As we approach 2019, Philadelphia’s business and tech community has a big opportunity to keep 2018’s momentum alive. This year, the community rallied around crucial discussions about Philadelphia’s identity as a competitive business destination. But what happens now? How should Philadelphia’s business and tech community carry its energy into the new year, and what should we collectively prioritize? BizPhilly reached out to local leaders to determine the key business challenges that should get more attention in 2019. Here’s what this group wants to change in their organizations and Philadelphia’s business community overall.
Nick Bayer, CEO, Saxbys
I’d like to see the business community double down on impact, particularly social impact. Brotherly Love is not just a term of endearment in Philly. It’s in our DNA to help one another but the reality is we — particularly the business community — need to do far more to change the poverty level, schools and struggling communities throughout our city. According to recent reports, 74 percent of philanthropy in Greater Philadelphia comes from individuals; 19 percent from foundations; and 7 percent from corporate giving. There is a huge area of opportunity here for businesses to get more involved and to rally their teams around causes that matter to the community. Doing good is not only the right thing to do, it is good business as well. It’s the commitment Saxbys was built on and an area where we will continue to infuse passion and dedicate both time and resources to.
Steve Zarilli, president and CEO, Science Center
I think that we are at an interesting moment in the evolution of Philadelphia’s innovation economy. More than ever, individuals and organizations are looking at ways to elevate the region and ensure we’re competitive on a national and international scale. I would like to see even more coordination across stakeholders to ensure we are not duplicating efforts and developing new ideas that draw on our collective skills, talent and resources. Ultimately, I’d like the business community to more proactively work together for the larger prize of success.
I am seeing the initial evidence that some of the silos that previously existed are breaking down to allow for more collaboration and cohesiveness. We gained a tremendous amount of insight from our recent efforts related to Amazon’s H2Q initiative. It showed that we are capable of bringing together the vast spectrum of ideas and talent across our region to define our capabilities.
At the Science Center we are working hard to do our part to lead activities that give rise to better collaboration across science and technology-based economic development. As business leaders, we need to work together to maintain that momentum, leverage the assets we possess and support promising young companies in our region that will fuel our future economy.
Tayyib Smith, cofounder, Little Giant Creative
I believe too much lip service and rhetoric is directed toward phrases like “diversity and inclusion,” “entrepreneurship,” and the “creative economy” without capital. Investment and public policy need to support homegrown talent from Black and Brown communities that are ensconced in poverty.
The city needs more engaged, progressive, visionary business leadership dedicated to making transformative change in order to close the equity gap and widen opportunity for a broader scope of a more diverse audience of Philadelphians.
Michelle Freeman, founder and CEO, Witty Gritty
Witty Gritty re-launched its online magazine one year ago as CityWide Stories. In 2019, we plan to continue our civic-focused work with a deeper commitment to coverage of neighborhood news both in Philadelphia and Camden. We keep asking ourselves, “How can we reinvigorate the community newspaper?” We want to play our part in supporting local media by giving a platform that blends storytelling with engagement particularly centered on people, places and projects that are underseen or misperceived by the public.
Morgan Berman, founder and CEO, MilkCrate
Our company’s very first impact investor was a woman of color. After five years of MilkCrate’s growth and fundraising, she still stands alone. My wish is for the generous folks who are feeling compelled this time of year to invest their time, talent and treasure to start investing some of those dollars in social enterprises that work on important causes. Philadelphia is full of philanthropists, including women and people of color. But not nearly enough of our investors are as diverse. In order to grow a thriving social enterprise startup community we need to convert these rich (in wealth and experience) people into angel investors and board members in our social impact companies. This is how we grow the ecosystem, our companies, and our impact. It is also the most effective and equitable way to nurture a diverse ecosystem of funded startups.
Liz Brown, managing director, Backstage Capital Accelerator Philadelphia
I’d love to see more underrepresented innovators and entrepreneurs at the forefront of conversations surrounding the future of Philly’s tech and innovation ecosystems. Right now, there are a lot of people and organizations that are all talk and no action when it comes to inviting new people to take a seat at the table.
Rakia Reynolds, founder and CEO, Skai Blue Media
Philadelphia as a destination for business is increasingly being propelled to the national spotlight in part by the inclusion of the creative class in its business marketing efforts. In 2019, I want more creatives to be emboldened to enter into and magnify their voices within the business community via support from unexpected business affiliates. This includes monetary investments as well as time commitments to network, mentor, hire and give more word-of-mouth support. As creative entrepreneurs make a greater impact on our economy, it is imperative that we make a concerted effort to keep this talent in the Philadelphia region.
Johnathan Grzybowski, cofounder and CMO, Penji
Alignment. We’ve developed a lot of processes in 2018, and in order for us to be more effective, our teams need to align with one another. We’ll only succeed if we solve big problems. And that’s why we’re aligning our team to move boulders together instead of individually sweeping pebbles to look busy. 2019 is the year for us to align our focus and continue providing unlimited graphic design support at an exceptional value to our customers.
