Phila. Gets Ready To Host Who’s Who Of Young Entrepreneurs

By Maria Panaritis
The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Philadelphia, your moment has arrived.

Billionaire-deep wallets and millennial minds are descending on the city Sunday for the start to the first Forbes Under 30 Summit, where tycoons and start-up stars will mindmeld with young entrepreneurs in what organizers hope may become an annual East Coast version of the South by Southwest Festival in Texas.

The exclusive event kicks off with a concert in Northern Liberties on Sunday featuring Wiz Khalifa and others.

It continues through Wednesday with TED-like talks at the Convention Center, tours of budding commercial and tech enterprises across the city, and visits by Forbes honorees to seven schools.

The largely invitation-only confab is the kind of megawatt event normally produced in locales unburdened by dowdy legacies of industrial disinvestment.

But to organizers, Philadelphia made the cut precisely because of its emerging new identity: Its downtown is getting younger.

Its tech sector is brimming. And its global profile is growing, as the Vatican earlier this year selected Philadelphia for an international gathering of worshipers and possible papal visit next year.

“We wanted to get behind some place on the rise,” said Forbes Magazine editor Randall Lane, 46, a University of Pennsylvania alum who has marveled at the city’s “incredible metamorphosis” since his college days.

After lagging peer cities in attracting so-called millennials, aged 20 to 34, Philadelphia experienced a surge between 2006 and 2012, bringing its share into line with New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, a Pew Charitable Trusts survey found this year.

That percentage is even higher near the city’s core. More than 40 percent of all adults were that age in Center City, University City, Manayunk, and Fairmount.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of residential and commercial redevelopment is pouring into the city as investors build apartment high-rises, stores, bars, and restaurants for this group.

‘Plant the flag’

The investors are drawn to the same qualities alluring to Forbes: the purchasing power and professional potential of a huge cohort whose parents, the baby boomers, were a highly desired consumer bloc before them.

“It just seemed like a great place to plant the flag, to come to this demographically young, ascendant city,” Lane said. “To come back frequently and to see the transformation over 20 years, that’s something we absolutely wanted to be a part of.”

The Under 30 Summit is a spin-off of another Lane creation, the Forbes 30 Under 30 rankings.

Like the coveted Forbes billionaires’ list, the 30 Under 30 names 450 notable young entrepreneurs across 15 disciplines, from health care to technology.

“It’s become one of our absolute biggest franchises,” Lane said of the Under 30 list. “When it comes out every January, basically Twitter breaks in half. . . . Millions of people are tweeting and retweeting. We have thousands of people who apply.”

About one-third of the 1,500 attendees have made the Forbes list. Other attendees are business and media figures such as local venture capitalist Josh Kopelman, America Online founder Steve Case, and Spanx founder and billionaire Sara Blakely.

Monica to Malala

Also on the agenda is a presentation by Clinton-era scandal survivor Monica Lewinsky, to ponder what it was like to be pummeled online as far back as 1998. As the agenda frames her talk: “Before Facebook or Twitter or even Google existed, the 24-year-old became the first person to have her reputation globally destroyed via the Internet.”

Recent Nobel laureate and 17-year-old human-rights activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating for the right of girls to go to school, will speak in a session that will be open also to a small group of teenage girls from across the city.

Out-of-town attendees not on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list could attend by paying $2,995 and being approved after making the case in an essay for why they should be in such elite company.

Local tech entrepreneurs, however, were offered deeply discounted tickets of $99, allowing access only to talks and none of the after-hours events, such as a marathon Quizzo tournament Monday night at the Field House Sports bar on Filbert Street, with Lewinsky listed as a team captain.

One event sure to draw intense interest: a Shark Tank-like contest Tuesday morning dubbed the $400,000 Pressure Cooker.

Five start-ups from a field of more than 100 applicants have been chosen to pitch their companies, in a matter of only a few minutes, to Case, Forbes Media CEO Mike Perlis, and Atom Factory founder Troy Carter. The winner receives $400,000 in cash and Forbes advertising.

Penn Wood High School graduate Stephen D. Stewart Jr., 26, who holds an undergraduate degree from Penn and a law degree from Temple, said he paid the $99 to attend so he can network and learn lessons as he builds up a Philadelphia-based tech start-up, SETVI Inc., which he cofounded.

Having heavy hitters come to Philadelphia — instead of knowing they are out of reach in Silicon Valley — was no small thing. Observing the Pressure Cooker, he added, would also be invaluable.

“The ability to boil down your company, your mission, the problem that you’re solving for, your solution, the market opportunity, your strategy to capture that market . . . and boil it down to something that’s a four-minute, five-minute pitch is really, really difficult.”

The Forbes Under 30 Summit is so commercially alluring that national media crews will be broadcasting from the event.

“We have film crews that want to run satellite trucks outside and/or stream through the building’s Internet services,” requiring special wiring, said Lorenz Hassenstein, the facility’s general manager. CNBC, ABC, and MSNBC were among those planning to be on site.

Forbes is producing the Under 30 Summit in collaboration with aides to Mayor Nutter, after Lane approached him less than a year ago.
“I e-mailed him. He replied directly,” Lane said. “He said: ‘We want this. Come down and see me. This belongs here. We want this.’ ”

Nutter has made it no secret that he sees a high-tech future for Philadelphia, which only recently began reclaiming decades of population losses associated with the decline of its manufacturing base.

City Commerce Department staff have said time and again they are eager to fill the vacuum of lost middle-class jobs with positions generated by, among other things, technology firms.

‘My goal’

Nutter brought in close aide and City Representative Desiree Peterkin-Bell to work with Forbes and help stage the event on what is, compared with more established conventions and affairs, a tight time frame.

Hosting this was as appealing as helping music mogul Jay Z turn his idea for a Made in America concert into reality on the Parkway, and possibly hosting the pope next year, Peterkin-Bell said.

“Forbes, in its 97-year history, could have chosen any other city in the country to host the summit,” she said, “and they chose the city of Philadelphia.”

Peterkin-Bell and the city’s Youth Commission worked to devise some events that would allow participants to mingle with and experience the broader city and its residents, including a bus tour of “innovation hubs” and having some Forbes honorees speak at city schools.

“My goal has been trying to make sure that that group of folks, while they’re taking the opportunity to be in the great city of Philadelphia, also have an opportunity to connect and build a network with our own Under-30 network in Philadelphia,” Peterkin-Bell said.

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