Writings by a younger, less handsome man who shares my name

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UPDATE (1/25/2010 @ 4:30pm): Rumor has it that Philadelphia is now going to be included in the Fast Company list of top startup cities! Here’s what Brad Feld writes below in the comments:

“I predict you will see Philly in the Fast Company series. I’ve already made intos for them there for an interview. They’ve expanded the list of cities beyond the original five (Boulder, NY, Seattle, Boston, and Austin). Philly is in the next batch.”

This is an amazing conclusion: You spoke and, with Brad’s help, Fast Company listened!

Most entrepreneurs have no idea about the magical things happening in Philadelphia.

Fast Company is doing a five-part series on great startup cities outside of Silicon Valley. It’s likely that Philadelphia is not one of them.

They have already featured New York City and Boulder, and Fred Wilson says Seattle is also on the list. That leaves two more, and I haven’t heard about them interviewing anyone from Philly.

Let’s change that.

If you were interviewed by Fast Company, how would you answer the question, “Why should you start a company in Philly?”

I gave my answer on Fred Wilson’s blog, but I don’t think I captured it. That’s why I need your help. Here’s what I wrote:

We have one of the tightest startup communities of significant size in the country. It’s built at the grassroots by the entrepreneurs who depend on it. It’s also deeply integrated into our thriving tech and indie communities. This integration makes Philadelphia a remarkably creative, collaborative place to launch a startup.

Because we’re not in our second decade as you are in New York, we have much more of a self-help ethos. It has led us to discover that more than anything else — more than advice from investors, service providers, academics, economic development folks — startup entrepreneurs need each other.

This do-it-yourself approach is reflected in our Philly Startup Leaders manifesto. And it drives the other anchor tenants of our creative scene: Indy Hall, Barcamp, Ignite, Technically Philly, MakePhilly, The Hacktory, Hive76, Refresh Philly and on and on.

We’ve seen startups move here from New York and some move to New York from here. I’m thrilled to see New York thrive and excited to build more bridges between our communities.

We can do better than this. Philly is a community-powered city, so we should give a community-powered answer to why entrepreneurs should start a company here.

This blog post is meant for us to answer this question together. So let’s start the conversation in the comments!

  • http://cera.us cera

    I'd also like to hear your response to Blake's question.

    Thanks for posting “Philadelphia 2009: The State of the City” — I did a bunch of browsing, and am hoping to get through it entirely in the next week.

    The Pew Foundation's Philadelphia Research Initiative has an RSS feed, but no email subscriptions. I created a Feedburner feed if anybody wants to subscribe by email:


  • http://cera.us cera

    Thanks for reminding us of the TechnicallyPhilly post. We should be constantly referring back to that post, and working on ways to fix the situation.

  • http://cera.us cera

    Agreed. I'd love to see a meeting happen, but I think it takes way more organization than just a meeting. Probably more time and organization than most of us [entrepreneurs] can afford truthfully.

  • http://cera.us cera

    I share your positive outlook.

    It's interesting that there is still essentially a marketing problem even within the region. I would think we need to address this problem before the region can start getting more exposure on a national level.

  • http://cera.us cera

    “Deals don't happen there” — I'm not so sure I would put it that way. We met an angel there that championed our angel investment round almost about 7 months later. That is a very long time, but it's worth noting that the connection may have never been made if we hadn't attended.

    On angels – I've heard it being $10k per year, but I'd happily accept either. It's a worthwhile question (among others) to ask how many “active angels” participate in AVF vs overall participants.

  • http://cera.us cera

    how about “under-employed” :)

  • http://cera.us cera

    You can't really measure portfolio success in such a short period of time b/c you need to give things companies time to exit. Y-Combinator has been around 4 years longer than DreamIt, Techstars I think 3, so it's natural they see success earlier. They also have better brand recognition, so they are going to get the top prospects initially.

    I think DreamIt has been a big driver in many ways, and not sure I agree with your opinion that it's minimal. My $0.02

  • http://jamesondetweiler.com/blog Jameson Detweiler

    That's a very, very interesting point. I never even considered that. I wonder with the NBC/Univeral/Comcast giant that is about to be birthed in Philadelphia, if that might change for media focused companies?

  • http://jamesondetweiler.com/blog Jameson Detweiler

    TechStars actually is only a year older than DreamIt if I recall correctly with a large number of financings and exits. A number of those are in the first year though which was a better time economically, so it isn't apples to apples. You're right, only time will tell.

    As for the impact, I wouldn't say that is DreamIt specific. It's just that the bandwidth for all of these programs is small. When you have 10 companies a year, with about 7 sticking around for at least another year, and not all of those staying in the region, it is a small impact. Don't get me wrong, it's a big deal to have DreamIt in our home town. It's just going to take a lot more than that.

  • http://www.feld.com bfeld

    I predict you will see Philly in the Fast Company series. I've already made intos for them there for an interview. They've expanded the list of cities beyond the original five (Boulder, NY, Seattle, Boston, and Austin). Philly is in the next batch.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Great news Brad! Thanks so much for helping to make this happen — and for letting us know! You made my day.

