IndyHall, located at 20 N. Third St., creates an atmosphere where creatives can go to for inspiration.
Mayor Michael Nutter was said to have begged the entrepreneurial talent of Philadelphia to stay in Old City.
Although he can’t be certain, Alex Hillman has a hunch Nutter was talking about him and the group who founded Independents Hall or IndyHall.
The barebones bungalow on the second story of 20 N. Third St. is comprised of two garrets that were refurbished in 2007. A postmodern chic that can only come from a group of ambitious freelance writers, web designers, artists and academics instills the space.
While this hum of creative activity is now a trademark of Old City, it hasn’t always been.
In 2007, during the nascent days of IndyHall, Hillman recalled visiting South by Southwest, an annual music and film conference held in Austin, Texas.
“[South by Southwest] hosted a massive representation of creative people, but I couldn’t find anyone from Philly,” Hillman said. “We were there, but we had no presence.”
“I wanted to go back to South by Southwest in 2008, as IndyHall, as Philadelphia and I wanted people to know that there is a presence in Philadelphia and it kicks ass,” he added.
Thus began IndyHall. Its initial existence hardly registered the group as a major municipal player, though – “a couple guys at a bar” might have been a better description.
Hillman started cruising chat rooms and meet-up groups – any place he might find other people like him.
“What I realized after meeting all these people was that there were tons of people out there doing really cool things, but nobody knew about them, and I thought, ‘If I’m only finding out about all these people now that I’m actively pursuing them, how many people must be out here who are never going to know?’” Hillman said. “We needed to know about each other so that we know about each other.”
What started as chat room e-mail developed into regular get-togethers at coffee shops and eventually grew rapidly into a full-blown organization.
“Go on the home page of the city of Philadelphia’s Business Services, it’s business.phila.gov and you’ll see us,” Hillman said.
On the website, Nutter along with co-founders Hillman and Geoff DiMasi overlook IndyHall’s slogan, “We work together to help shape the city we want to live in” in a photograph.
Working with City Hall officials such as Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer and City Councilman Bill Green, IndyHall members have created websites that communicate Philly’s new tax policies and met with the Steuer to discuss methods of measuring Philly’s standing as a climate for the creative economy.
IndyHall’s role in the city may seem big, but its role in the lives of individual innovators is even bigger. Jake O’Brian, a web designer who freelanced after the take-off of his iPhone application, “Speed Fiend,” is a regular of IndyHall.
Like many independent creative minds, O’Brian’s success and the work-from-home lifestyle came at a price.
“I was starting to feel a little cooped up, a little solitary,” O’Brian said. “I wanted to be close to ideas and to people.”
In spite of the efficiency O’Brian derived from his hours at home, he knew it was time for a change.
“I wasn’t necessarily more productive [at IndyHall],” O’Brian said. “There were a lot of opportunities to just talk to people.”
“Business is an overlay of society, not the other way around,” Hillman said. “People get to meet each other first here, then click on something business related.”
Since coming to IndyHall, Hillman has made several more iPhone applications, all of which have resulted from collaborations with co-workers and friends; his first with co-worker Corey Floyd Hillman.
“Ever since [that collaboration] I’ve pretty much been part of the community,” Hillman said. “There are just so many opportunities floating around here.”
Carl O’Donnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.