In 2014, alumni Dave Silver and Yuval Yarden attended South by Southwest, the 10-day multimedia conference and music festival in Austin, Texas. But they were disappointed by a lack of representation from Philadelphia. When Silver promised to put together a Philly stage for the next year, Yarden laughed.
Two years later, the college friends have turned the small idea into a booming citywide initiative, sending almost 300 people from the city to this year’s SXSW to promote local startups and musicians.
The initiative, Startup PHL Presents: Amplify Philly SXSW Edition aims to “nationally showcase Philadelphia as a technology hub, a place where you can grow your business and keep it here, that could be your business as an artist or your business as a startup,” said Yarden, who works as project director for Philly Startup Leaders, an organization focused on helping local startups.
“We’re expecting people to recognize [Philly] on a national level but we’re not where the people are, we’re not going outside of Philly to tell our story,” she added.
Silver and Yarden were not the only ones to notice the lack of Philadelphia representation at SXSW. Local web design startup Zivtech approached Comcast about the same problem in October. After reaching out to Silver, who had organized a Philly SXSW concert the year before, Comcast set up a meeting with leading Philadelphia tech companies and startups to find a solution.
“It was really awesome to see because there was so many types of people and companies in this one room that I’ve always looked up to,” Silver said. “They were looking at me like, ‘Dave, how do we go about this?’… I was the only one in the room that really worked with SXSW in the past.”
“[Comcast and Zivtech] called a big meeting of about 30 or 40 people and Dave and I raised our hands and we said, ‘We can do this, let’s make this happen,’” Yarden said. “And that’s how it all started.”
From there, Yarden and Silver worked to promote the initiative to as many Philadelphia companies, startups, universities and potential sponsors as possible.
“We had a lot of no’s … so at first it was very frustrating because we knew this was a valuable experience,” Yarden said. “Then Comcast came in and not only led the fundraising in terms of being the first to put money in but also help us connect to the right people.”
Despite many companies’ hesitancy about getting involved, more than $90,000 was raised from some of the top companies in the city, including Comcast, Independence Blue Cross and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
This year’s SXSW conference, running March 11-20, will include a tech trade show where 12 of Philadelphia’s local startups will be showcased, as well as a concert today headlined by DJ Jazzy Jeff and Lil Dicky.
By showcasing local companies and musicians at SXSW in one Philly-branded location, Startup PHL gives small businesses and artists the chance to be seen by top company executives, and serves as proof of how a startup can grow in the city.
Planning for the conference required more than 100 company meetings between sponsors and startups, as well as tireless organizing for the four-day trade show and concert.
“Dave and I are learning every day about how to plan for making this happen, everything from ordering electricity, Wi-Fi and tables at our trade show booth,” Yarden said. “There’s a lot to learn but it’s all really important stuff because while it seems like little things here and there, it’s the stuff that’s going to make us look professional and make us look like an organization that can actually attract the right people to Philly.”
Hoping to bring more businesses and artists into the city, Silver sees Philadelphia as the perfect place for someone to start their company or find a music career.
“There’s so many sides to the city right now, it’s growing at just a ridiculously fast rate,” he said. “Everyday you’re seeing new things about the city of Philadelphia, it’s continuously building new things and creating new things.”
“They come to SXSW looking for the next big thing, and when they come across our initiative and learn a little more about the companies involved, I really do think that’s going to spark the right type of conversation to get those influences from across the country looking at Philadelphia as a potential place to move their business,” he added. “And that’s huge for what we’re doing, it’s huge for the city.”
Emily Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.