Philly 100 CEOs want better networking, like there is in Silicon Valley

Publicist Kory Aversa, whose Aversa PR and Events is in South Philadelphia, at the Singing Fountain Park on East Passyunk Avenue.

For three years, Suzanne Curran’s two-person staffing company, SC Staffing & Consulting, had been supplying an upstate Pennsylvania college with extra help: staff for the bursar’s office when tuition payments were due, clerks for the admissions office at application time, overnight librarians during exam week.

So when the contract came up for bid this year, she figured her experience, plus a lot of good reviews — all documented — would make renewal a slam-dunk.

It was more like a slam.

Her Philadelphia company didn’t get the contract, losing $200,000 worth of business. The problem, as Curran later learned, was the “verbiage” in her response to the college’s request for proposals: “My writing wasn’t as good as someone else’s, even though we were in there doing the staffing and getting awesome ratings.”

Camera icon DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Suzanne Curran’s small staffing company, SC Staffing & Consulting, helps staff special events at the Convention Center.

If only she had had a mentor, she lamented in a recent interview — someone to guide her through the process. “A lot of times, we don’t know what we don’t know,” said Curran, who also supplies temporary help for registration and events at the Convention Center.

As it turns out, Curran isn’t the only owner of a growing business looking for help, connections, and advice. Others among the 2017 Philadelphia 100 list of fast-growing privately held companies had the same idea.

The Entrepreneurs’ Forum of Greater Philadelphia and the Wharton Small Business Development Center surveyed the leaders of these growing businesses, asking them about the positive and negative aspects of doing business in this region. When asked how the region could help, several sought more connections in the business community and also more of the right kind of connections.

Publicist Kory Aversa said that he could go to a business-networking meeting every week, but that at this stage of his business, they aren’t what he needs. They are either too elementary, are aimed at start-ups, or are too specific. What he would like, he said, “are networking opportunities or even mentoring programs for entrepreneurs three to seven years into their business.”

“I notice many programs for starting your business, and also advanced programs on specific issues like funding capital, but not many programs for the entrepreneur who transitioned from a one-person show to a ‘business empire,’ ” said Aversa, who started his own public-relations and event business, Aversa PR & Events, in South Philadelphia in 2012.

“Hiring and firing contractors and staff scares the heck out of you. What if you make a mistake? It’s someone’s life,” he said, giving an example of a situation where he’d like the advice of someone slightly more seasoned. “The first person I brought on, I was petrified. How do I delegate? How do I teach them? How do you do all of that and still do all the stuff you are supposed to do?”

Gene Schriver, chief executive of the Wyncote translation company Globo Inc., said there simply aren’t enough chances for people to meet and mingle, particularly venture capitalists and tech entrepreneurs with ideas.

When he lived in Silicon Valley, he said, life was a constant round of meet-ups — another day, another round of brie, another evening of connecting investors to entrepreneurs over white wine and craft beers. “Although in San Francisco, there was probably more sushi than brie,” Schriver said.

Camera icon Jessica Griffin / Staff Photographer
Chief executive Gene Schriver at the Wyncote headquarters of Globo Inc.

If the inventors and investors would get together more often, he said, the investors would be able to better assess the potential for ideas and might be inspired to put more money into local tech companies.

The entrepreneurs would also be inspired to create more. Just by rubbing together, they might create more of a fire for innovation, attracting more talent and money to the region, Schriver said.

Here are some of the other findings from the survey:

  • Two-thirds of the respondents said they saw taxes and regulations as the greatest detriment to doing business in the region. As to the overall cost of doing business, the rankings were primarily neutral, skewing slightly negative.
  • Businesses gave high rankings to the access to universities and technology and to the quality of the region’s workforce, with only a handful having a negative view. “I would love to see the students coming out of universities have better business skills. Many lack the simplest things, like communication and follow-up,” said Brandon Rost, chief executive of beMarketing, a digital marketing company in Blue Bell.
  • The region also got high marks for its transportation system and the quality of public and private education available at the kindergarten through high school levels.
  • Even though in their comments executives asked for more connections and more technical advice, in the survey section they said the ability to get that advice was a positive aspect of doing business in the region.
  • Asked about their greatest strengths as CEOs, the majority said they excelled at “vision,” with a knack for “sales and marketing” coming in second. Only a handful gave themselves high marks for “product innovation,” hiring and managing,” and “financial strategies.”
  • Their challenges? Hiring and managing topped the list as the toughest part of the job.

Join The Wharton Small Business Development Center at the Wharton School of the University of PennsylvaniaEntrepreneurs' Forum of Greater Philadelphia, and Philadelphia Media Network, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, for the annual Philadelphia 100 Awards and dinner, recognizing the region's 100 fastest-growing privately held companies.
Winners* will be profiled in a special editorial section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, to be distributed at the event and inserted in the Sunday Inquirer on Sunday, October 29.

When: Thursday, October 26, 5:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Where: Crystal Tea Room, 100 E. Penn Square, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Underground parking with entrance on Juniper Street