Community Update and PSL to Fishbowl Itself on 9/13/2011

Please read this entire message if you care about the future of the Philadelphia technology startup community.  This article explains our history, what we stand for, and where we’re going.  We will be kicking off the next generation of PSL on Tuesday 9/13/2011 at University of the Arts.  Join us!

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State of the Union

PSL started in late 2007 as a small group of [mostly] first-time entrepreneurs who got together for drinks. Today we are the largest and most active community of startup entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia region.  We have grown tremendously over the years and continue to harvest a strong community, both online and offline.  As we give best wishes to our outbound President, Jameson Detweiler, I thought it was important to re-tell the story of PSL, and my thoughts on what happens next.

The Past

Blake Jennelle invited a small group of people together to meet for drinks at Ten Stone.  A shared goal was that everyone wanted a thriving startup ecosystem in Philadelphia, something that would rival Silicon Valley.  The meetings continued for months until about 50+ entrepreneurs had been to an event.  The group continued to slowly organize, giving itself a name and a discussion listserv.  To give some perspective on the time period, IndyHall was just getting started, DreamIt Ventures didn’t exist, and neither did Ignite Philly or even Technically Philly.

A turning point came when Blake held the first “working meeting”, which was a workshop at the Baiada Center.  It was attended by about 30+ entrepreneurs, investors, and community stakeholders.

Blake Jennelle holds first working meeting, 2007

The meeting began when Blake wrote a quote on the whiteboard from a recent Fortune article by Michael V. Copeland:

[Josh Kopelman] spends half his time in the technological backwater of suburban Philadelphia.

Josh Kopelman from Fortune article, 2007

It was something about the term “backwater” that bothered everybody.  Most of us had our roots in Philadelphia, we lived here, and just didn’t appreciate being associated with the term.  Determined to understand this perspective, the group listed all of the issues with starting and operating a company in Philadelphia.  We categorized these issues, and then formed teams around the major categories.  Each team elected a leader, created an action plan, and were tasked with executing that plan over the next few months.

The leaders from each of these groups started to update each other regularly on their progress.  PSL, itself a startup, was bringing different pieces of the entrepreneurial ecosystem together for the first time and had a ton of momentum.  The PSL community had created a shared vision for PSL.  They created an online presence, a slogan, a manifesto, and a set of core values.  The principles outlined in this formative period are still a solid vision for PSL and startup entrepreneur communities worldwide.

Manifesto v1.0

Because startup entrepreneurs need each other.

Starting a company can be a long and lonely journey.

Each milestone is a small miracle—from idea to prototype, from first employee to first customer, from first revenues to first profits and eventually to a thriving, successful business.  Most startups fail along the way.

To survive this journey, startup entrepreneurs need many things. They need access to funding and talent.  They need support from their government and their community.  They need opportunities to educate themselves and their team.

But more than anything else, startup entrepreneurs need each other.

No one can truly understand the life of an entrepreneur but another entrepreneur—no matter how much time they might spend investing, teaching, consulting, servicing, or legislating in the world of startups.

Philly Startup Leaders is a community of startup entrepreneurs dedicated to helping each other on their entrepreneurial journeys.

We provide the kind of emotional and practical support that can only come from a fellow entrepreneur. Emotionally, we share wisdom, inspiration, and friendship. Practically, we share advice, connections, and resources.  We mentor each other and coach new entrepreneurs who are making the transition.

We often collaborate and connect with the larger ecosystem—with people and organizations who are not themselves entrepreneurial.

But what makes us so different and so effective is our focus on connecting entrepreneurs with each other.

We thrive because we understand that, above all else, startup entrepreneurs need each other.

Core Values v1.1

1.    We know our niche: technology startup entrepreneurs.
Our focus is our advantage.

2.    We are a community.
Starting a company alone is painful.  Along the way, our greatest need is the company and support of entrepreneurs like ourselves.

3.    Our community depends on deep, open and frequent communication.
This kind of communication is essential for our members to get to know and trust each other.  As an organization, we earn the trust and loyalty of our members by communicating with them in the same way.

4.    We believe in lean and flexible leadership.
Bureaucracy and hierarchy tend to stifle entrepreneurs.

5.    We don’t replicate other organizations and events in our ecosystem.
Instead, we support other organizations by partnering.  We produce only unique and complementary content.

6.    We encourage entrepreneurship within our organization.
Any member can champion a cause they believe in.  When they do, they have access to the same resources the leaders do.

7.    We believe that entrepreneurs of all experience levels should mentor one another.
We have all had great teachers, and it’s our responsibility to give back to our community.  This includes our fellow entrepreneurs and those who ought to be.

8.    We love our city and our region.
We walk the same streets as Benjamin Franklin, an entrepreneur whose inventions and institutions have survived for generations.  We are inspired by our history and proud to be writing its next chapter.

The Present

The PSL community provides open access to information, people, and opportunities.  The PSL online community is particularly strong with many rockstar entrepreneurs actively participating.  We also throw one big event each quarter, and they’re always filled with awesome entrepreneurs, investors, and startup people.  This type of network never existed in Philadelphia, and unless you came from business school you had a much harder time learning how to start a startup.

The Philly scene itself has made tremendous progress in the past year.  There is an Open Angel ForumPhilly Startup WeekendPhilly Tech MeetupDreamIt Ventures, Comcast launched a minority seed fund with DreamIt, Science Center is launching a startup clubhouselocal startups competing with local startups, and even the Kieretsu Forum launched a chapter here.  I’m thoroughly convinced that the startup scene is 10x better now than it’s ever been.

The Future

PSL is an organizational platform where any member can champion a cause they believe in, and when they do, they have access to all of PSL’s resources.  PSLs biggest asset is our community and loyalty to one another.  This is the city of brotherly love, and as such, we need our senior community members to continue nurturing junior members.  We expect all members to give back and mentor one another.  The Philadelphia startup scene has come a long way, but we still have a lot of work to do.

popular PSL event is the “Fishbowl” where a company presents a problem, and an audience of entrepreneurs provides advice and feedback.  It’s time to put PSL in the “Fishbowl” and brainstorm about how our organization can continue to provide value to the Philadelphia startup ecosystem.  What is our role?  Who will provide the leadership necessary to keep PSL thriving? What fresh content will PSL deliver to the community?  We need your input and insights.

Please join us on Tuesday 9/13/2011 at University of the Arts and help us create the next generation startup community in Philadelphia.

Best Regards — Christopher D. Cera, PSL Chair of the Board

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About Philly Startup Leaders

Philly Startup Leaders (PSL) is the largest and most active group of technology startup entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia region, hosting strong online and offline communities. PSL serves early stage technology entrepreneurs by providing information, peer networking opportunities, and insights from experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and the larger startup community in Philadelphia. The results help early stage companies grow and create an environment where more people start companies in Philly.


About Chris Cera

Chair of the Board, PSL
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