Archna Sahay, who served as director of entrepreneurial investment for the City of Philadelphia from 2015 to 2017, recently shared the lessons she learned in helping to build Philadelphia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem at Madwaukee Talks, which was held by the Milwaukee Institute at the Technology Innovation Center in Wauwatosa. Sahay fostered the growth of Startup PHL, a $6 million city-backed venture capital fund, and helped the city go from not being included on the 1776 and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Innovation that Matters rankings in 2015 to coming in third place in 2017.
“We inside the city knew how great we were. But we needed to do a lot of work in packaging that story and pushing it out to the rest of the country and the rest of the world. Because this is an attraction tool for us, as well.”
“There is a residency requirement, so if you take money from this fund, your headquarters has to be in the City of Philadelphia for 18 months. Of course, the hope is that once you are there for 18 months, you fall in love with us, we win a few more Super Bowls, and you will stay.”
“Regardless of the ingredients that you have, there needs to be someone or some organization that’s serving as a connective tissue between all of that. Because you can have a university doing what it’s doing, you can have founders doing what they’re doing, you can have the investor community doing what it’s doing and nobody knows what’s happening.”
“The Philly startup ecosystem, while it seems like ‘Oh my gosh, so much stuff is going on, everything’s going great, hitting all the lists, etc.,’ it took us a really long time … and even when you feel like you’ve got it, you still have to keep iterating on it every single year.”
“Philadelphia is 40 percent white, 40 percent black, 13 percent Latino and 7 percent Asian. For us, our competitive advantage is our diversity. So for us, diversity is not a bullet point. We were very intentional to make sure the (entrepreneurship) events were not happening just in center city, which is our (downtown) business district.”
“In addition to the equity investments, we also set up a grant platform. $500,000 was set aside and we opened up cycles throughout the year and we would give out $100,000, $150,000 at a time … to organizations that were supporting entrepreneurship in some way.”