Two years ago, during their first trip to South by Southwest (SXSW), Philly Startup Leaders’ Yuval Yarden and music promoter Dave Silver realized there was something missing from the annual Austin festival: Philadelphia. Sure, there were a couple of Philly bands playing, and a few local startups had booths at the tech fair. But aside from a few scattered appearances, Philadelphia was basically a no-show.
That didn’t set well with the two young entrepreneurs. “We want people to know how great it is to work in Philadelphia,” Yarden says. “You have to go where people are to tell them the story. But we weren’t doing that.”
That was the impetus for this year’s Philadelphia invasion of SXSW, organized by Yarden and Silver to highlight the city’s music and startup tech scenes.
At the festival next week, Philly will have a stage and a booth, open to all Philadelphia makers and doers. On Tuesday night, Silver—co-founder of RECPhilly, who staged the first SXSW Philly showcase last year—has booked nine local musicians for a Philadelphia show, culminating with a set by DJ Jazzy Jeff. (A few other local bands are also playing, as part of the general festival.) During the day, Yarden and the city’s StartupPHL will have a 10 x 20 foot booth at the tech fair—complete with a life-size replica of the LOVE statue—to promote Philadelphia, sharing it with four burgeoning tech companies: LoopIt, AnneeLondon, Roar for Good and Habitat. Eight other Philly companies will have their own 10 x 10 foot booths nearby: RJMetrics, Cloudmine, Picwell, Eventuosity, Oz, Zivtech, Arcweb and Chariot Solutions.
Together, Yarden hopes to emit a story of Philadelphia that says one thing: “We aren’t Nashville or San Francisco or New York. Philly’s actually a really warm place to live and work, a place where the startup community is strong and people want you to succeed.”
Tomorrow, what Yarden is calling “Amplify Philly SXSW Edition” will celebrate this first big foray to Austin with a send-off party at Coda in Center City. The event is free, and open to anyone, and is more than just a hat-tip to the folks headed to Texas next week. It is also, Yarden hopes, an early start to recruiting Philadelphians for next year’s festival. “We want to create excitement for leaving Philly to tell our story,” she says.
The trip to Austin is part of a larger effort to bring new attention to Philadelphia. Over the last couple months, Yarden and Silver raised $100,000 from Comcast, Independent Blue Cross and several other local companies to pay for the stage, the talent and the booths. They have also worked with StartupPHL, the city office charged with spurring entrepreneurial activity and the home of an early stage investment fund underwritten by First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman.
With StartUpPHL, Yarden and Silver are launching Amplify Philly, a marketing campaign they hope to take beyond Austin to help promote the city’s startup scene. Yarden says she sees her role as introducing Philadelphia to outside entrepreneurs and technologists; for help in setting up shop here, she passes them to StartupPHL, whose director Archna Sahay, of the city’s Commerce Department, will also be in Austin next week.
The partnership across sectors—public and private, arts and business—feels more Austin than Philadelphia. But that’s the point. It’s no longer enough to be old insular Philadelphia; to keep growing, the city needs to think like the entrepreneurs it’s hoping to attract. Yarden notes that some of the companies exhibiting at SXSW are hiring—and hoping to recruit technologists from Austin to Philadelphia. And that they’re doing Philly-style: “The way Philadelphia works best is coming together to make an impact, not just one person making something happen. That’s what we’re doing.”
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