Mike Rappaport, CEO, Chariot Solutions
I believe that the most important thing Philadelphia’s tech and startup community needs to do in 2019 is to put more focus on attracting and retaining talent. Nationally we’ve made a lot of news, from being an Amazon HQ2 finalist to being GQ’s City of the Year, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do in terms of keeping talent in the area. We have some first-class universities here that pump out some very talented individuals, but I think we can do more to keep them in the city after they graduate.
For the past 16 years, Chariot Solutions has hired exclusively top-level software engineers. As we continue to grow, it has become even more difficult to find enough of them to meet our needs. Although we can sometimes get less experienced developers up to speed through technical training and mentoring, that approach is not practical in many cases due to the timeline and demands of the project.
I know that we aren’t alone in this, as our customers, partners and competitors face the same challenge. This is why it is so important for us to do everything we can in 2019 and beyond to attract and retain top tech talent in the Philly area.
Will Luttrell, founder and CEO, Amino Payments
I’d like to see more initiatives by the city to incentive tech startups in the Center City area. Philadelphia was prepared to offer $5.7B to one company for 50,000 jobs. Why not offer $5.7B to 1,000 companies for 50 jobs each? It’s the same net output but much more sustainable.
Tiffanie Stanard, founder and CEO, Stimulus
The next stage of the Philadelphia tech and startup community will require more organized coordination between individuals, institutions, companies (from startups to larger enterprises), funders, relevant government agencies, etc. In particular, we need to better understand our ecosystem constituents, what they’ve accomplished, what they need and what equals success to thrive in Philadelphia and beyond. We need a plan and a sustained effort to activate it.
Robert J. Moore, CEO, Crossbeam
More mentoring. Philly’s universe of experienced entrepreneurs and subject matter experts is larger than ever. However, most first-time founders can’t access the mentors who could best increase their chances of success. Programs like the PSL Accelerator and PACT Mentor Connect are helping form these important connections, and I hope these and other programs will double down on creating equitable, widespread access to mentors for our city’s founders.
Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder and CEO, TechGirlz; CMO, Chariot Solutions
We are focused on aggressively expanding our organization throughout 2019. It’s increasingly obvious that the future workforce needs to be a technology familiar one, and by creating a clear path for girls to join that workforce, TechGirlz can help fill expected shortfalls in our nation’s supply of tech workers, make businesses more competitive through diversity, and train females for more financially rewarding and empowering careers. To succeed we must scale our infrastructure, foster new partnerships, improve marketing, and hone our fundraising efforts. One way that we’ll be looking to do that here in Philadelphia is by hiring additional staff and by reaching out to potential new education partners like the University of Pennsylvania.
Patrice Banks, founder, Girls Auto Clinic
In 2019 I’d like to improve our operational excellence so we scale up repair centers across the country! That means being more disciplined with setting and tracking our KPIs (key performance indicators) and researching and executing strategies to help us reach our KPI goals.
Some of our KPIs are gross profit margin and tech productivity. Other KPIs are amount of customer complaints and injury free workdays. It doesn’t sound sexy but the nonsexy it what sustains a business. We’ve had a great first two years. If we want to be here for 20 years, we need to improve how we work and the value we deliver to our customers.
Michael Banks, president, African American Chamber of Commerce
The one thing that I would like to change as it relates to the African-American Chamber of Commerce is our role and involvement with policy. As an organization that represents the largest minority group in this city, we truly desire to be a more impactful advocate for our community, and we see policy as the vehicle that will allow us to accomplish that goal. With that being said, we will continue to look for ways to improve, and find partners that are equally committed to better business outcomes for all diverse businesses throughout this city.
Harold T. Epps, executive director, Philadelphia Department of Commerce
2018 was a great year for collaboration between the business community and local government. We’d love to see that continue and increase our ability to work together even more in 2019.
Marc Brownstein, president and CEO, Brownstein Group
I would like to see the business community become more active in helping shape policy decisions that come from our local elected leaders. There is currently an anti-business bias in almost every piece of legislation, and it harms our ability to attract and retain companies (and their good-paying jobs) in the city. Organizations such as Philadelphia 3.0 are an excellent way to get involved and make a difference.
John Grady, president, PIDC
Through the Amazon HQ2 process, government, the business community, and many other stakeholders came together around the Philadelphia Delivers campaign — a consistent and proactive set of messages about Philadelphia and our economy that put us on the radar of employers and talent in ways that we never have been before.
In 2019, we must build on that cooperation and those messages to promote, grow and attract employment in the region. We will only see success in talent and business growth if we sustain and mobilize this partnership of organizations and engage with a diverse set of regional employers to adopt and consistently utilize shared, strong messages about Philadelphia that truly reflect our strategic location, diverse talent, vibrant livability, extensive connectivity, surprising affordability, and unparalleled capacity to support more growth.