CIC Philadelphia’s Second 36For75 Cohort Launches

The day after Donald Trump got elected, brothers David and Aaron Cabello quit college and set out to help their community. Four years later, they’re well on their way with Black & Mobile — the first black-owned food delivery service in Philadelphia and the first food delivery service in the country to deliver to food deserts — and a growing team of employees from within their community. 

Last month, Black & Mobile was chosen to participate in CIC Philadelphia’s 36for75 Campaign, winning 75 business days of free coworking space, programming, networking, wellness and concierge services, and access to conference rooms and fully stocked kitchens in CIC’s 138,000-sq. ft., six-story space — the region’s largest combined coworking and shared lab space. Since winning, Black & Mobile has hired 20 additional people. 

We asked a cross-section of this year’s 36for75 Campaign winners about their work, inspiration, mission, and what winning means to them:

·   Aurora Archer and Pamela Raitt, cofounders of Bellatrix

·   David Cabello, cofounder of Black and Mobile

·   Melissa Lamarre, founder of Mel’s Butter Blends

·   Munir Pathak, founder of Swirl

·   Kelly Vargas, cofounder of Xavi Row

·   Greg Yeutter, founder of SimpleBulb

Joining the conversation are CIC Relationship Manager/36for75 Lead Francesca Galarus and CIC Philadelphia Director Sally Guzik.

CIC: Let’s start simply. What is 36for75?

Francesca: 36for75 is a way for CIC to support local startups and build Philly’s talent pipeline by encouraging collaboration and innovation amongst a diverse group of entrepreneurs. We seek risk-taking, life-altering founders whose mission complemented ours and nourish their endeavors with resources, connections, and workspace for free for 75 business days.

Sally: Collaboration is the largest driver of our model. From day one, we’re supporting the winners — and all of our clients — in building a community to bounce ideas around and network. What makes our model so powerful is the meaningful support our team and clients give each other. It probably sounds corny, but it’s our “secret sauce.”

CIC: Winners, here’s a simple one for you. What do you do? 

David: My brother Aaron and I built the first black-owned food delivery service in the city. Our mission is to help save our local businesses, and we’re doing this by catering to black-owned restaurants, hiring members of our community and serving as role models to our youth. Traditionally, food delivery services skim 30 percent off the top of the order, so they’re taking an industry that is already hard to make it in. We take a lower percentage and then put it back into the community.

Greg: I’m an engineer with experience in sleep and light and their relation to our health. Sleep issues impact more than 70 million Americans, in large part due to technology, which emits blue light that assaults our circadian rhythm. Constant fatigue can cause accidents and contribute to degenerative diseases and breast cancer. I am creating products that help people sleep better. My first product, the Bedtime Bulb, is the number one sleep lightbulb on Amazon. 

Kelly: I studied fashion marketing but found that few people in the fashion world look like me. My partner, Leroy West, and I make custom suits for men and women. We’re trying to get into underprivileged high schools to speak to the kids about their grades and the importance of having a suit. We want to offer a custom suit at cost for any student who earns a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Melissa: I spent years straightening my hair and experimented with a lot of products after transitioning to natural hair. I couldn’t find any products whose effects were long-lasting, because they were all water-based. So many products that claimed to be for natural hair weren’t natural themselves; they were filled with synthetics, parabens, and even ingredients that actually cause your hair to break. I created my Mel’s Butter Blends because I couldn’t find what my hair needs. My products are all-natural, made from mango butter and aloe with no water or shea butter base.

Munir: I got frustrated by the silos in the workplace that keep people so firmly aligned with only people who look just like them. I created a Slack app called Swirl that enables authentic connections at work by connecting colleagues with similar interests but differences in personal identity to build a culture of inclusion and belonging. Our bot will walk you through a series of questions about your identity, background, and interests to build out your profile. Every two weeks, you’ll get matched with a different colleague with whom you share interests but not personal identity. It all starts with answering the question, “How would you describe your personal identity?”

Pamela: We both spent years working in corporate America, developing skills in design thinking and other tech-based methodologies. On a personal note, both of us were frustrated with how healthcare is delivered in this country, especially to women and specifically women of color. We created Bellatrix Group to bring distinctly needed points of view to solve problems in women’s health. Our process relies heavily on research and data, collaboration and co-creation, and a belief that companies that do good in their communities will be the winners and leaders of the future. 

CIC: Why does diversity matter in your work?

Sally: Diversity ensures what we create is meaningful to the world. We actively sought entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities and industries, which resulted in disruptive ideas and concepts drawn from the diversity of life experiences you can only find when your community is fully representative.  

Kelly: Growing up, I didn’t see anyone within the suit industry who represented my community. Our abilities were going unnoticed. I’m Latino and my cofounder is Black. We want to give kids someone who looks like us to look up to.

