head at 11:30pm but I bet I have good company in that regard. Am I and are we bringing our best for our young people? For our planet? Are we making a dent in creating more equity? Have I done right by my own kids? Did I turn off the burner?
We know that to the extent to which we can invest in young ventures making a difference in the region and in the world and be there to help grow them up, we can drive impact.
What is your superpower?
I am a connector. I have the life I have because people have extended themselves—even in the big, long ago way of sponsoring my family in the US as they fled Nazi Germany. I love that grey area where worlds collide. I love making connections. and love that I live in varied enough worlds that I can make connections among people who wouldn’t necessarily see those or make them themselves. It is social capital I can invest. Expanding social networks is one step toward equity.
I am also an excellent parallel parker.
Presented by CSL