By Stephen Silver, Photography by Rachel Del Sordo
What do small businesspeople and other entrepreneurs need to know to succeed in today’s world, and especially in the city of Philadelphia? That was the topic of an event held on Thursday, May 4 at FringeArts on Columbus Blvd.
The event, a part of both Philly Tech Week and Small Business Week, featured a variety of prominent entrepreneurs: Arcweb Technologies CEO Chris Cera, ML Fashion Group President and Partner and President of COURAGE b., Stephanie Menkin, Little Giant Creative and Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship Founder Tayyib Smith, along with Ellen Weber, executive director of Temple University’s Fox School of Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute and Harold T. Epps, Director of Commerce for the City of Philadelphia.
Kate Rogers, the small business reporter for CNBC, served as moderator, as part of a series that’s been running in different cities throughout the month.
The panel discussion touched on several key topics, including the importance of mentorship, how to obtain investment, and how plans for business and entrepreneurship fit into the overall well being of the city of Philadelphia.
The event also featured a casting opportunity for CNBC’s The Profit, the entrepreneurship-based reality series hosted by Marcus Lemonis, and a networking breakfast at the adjacent La Peg restaurant. The event was sponsored by Comcast Business and CNBC’s The Profit.
One panelist, Menkin, who appeared on The Profit three years ago and is now president of Lemonis’ fashion group, shared her experience.
Menkin, who is based in New York, founded COURAGE b, a high-end women’s fashion brand along with her mother and brother, eventually attracting the attention and investment of Lemonis. Her advice for running a family business? “Your birthday parties become business,” she said. “But you love each other and you kiss and make up. [And] if it can work, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.”
“Hopefully some of you will get Marcus as a mentor, but not all of you will,” said Weber, who in addition to her duties at Temple is Executive Director of Robin Hood Ventures , an angel investor group. “One thing I’m seeing in this region is that a lot of people are willing to be mentors to other entrepreneurs.”
Chris Cera is CEO of Arcweb, a software firm located in Old City that focuses on digital design and development, mostly for the finance and healthcare sectors. His biggest challenge, he said, is people. “[It’s the] highest-level job I’ve ever had. I have to learn a whole lot, and all of the people around me do too.”
“I took this job to make Philadelphia the best city in the world,” Harold Epps said. Epps took over as the city’s Director of Commerce when Mayor Jim Kenney assumed office early last year. Epps’ appointment came following a career in the private sector, most recently as CEO of PRWT Services, Inc. a provider of business process solutions.
He seeks to make Philadelphia “a place where entrepreneurs want to come, stay and thrive.” Epps stated more than once throughout the panel that Philadelphia has made progress on various fronts, but much work remains.
Smith founded both the creative agency Little Giant Creative, is a partner in the coworking space Pipeline Philly and started another organization called the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship. He described his overarching motivation as to “use my experiences to help other people create opportunities in my community.”
“I have a passion for Philadelphia,” Smith added. “I don’t know of a city that I, as a person who didn’t come from money, could have had so many opportunities to work in a creative ecosystem.”
However, he added that he believes the city and corporations in it must do more to provide an “on-ramp” for local talent, especially in creative professionals, to have a chance to distribute and monetize their work.
Meanwhile, Epps was clear about the importance of “anchor institutions,” such as Comcast.
The panelists also had a lot to say about the issue of funding, weighing everything from venture capital to traditional banks to crowdfunding to the CNBC reality show route.
Weber, for her part, was clear that as many as 99 percent of businesspeople aren’t able to earn venture capital and must pursue other methods of funding. And Cera’s advice was to avoid watching TechCrunch and VentureBeat all day long to see who had gotten venture funding.
The Profit returns for its next season on June 6th at 10PM ET/PT on CNBC.