The Co-Founders of Xavi Rowe Bespoke describe their experiences with diversity at work.

The Co-Founders of Xavi Rowe Bespoke describe their experiences with diversity at work.

David: Kelly’s experience is common. Our city is 40 percent Black, but less than three percent of its businesses are Black-owned. Our mission is to help save our businesses and show our young people they can be entrepreneurs. CIC is a serious space and it lets the people I interview to work at Black & Mobile see that we’re a serious company.

Munir: We all carry unconscious biases about who we consider to be like and unlike us at work, and people tend to try to connect with people who are like them. This holds back people from underrepresented communities. They lose out on the networking that leads to opportunity. Swirl helps colleagues with differences in personal identity connect around similar interests.

 Pamela: You have to take care of your community. When it comes to women’s and maternal health, we’re avid digestors, and disappointed digestors, of all the data that comes out about how poorly we’re doing serving children, their mothers, and the communities in which they live. 

 Aurora: We believe health is our wealth and women continue to be underserved in healthcare, particularly women from marginalized populations. 

CIC: What is your mission?

Sally: To fix the world through innovation. 

Melissa: Mel’s Butter Blends was founded by a woman of color to create high quality natural products for people of color. But the brand mission has evolved beyond that into a movement rooted in education, community building, and economic empowerment. We hope to create an enterprise that can educate and employ people in the local communities where we manufacture and distribute our products.

Greg: To give healthy light to those in need. More than 1.5 billion people worldwide lack access to stable electricity. We partner with organizations to provide affordable solar LED lighting light-related business to local entrepreneurs.

Munir: To enable authentic connections to drive a culture of inclusion and belonging in the workplace. 

Pamela: To accelerate innovation in women’s health by maximizing the potential of our clients’ people, processes, and products. Our vision is to help healthcare brands shape a future that is human-centric, technology-enabled, and service-to-others oriented.

David: To make sure the underrepresented people, businesses, and communities thrive. Last week, a two and a four-year-old played as my brother and me for Black History Month. The impact is bigger than food. We want to make sure that we help ourselves and our community before we rely on someone else to do that. The first step is to make sure people know where our businesses are and how they can support them conveniently.

 Kelly: To offer the experience of getting a custom, bespoke suit in the convenience of your home. We are focused on providing the best fit, sourcing the best fabrics, and engaging with our customers directly.

CIC: What do you hope to gain from 36for75?

Munir: I was attracted to 36for75 because of why CIC created it — to support entrepreneurs who are focused on some sort of social impact. It’s great to see companies with more resources, network effect, and capability actually support entrepreneurs who care about what they’re doing and having an impact on the world.

Aurora: First and foremost: community. There is an incredible energy here. You walk into the building and you get the sense that everyone’s in this together and everyone’s trying to figure out how to support each other. You have CIC, the Science Center, Quorum, and Venture Café all aligned to support your success, whether that’s connecting you to other resources or to other entrepreneurs inside or outside the building. 

Pamela: In our kickoff meeting, Sally said, “the world is filled with opportunity, and our ability to capture those opportunities is how we do it together.” We’re aligned to that approach and that way of viewing success — as fundamentally sharing with everyone in the community. How do you show up and be of service and leverage the collective gifts, talents, and success of the entire group? In their call for submissions, CIC’s question was around impact. We exist to have a positive impact on healthcare in this country. And we hope that we can also positively impact the CIC community and our fellow 36for75 cohort members.

Kelly: I’m all about giving back, and this opens more opportunities for that. We want to be role models for school students who look like us. Now, we can have the kids come here and they can talk to us and other entrepreneurs. 

Greg: I want to be able to scale my business, so it’s valuable that CIC has venture capital firms on site. The whole community is valuable: I’m looking forward to meeting more local entrepreneurs and having a feedback mechanism.

CIC: So far, what has been your 36for75 experience?

Sally: Well, you probably didn’t expect me to answer, but 36for75 has been powerful for our entire organization and our team. Philadelphia has so much talent — from entrepreneurs to creative artists. It inspires us to see people taking risks with their ideas. It’s fulfilling to help connect and support entrepreneurs who are just getting started and watch our ecosystem help them thrive.

Greg: My first day at CIC, I met another entrepreneur working in the mindfulness/sleep space, and we’ve been bouncing ideas off of each other.

Kelly: Being part of a cohort of companies that won the contest is powerful. During the program induction, I made a connection with another client who’s a pastor. I attended his church and we exchanged ideas about what we are doing with our companies. He opened a door to get into the Philly schools, which will help us manifest our idea to offer any student with a GPA of 3.0 or better a custom suit at cost — to give these students something that is made just for them that will last.  

