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Innovation & Job News

Breakfast Club at The Exchange: Talking Social Innovation

Breakfast at the Exchange

Matt Joyce moderates at the Exchange

Last week, over 30 Philadelphians set their alarms and woke early to head to the Friends Center for breakfast. On offer was much more than just bagels and coffee -- organized by The Exchange, a co-working space comprised of nonprofits and philanthropic organizations, the event was an opportunity to discuss social innovation in Philadelphia.

The crowd included local leaders in development, government, nonprofit administration, startups and philanthropy. All are working towards making this city a national leader in uncovering thoughtful solutions to society's problems, whether through policy, programs or entrepreneurial ventures.

One of the key questions that arose from the discussion -- led by Matt Joyce of the GreenLight Fund (who works out of the Exchange) -- was, what are the things that limit great ideas? It's often not just economics, but also politics: being in the right rooms at the right times, and making the right arguments to the right people. That often takes a different type of expertise -- founders may have knowledge and drive, but they also need pitching help and matchmaking with investors and stakeholders. How can the entrepreneurial and nonprofit communities help nurture initiatives and organizations from creative spark to potential investment to surefire success?

Fortunately, the city has more and more avenues to incubate those great ideas, from the Philadelphia Social Innovations Lab to the Commerce Department's StartUpPHL program, to accelerators at established venture funds like DreamIt and Good Company Ventures. And even if every promising startup or pilot program doesn't make it, the founders earn valuable experience and become better bets in the future. 
Luke Butler, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, talked about how when First Round Capital (a Commerce Department partner) is looking to invest in early stage companies, the idea is important, but they invest primarily in the founder and the team. As an example, he mentioned Curalate -- a company that pivoted from trying to build an Airbnb for parking spaces to designing marketing campaigns for social media platforms. The company has become a shining star in the city's ascendent startup landscape.

And it's not only companies that have to be agile. A group of Temple students founded Philly Urban Creators, an urban farm at 11th and Dauphin. Their goals were to grow produce for the neighborhood and engage the local community. Five years in, they weren't making enough money to sustain themselves. How do you get from a nonprofit that's doing good, to a more sustainable revenue model? 

The organization went through the FastFWD program, a public/private partnership between The City of Philadelphia, GoodCompany Group and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, funded in part by a $1,000,000 grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies. Via that process they came to the conclusion that they needed new revenue streams. The team created a 12-week course targeted at formerly incarcerated youth, covering urban agriculture, carpentry and entrepreneurship. Combatting recidivism was a goal that could dovetail with their original mission, and funding for their first cohort came from the Department of Justice.

Other success stories were bandied about: Coded by Kids, Textizen (which was recently acquired and also went through FastFWD), Springboard Collaborative, an organization that seeks to stop the summer slide for low-income students. Eventually, though the conversation was still humming, folks had to get to work. Fortunately, the bigger picture discussion is just getting started.

Breakfast Club at the Exchange will return November 19. Stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details on the upcoming topic and how you can get in on the coffee talk. You can also join the discussion on twitter using the hashtag #ExchangeBreakfastClub.

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