  • http://jamesondetweiler.com/blog Jameson Detweiler

    Brad, it is great to hear that. Philly may not be at the same stage as
    Boulder or Boston, and it certainly has it's problems, but it
    definitely has a fiery bunch of entrepreneurs working hard to get
    their ideas off the ground. It's also a great place to live.

    I've certainly enjoyed starting GreenKonnect here.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Great news Brad! Thanks so much for helping to make this happen — and for letting us know! You made my day.

  • http://twitter.com/MVMNT_Mike Mike Jewsbury

    Good news and hopefully a continued push to keep things going here and not just a bunch of noise that disappears.

  • http://thegreenskeptic.com greenskeptic

    Awesome news, Brad. That's really great. Thanks! We need to get you a key to the city next time you're here — or at least a case of Victory Golden Monkey.

  • http://www.robertshedd.com Robert Shedd

    Great to hear, Brad. Thanks very much for making the intros.

  • http://www.facebook.com/muhammad.attauhidi Muhammad At-Tauhidi

    That is great news to hear. Although the desirability of a city as a place to launch a startup should not have anything to do to the amount of press it receives, the fact of the matter is that these are the sort of things that help a city become a “magnet” for for entrepreneurs and thus contribute, indirectly, to supporting the startup ecosystem.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Absolutely. Perception and reality feed each other inside and outside of Philly. They affect decisions people make on where to locate themselves, their companies and their investment money (and much more).

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    DreamIt also has the potential to be a role model for other investors. If DreamIt performs well by investing very early, angels and VC in Philly might start smelling opportunity there and not just risk.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Some people would say working at all is over-employed. :)

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    I don't have a good sense at all of how well information is traveling to the outer reaches of the different communities that make up Philly. Would love to though…

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    How important is geography in a dot com exit? This is something I don't know about and am curious to learn.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Just subscribed to your bootlegged feed. Love it.

  • http://jamesondetweiler.com/blog Jameson Detweiler

    Not sure, but I've got to imagine it does. At least as I think back on all of my TechCrunch reading, it seems like it has some impact.

    It could be that it is networks though, not geography directly. Of course, networks are impacted by geography.

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  • http://twitter.com/geoffd Geoff DiMasi

    I understand why your stomach dropped, but I do think that it is really important to be willing to advocate for change and to speak openly and honestly about issues that impact the business climate in Philadelphia.

    Alex and I are both committed to running multiple businesses in Philadelphia. I hope it is clear that we try to have a positive impact on the city in as many ways as possible.

    However, we stand to gain more respect by embracing the issues that we face, speaking openly about them, and working towards solutions.

    This, of course, does not mean that we can't celebrate the great things about Philadelphia (there are many), but let's do that with integrity and purpose.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    I'm all about an honest accounting of the problems here. I just think it's a massive overstatement to say “this city has one of the most toxic business environments in the country.” It has shock value but that's about it.

    The reality is that business and wage taxes are 2-4% too high and that city government and the various city agencies can be a pain in the ass to deal with.

    These things have never impacted a startup's ability to succeed. They are at the bottom of the list of things a startup should be thinking and worrying about it.

    On the list of things a startup should be worrying about — talent, community, mentorship, capital — Philly is starting to come into it's own. This region is improving at a DRAMATIC pace.

    Don't get me wrong, inflated taxes and bureaucracy can and should change. They encourage established businesses to move outside city limits to the surrounding areas. They discourage outside businesses from relocating to the region. And they have plenty of other side effects none of us want.

    But I'll tell you what else has side effects none of us want — toxic statements like this:
    “But at the beginning of 2010, I'm finding it very difficult to answer the specific question 'Why you should start a COMPANY in Philadelphia?' with anything other than, 'You probably shouldn't.'”

    This is sensational and ridiculous.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Let me also clarify: For established businesses based on innovation — the kind of businesses our communities most want to see here — marginal tax rates and government bureaucracy are also at the bottom of their lists.

    I think we'll find that when these things are fixed, they will have a small, incremental impact. And then we'll be back to focusing on the things that really make a difference.

  • http://twitter.com/gloriabell Gloria Bell

    That is fantastic news! Thanks for all of your help Brad. It is nice to know that people outside of Philly know what a great place it is and are willing to help us tell the world.

    Agreed Blake! Until we as Philadelphians stop looking at and talking about Philly as a 2nd class city, we will never be viewed by others as anything else. We have to be the ones to show the rest of the world what a wonderful place this is to live and work. Our problems are not any different than anywhere else. Let's stop concentrating on the negative! Start reinforcing and talking about the positives. Then we will start getting the positive attention that will help bring in the resources to correct some of the issues.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    We did it Philly! Fast Company profiles Philly, interviews Josh Kopelman and gives me a shout out (undeserved, but thank you).


    We're one of only eight cities to be profiled: Boulder, Seattle, New York, Boston, Austin, Chicago, New Orleans and, oh yes, Philly!

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