Munir: We’re still in the early stage, and I didn’t have a dedicated space to work outside of my basement. This gives me a place to get my work done and a community. I’ve been building relationships with other entrepreneurs and feeding off of the strong energy everyone has for their projects. Through connecting with people here, talking about what I do and learning about what they do, I’ve been able to set up meetings with potential customers in their network, and that’s been really valuable in raising awareness of Swirl.

David: When I work at CIC, I feel like a success, like I finally have a home. I expected to come in here and just have my little office space, but they’re always telling me about events and helping me network. At the kickoff, I met another Black man who designs and codes. The connection is more valuable than money.

Melissa: I’m making strong connections, and I’m also getting a lot out of the programming. During CIC’s Wellness Week, I met with a nutritionist to work on getting my life back together. With how busy I am, it was helpful to have this in-house and not have to go out of my way to see someone.

Pamela: From the minute we walked in the door we have been more productive, more energized, and just generally have felt like we finally have a place to call home. It’s also been a place where we can be both highly strategic but also really get into the weeds because there is so much support, tools, and resources to enable us. 

CIC: Do you have any words of advice for future applicants or entrepreneurs?

Francesca: When you apply, run with our mission and try your best to demonstrate, in 60 seconds, what makes your company unique and innovative. Share with us your impact, process, or tell the story of how you came to be. I know that it takes a lot of bravery to do something like this, but it’s important to remember that you’ve already started a company so that strength is there!

Sally: Our panel of judges includes past 36for75 winners, regional business leaders, and CIC team members. We encourage them to seek companies that think about their mission’s local and global impact, express creativity and compassion in their approach, and are working to make the world a better, kinder place for all, not just some. Once you win 36for75 and join the cohort, take advantage of everything that is offered — from the wellness benefits to the networking to the educational programming. This is a dynamic space in which exciting ideas come to fruition.

Aurora: Just do it. Jump in and provide your submission. Even if you’re not chosen, get involved with what’s going on here, because you’ll find a community and tools and resources to support your evolution and success.

Melissa: Just be in the environment and you’ll find out about stuff. You learn the most when you’re around other great people who are doing things. Just put yourself out there, and the more people know you, who you are, and what you do, the more others will be willing to share with you and will know what to share with you.

Kelly: Connect! Connect with other entrepreneurs. Show your face, speak about what you have going on, share your ideas. It’s all about connections!

David: Take advantage of the opportunities to the best of your ability. There are a lot of people who need this, so if you win, make sure you take advantage of it. Make it your home and make the connections.

CIC: Okay, we’re going to let each of you make a quick pitch about your organization. Go!

David: Black and Mobile is the first Black-owned food delivery service in Philly and the country to deliver exclusively for other black-owned businesses. It’s much more than food, though. When you support us, not only are you helping the dollars circulate in our community, you are helping us employ the men and women in our community who are in need of jobs and showing the importance of doing for self and loving ourselves.

The co-founders of Black and Mobile create jobs in the Philadelphia community.

The co-founders of Black and Mobile create jobs in the Philadelphia community.

Greg: More than 70 million American adults don’t get a good night’s sleep. SimpleBulb is creating quality sleep technologies. We started in 2018 with Bedtime Bulb, a light bulb that reduces sleep-interrupting blue light when used before bed. Bedtime Bulb is the top-selling, highest-ranked product in the category on Amazon after just over a year on the market. We’re working on several software and hardware sleep solutions, launching this year.

Kelly: Founded in 2018, the sole process of Xavi Row Bespoke is to engage with our customers directly, source the finest material, to create custom garments, without border, at an affordable price.

Melissa: We make #haircrack and natural products to keep hair and skin moisturized and healthy! Our butters are light and soft and can work for a variety of hair and skin types. The aloe and mango butter bases create a butter texture that absorbs into the hair and skin unlike anything on the market.

Munir: When someone doesn’t feel a sense of belonging at work, they tend to leave. This type of turnover costs US employers $64 billion a year, and that rate is only increasing. We built Swirl to fix this. Swirl is a Slack app that enables authentic connections at work between colleagues with similar interests and differences in personal identity to build a culture of inclusion and belonging. Eighty-six percent of our users feel more engaged at work after just one Swirl meetup.

Pamela: When women are healthier, communities thrive. If we continue to accept rising rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in this country, we will never reach our full potential economically, and we will fail generations of women and children. Bellatrix Group helps organizations focused on different aspects of women’s health innovate solutions, products, and tools to make women healthier, to improve maternal health outcomes, and to ultimately have a positive impact on our nation’s wellbeing as a whole. 

Will you be at SXSW 2020? So will CIC Philly! Connect with some of the 36for75 founders at the Amplify Philly House and attend our panel on How cultural context influences innovation districts

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