(Photo by Julie Zeglen)
There are three qualities that set Philadelphia apart as an attractive place to start a business.
That’s according to Sara Merriman, senior director of Business Attraction and Retention in the city’s Department of Commerce. Merriman was one of four panelists on Thursday night’s panel about Philly’s status as an innovation hub, presented as part of Technically Media’s Tomorrow Tour.
Here’s what Merriman said Philly does better than other cities:
- Access to talent: There aren’t as many programmers as there could be, Merriman admitted, but we have a wealth of other impressive professionals.
- Access to market: Philly’s proximity to D.C. and New York, plus the 6.2 million people in this region, put us in a prime position to reach more customers.
- Good quality of life: You can’t find reasonable home prices and 20-minute commutes in Silicon Valley or NYC. “That presents a very low barrier to entry for anybody who wants to come live here,” Merriman said.
The three other panelists were Cross Valley Ventures founder Jon Gosier, angel investor and Philly Startup Leaders head Brock Weatherup, and Wash Cycle Laundry founder Gabriel Mandujano. Technical.ly Philly reporter Juliana Reyes moderated.
Much of the conversation focused on the need to stop comparing Philly to other larger, more-established innovation hubs. Local entrepreneurs can help by crafting a positive narrative about the city, Gosier said.
“If it’s an interesting business, if you think what they’re doing has some validity, champion it,” he said. “We have to champion each other — and it’s not just the success stories we need to champion. It’s the people trying to get there.”
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Mandujano spoke about how Wash Cycle Laundry has been able to expand to Austin and D.C. in four years. It’s all about connections, rather than geography, he said.
“What has helped are the connections that we built here [which] help us expand to other places,” he said. “Most of our business at this point comes from large corporate institutions” — a few Fortune 500 companies, the federal government, some local universities. Those local accounts of national clients helped secure deals with the clients’ local accounts in other cities.
This is a good time to be a social entrepreneur in Philadelphia, Mandujano said: A big asset “is our own philanthropic community. I think there’s a lot of interest in our philanthropic community about how they can engage with social enterprise.”
That same community needs to step up and commit to funding those enterprises, though.
“There’s huge opportunity for Philadelphia to become a social enterprise hub,” Mandujano said. “But I don’t think that Philly’s philanthropic community is really matching its words in terms of the actions that it’s taking. And I think if they were more aware of the narrative and the potential place that we have and the fact that we have all these assets but we don’t employ them, I think we could make a lot more impact.”-30-
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