In finding that truth, we should ask ourselves the question “is Philadelphia the place that throws snowballs and batteries at Santa?” Or is it a place that has, more recently, hosted globally recognized events, boasts James Beard winning chefs, enjoys a vibrant park system and worldclass reachers and innovators. Is more equity being put on the things that we were rather than the things that we are now - and are becoming?
Philadelphia’s startup ecosystem has grown signficantly over the last 15 years, skewing younger, shifting from the affluent suburbs to downtown and attracting talent from other regions. That movement was catalyzed by the founding of Philly Startup Leaders, the launch of efforts like Philly Tech Week and many more contributions from many different people over the course of the last decade and a half.
A recently released study highlights our region’s growing momentum in the areas of cell and gene therapy and connected health, two sectors expected to grow in the region between 35% and 94% in the next 10 years. This didn’t happen by accident. It was the exceptional work of the talented researchers and the many stakeholders made up of academia, industry, and capital that support, accelerate and drive innovation across our region.
The following two statements are both true: Progress has been made. There’s room for improvement.
So, what we do we hear most often from entrepreneurs? “If only Philly had _______." Often focusing on things that they do not think Philly has.
Philly is the 7th largest U.S. metro area with over 6 million people.
Philly has the 9th highest regional GDP in the U.S.
Philly is the poorest large city in the U.S.
Which may lead you to be concerned that “we don’t have investors,” but Philadelphia has thousands of wealth managers, managing trillions of dollars. Greater Philadelphia is a Top 10 Region for Venture Capital in the US, ranking 7th in dollars invested in 2019.
We have a lot of startups. AngelList has over 1800 startups listed in Philly.
We have many support mechanisms for startups in Philadelphia.
- Philly Startup Leaders
- Venture Café Philadelphia
- Bar Camp Philly Startup Weekends
- DreamIt Ventures
- NextFab & RAPID Accelerator
- Startup PHL
- Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA
- The Science Center’s own programs:
- Launch Lane Accelerator
- Digital Health Accelerator
- Global Startup Accelerator (partnered with the Welcoming Center)
- Global Soft Landing
- QED Proof-of-Concept Accelerator
- Venture Café Philadelphia
It’s not uncommon for startups to transition from one of these resources to another, each fortifying the company in unique but complementary ways. The Science Center supports a number of companies who have benefited from Ben Franklin Resources, graduated from a PSL or Dreamit accelerator, were launched by Penn Center for Innovation, are active members of the PACT community and so on. When we can step outside of our silos, it’s clear that Philadelphia has the assets.
There are many places to house your startup, when it is safe to move out of the home office:
- Indy Hall
- Comcast Lift Labs
- SAP Co-Innovation Lab
- Uncommon Individual Foundation
- The Yard
- Make Offices
- Sixers Innovation Lab
- University incubators, including Baiada Institute/Drexel, Temple IEI, Blackstone Launchpads at Temple & Philadelphia University/Jefferson, Jefferson’s Design Lab, Villanova ICE, Penn entrepreneurship programs including Wharton Entrepreneurship, The Education Design Studio Inc, St. Joe’s Family Business & Entrepreneurship major, LaSalle's Center for Entrepreneurship
- and plenty of others
The default setting locally is often voiced as, “why isn’t this in Philly?” when, Philadelphia is a top-10 city in the U.S. and has entrepreneurial activity and spaces that would reflect such a status. We have a large, growing and vibrant community that punches above its weight and is fueled by people eager to help guide those in need of a resource or connection to those that can help. In Philadelphia you’re one email away from the person you’re hoping to meet.
Sometimes we hear that our region is lacking the industry giants that fuel startups. Sure, Philadelphia doesn’t have Google, Facebook or Amazon’s names on the sides of buildings, but we’ve got plenty of industry leaders. And we’re not just talking about eds & meds.
Consider retail: Five Below, TJ Maxx, Charming Shoppes, Boscov’s, Lilly Pulitzer, Burlington Coat Factory, Mother’s Work, URBN, RiteAid, Wawa, the King of Prussia Mall, QVC, Pep Boys, Ikea, David’s Bridal, GSI Commerce, Happy Harry’s, Genuardi’s, etc.; all within an hour from Philadelphia with billions in annual revenue.
Retail, cell and gene therapy and connected health are just a few of many industries with a concentration of activity by industry leaders (fintech, insurance, pharma).*
The challenge for all of us (the startup community and innovation stakeholders) is to build a growth mindset:
(1) find ways to make Philadelphia easier to navigate for startups
(2) talk about what is going on around the region
(3) change the default setting from “how can I find this in Philly?” to “We’re a top-10 city. It’s already here.”
And, while we’re a top-10 city, the fact that much of our startup activity flies under the radar suggests that we may also be the largest city with the most un-tapped potential. And, no, that doesn’t mean we’re failing. That means we have opportunity. It means we need to tell the stories of success and be our own advocates.
Harnessing the credo of Philly’s own Character Lab - a thought leader bridging the gap between educators and research scientists with roots at Penn, an ic@3401 grad and CIC client - we’re buying Philly futures and focusing on building toward what we can be.
*What industries are we missing? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org