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Innovation & Job News

Meet Keith Leaphart, 21st century polymath and entrepreneur extraordinaire

Creative Cafe at Replica

Keith Leaphart, owner of Replica Creative

The dictionary defines polymath as "a person of great learning in several fields of study." The term has been widely applied to Benjamin Franklin. Looking at his resume, it’s not too much of a stretch to apply it to Dr. Keith Leaphart.  

At only 40, Leaphart is a physician, one-time congressional candidate, philanthropist and serial entrepreneur (commercial cleaning, events planning and, like Franklin, printing.) Speaking in December at the University City Science Center’s Quorum, Leaphart described himself as a "physician by training, an entrepreneur by birth."

The Philadelphia native started selling candy -- in a self-described "dodgy scheme" -- in middle school. By the time he got to medical school (he simultaneously earned an MBA), he was running a commercial cleaning service whose major client was Gerry Lenfest's Suburban Cable, a little company that sold to Comcast in 2000 for $6.7 billion. 

It was the start of a long affiliation with Lenfest.

"If I hadn’t dumped [his] trash every day, I definitely would not be here," says Leaphart.

Today, he is chairman of The Lenfest Foundation and serves on the board of Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, which is owned by Lenfest.

He also continues to work weekends on-staff at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

But his life as an entrepreneur was the focus at Quorum. Leaphart -- who says a key to his success is an ability to catnap anytime, anywhere -- acquired a long-established printing company in 2009 in the depths of the recession.

"It wasn’t about buying a print shop," he recalls. "It was about getting into the digital economy."

Leaphart rebranded the company as Replica Creative, moved it to larger quarters and, in 2013, opened a second location in the Science Center’s 3711 Market Street building. It boasts modern interior design, event space and a coffee bar.

"It’s like a high-end Kinkos and Starbucks on steroids," he says. 

Providing coffee and comfort food helps maintain a steady flow of traffic and provides a place for clients to meet and commission design and production work. 

This month, Leaphart is launching his latest venture wallsome.net, an e-commerce platform for customizable and repositionable wallpaper. He will follow up in April with a new flagship space at 8th and Callowhill streets in a former nightclub. The 7,700-square-foot hub will feature a café, production facility and co-working space for residential interior designers. 

All told, Replica has more than 18 employees and Leaphart expects to add another six in the first half of this year. 

His best advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: Travel for inspiration, hire people with expertise beyond your own and don’t micro-manage. And his assessment of the entrepreneurial climate in Philadelphia?

"There’s thinking big and there’s thinking bigger. We all need to think bigger."

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
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