CIC Philadelphia is seeking 36 life-altering, risk-taking entrepreneurs in need of safe workspace, support, and opportunity for our third 36for75 cohort.
The 36for75 program encourages collaboration and innovation by bringing together a diverse community of local entrepreneurs and nourishing their endeavors with resources, connections, and workspace — pro bono — for 75 business days.
Selected startups receive the full benefits of CIC membership plus special programming designed to support smaller, younger companies that may not have access to resources or opportunities to thrive.
We encourage entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities and industries not already represented by CIC clients to apply by answering one of three questions in a one-minute video submission by November 15.
Come behind the scenes now with CIC Philadelphia Director Sally Guzik, CIC Philadelphia Events Lead and 36for75 Manager Minna Hyon, and 2020 cohort members Aurora Archer and Pamela Raitt of The Bellatrix Group and Tanya Morris of MomYourBusiness to learn about the inspiration behind 36for75, the impact of the pandemic on the program, and what 36for75 has meant for the 2020 winners.
CIC: What is the vision for 36for75?
Sally: 36for75 is unique to our Philadelphia location. We’re one of nine CIC locations around the world. Each time we open in a new city, we develop a program specific to that city to engage and activate our space. We launched 36for75 when we opened here in 2018. It plays on the name of our building — 3675 Market Street — and allows us to meet the needs of entrepreneurs from underserved communities.
Philadelphia is a majority minority city with a significant access gap for underrepresented founders. 36for75 is a pillar for our engagement with smaller companies looking to connect with other companies to share resources and ideas. It has become our primary program that supports majority underrepresented founders. We’ve found that by creating a curated cohort of companies who represent diverse industries with their own diverse backgrounds, the cohort is more successful.
CIC: What does “success” look like for 36for75?
Sally: Competition isn’t what drives the success of the model, but rather collaboration. Each year, we’re most proud of our work when companies share what they were able to accomplish together.
CIC: This year’s cohort had just been onboarded when COVID-19 forced your space to shut down for all but essential businesses. How did that impact 36for75 and the cohort?
Sally: Unfortunately, it meant that companies who did not identify as “essential or life-sustaining” were not able to utilize the space to its fullest. We worked with the cohort to extend memberships until the end of July instead of April, as originally planned.
A large part of our cohort model is the collaboration that happens in person, so we had to quickly pivot to offer virtual engagement opportunities. Our events and relationship management team acted quickly and offered cohort members the opportunity to share lunch virtually and access subject matter experts through complimentary office hours. Our nonprofit programming partner, Venture Café Philadelphia, also became virtual, which was a great opportunity for cohort members to engage with Venture Cafés in other cities like Miami, Cambridge, Rotterdam, and Tokyo.
Minna: When COVID first arrived in Philadelphia, it was a strange time of adjustment, and for us it was important to remind the cohort that we were still here as a resource for them. We created safe virtual spaces for any members who wanted to check in, ask questions, or make connections.
I think a crucial factor during this time was to provide flexibility for members to opt in and make the experience their own. For many of us, COVID brought immediate priorities to the forefront, like taking care of our families or making sure our businesses survived. Sometimes adding more obligated and unnecessary programming can have a negative effect instead of a positive one (Zoom fatigue anyone?), so we wanted to make sure we provided the space that could really allow members to show up as their honest selves if they needed that.
CIC: Cohort members, how did COVID impact your company and your vision for it?
Tanya: COVID and the shutdown were totally impactful. We were getting ready to use CIC’s podcasting study to do our “Impact” podcast on a regular basis when the city ordered the shutdown. We were also planning on launching an accelerator program in March, which we then pushed back to June as it became apparent COVID wasn’t going away anytime soon. The pandemic totally changed the way we serve people. We had to shift our focus to helping people navigate how they were going to stay in business doing this time.
Pamela: I consider Aurora and myself to be lucky for a few reasons. Having both come out of the tech industry and being very used to working remotely and with distributed teams, we were able to very quickly figure out how to leverage technology to our advantage and continue having workshops, webinars, client and prospect meetings, et cetera.
Secondly, because many of our clients are in the healthcare space, there continued to be a lot of work and thinking around solutions, versus a slowdown of work. Having said all of that, COVID did also offer us the opportunity to add some new things into our service mix, to take time to look at some foundational aspects of our business, and to figure out how we wanted to provide thought leadership about COVID and, in particular, its amplified impact on the Black community.
CIC: A big part of the power of CIC is its ability to connect creators, funders, and the community. Without the ability to do this on site, how did the CIC Philly team work to continue making connections for the cohort?
Minna: An important factor in our ability to continue to meet these needs for connection and opportunity was actively listening — listening to both our cohort members and the Philadelphia entrepreneurial community.
Initially with COVID, we knew most small business owners’ immediate needs were funding and resources to help combat business setbacks. We responded with a COVID-19 Aid Resource Guide that launched within two weeks and provided business owners in each CIC location with the most helpful local and national resources that we could consolidate.
It was also about how we responded in those smaller, intimate moments — informal emails and checking in with members, even by simply sending a Slack message with a reminder about local opportunities. Our members knew they could use us as a connection to Venture Café or ask us for an introduction to other clients. While we were offsite, we had a few members engage with Venture Café programming. Tanya started her podcast series virtually during that time. And we built a podcasting studio at CIC Philadelphia, so she’ll have even more resources for her series on-site.
CIC: Cohort members, how did COVID change the way you worked with CIC and your peers in the 36for75 cohort, your expectations for the programs, and the support your organization received?
Tanya: When we started we were looking to open our own coworking space for Black and brown women to provide what they needed. Then we won and had a space, so being there was totally a blessing — to have somewhere to call home for that period of time where we could do our one-on-ones and host our meetings and support our moms who needed someplace to meet. Losing that was tough. I was still in the getting-to-know-you stage with most of the other cohort members and missed that direct contact. But CIC helped me with a really important connection. They connected me to the Science Center’s director of business incubation and accelerator programs for help with business pitching. She helped me learn about the principles of a pitch, and I now teach that to the women I serve.
Pamela: The CIC team really is phenomenal about reaching out, checking in, and just continuing to find ways to add value and continue to foster connection, like they did for Tanya with the Science Center. The pandemic primarily shifted the cohort into “Slack mode,” which became a nice way of keeping in touch, checking in, and just continuing to feel connected to CIC and to our peers. It made us feel less alone.
Our expectation was that everyone in our cohort was likely going through a lot of the internal reflections that we were and that we were all in pivot mode. Our hope was that if we could be of assistance or service to anyone, then we would have that opportunity. It also helped us remember that we are a community and that there are so many entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia area — and that we are in this together.
CIC: What was the most important thing you gained or did as part of the cohort?
Pamela: We made connections with some fellow entrepreneurs whose work we greatly admire, and it has given us the ability to find ways to amplify what they are doing.
Tanya: The most important thing CIC has given us is space to pursue our goals. My Impact podcast is now a regular contributor to Venture Café — we’re celebrating seven months! Our first live show was supposed to be at Venture Café with a guest from the cohort: the founders of Black and Mobile (a Black-owned food delivery service for Black-owned restaurants in Philadelphia). We’re still doing the podcast, even though we had to move it virtual. We also had the Black Girl Ventures Philly launch party at CIC, and since then, Black Girl Ventures has become a partner of CIC. I was really excited to help strengthen the connection between BGV and CIC.