Born and raised in “City of Brotherly Love”, I have always been hopeful that this beautiful historic city could reverse years of decline and regain economic prominence. In the USA’s first century, Philadelphia led the nation in economic and social growth, thanks in part to Benjamin Franklin who who established strong public institutions and the top rated University of Pennsylvania. However, in America’s second century, Philadelphia was eclipsed by New York City to the north with its strong mercantile culture and Washington D.C. to the south with its government related industries. In my lifetime, Philadelphia continually decreased in urban rankings going from number 3 in population after Chicago to number 6 after Phoenix . Upon graduation from high school, I left the economically-depressed and rusting Philadelphia area and arrived at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California which felt like an economic Disneyland.
Returning to Philadelphia annually for family visits and high school reunions, it always seemed like Philadelphia was ‘coming back”, but the City kept falling behind, until Now. Greater Philadelphia has all the critical ingredients to become a thriving Startup Innovation powerhouse.
Greater Philadelphia and its surrounding areas is blessed with a wealth of educational institutions including the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and nearby Princeton University, Drexel University with its exceptional engineering programs, the outstanding Pennsylvania State University System and Temple University. In addition there is the top-ranked Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania as well as numerous top rated university medical education and research centers. The greater Philadelphia area has, in total, over 95 institutions of higher education — more than most countries.
In addition to the substantial educational, medical and pharmaceutical related industries, the greater Philadelphia is home to leading financial service, oil & gas, maritime and manufacturing companies including Boeing’s Rotorcraft Plant and its 473 suppliers.
Philadelphia is rich with legacy cultural institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Academy of Fine Arts. and The Academy of Music. In addition it’s home to the the new Barnes Foundation. These cornerstone institutions co-exist and ferment a lively street art and underground cultural scene. A vibrant arts scene has proven essential to the development of startup ecosystems both from innovation cross-pollination and from a talent recruiting standpoint.
Cultural Diversity + Immigration
A certain truth to startup growth and innovation is that immigration is a driving force. More than 1/3 of startups in the USA are founded by immigrants. Philadelphia has a vibrant mix of races, cultures and immigration. Since its founding by William Penn, Philadelphia has been a magnet for immigration and the trend continues.
“In 2016, the last year for which census data were available for this report, the city had more than 232,000 residents who were born abroad, an increase of 69 percent since 2000. These immigrants represented nearly 15 percent of all city residents, 19 percent of workers, and 14 percent of those living in poverty. More than a quarter of all Philadelphians in recent years—estimated at around 390,000 residents—were either immigrants or U.S. natives with immigrant parents, together comprising a population with significant potential to shape the city…. About 3 in 10 adult immigrants had college degrees, a slightly higher share than for U.S.-born residents.”PEW
Incubators + Accelerators
Philadelphia is home to more 15 incubators and 14 accelerators, many of which were founded in the past 2 to 3 years.
ic@3401: Philadelphia’s largest community of funded, early-stage, startups
“We know that entrepreneurs need resources and need those resources now. Not only do early-stage companies need a space where they can focus, they need a community that’s catered specifically to startups looking to accelerate product development, raise seed funding, identify talent, forge new partnerships, and leverage other opportunities. …At ic@3401, we’re obsessive and passionate about supporting startups and helping them scale. We’ve built a community around innovation and entrepreneurship and we’re laser-focused on helping startups scale through our accelerators, educational programming, and vetting community of entrepreneurs and experts, we exist to help startups succeed.”IC@3401
Philadelphia Fashion Incubator Supported by Macy’s Center City
Baiada Institute Incubation Space for Drexel Students
Her Corner for Female Entrepreneurs
Philly iHUB Helping budding entrepreneurs turn ideas into action plans. PhillyiHub was launched by Mt. Airy CDC in 2016 as the Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub.
NextFab Incubator for Hardware Entrepreneurs
Sixers Innovation Lab in Camden, NJ
Innovation Accelerator Program: Health Care related at University of Pennsylvania
VIP-C Three Incubators which Assists University of Pennsylvania Students Build Businesses
Philadelphia venture funding is growing. In 2019 According to the PACT’s 2019 Philadelphia Venture Report, there were 225 venture capital deals to Philadelphia metro area startups in 2019 and $2.5 billion in venture capital dollars invested into our region. While small relative to the $45 billion in venture investments in Silicon Valley, the year over year dollar investment has been steadily growing.
Venture Funding Sources
Dorm Room Fund: VC Fund Run by Students. Built by students and powered by First Round, we provide founders with a strong network of investors, world-class mentors, and a $20,000 check.
Robin Hood Ventures: Leading Mid-Atlantic Angel Investor Group
Ben Franklin Technology Partners: Pre-seed and seed investors in the region and started and funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic
DreamIt Ventures : Fund and Growth Program focused on Startups with Revenue or Pilots that are ready to Scale
While its not fully clear how all of this is being impacted by the current COVID19 Pandemic, it seems that Philadelphia is has establish a vibrant startup eco-system. The foundation for ongoing startup creation and development is all here: Educational Institutions, Culture, Immigration + Diversity, Vibrant Incubators, and Growing Venture Financing Options.
Personally, I am hopeful that it continues. – Robert Rissé 18 December 2020