Networking: while a lot of people may dread that word, it’s an essential part of building relationships in your community. And after months of limited opportunities for social connection due to the pandemic, many of us are ready to meet new people, collaborate face to face, and make moves in our work in new (or old, depending on how you look at it!) ways.
One of the most reliable ways to network is to attend events. At events, you have natural proximity to other people who likely share some of your interests or goals.
So how do you find events well-suited for networking? We’ve got you covered. In this post we’ve compiled a list of some of the best networking events in Philadelphia — and they’re free.
Finding the Right Networking Events
Before jumping into our recommendations, let’s talk about what makes for a good networking event. It’s always a great feeling leaving a successful networking event with a pocket full of LinkedIn connections, new phone contacts, and the excitement of following up with the great people you met. But not all events are equally conducive to making the connections you want, and with everyone’s busy schedules, it’s helpful to know in advance what to look for so that you spend your time in a worthwhile way.
Here’s the thing. With in-person gatherings increasing as pandemic restrictions loosen, so has the trend of slapping the word “networking” onto any event where people will be in the same room. We’ve all been to that event where you walk in ready to chat and mingle, then find yourself in a crowded bar with the music too loud to have a conversation. You walk away not having met new people, your social battery is drained, and you feel like you could have spent your night better elsewhere.
Finding the perfect networking event can be challenging, but think of it like a Philly cheesesteak. Everyone likes theirs made slightly different, but regardless of those slight variations, there is a general blueprint for success.
CIC’s recipe for a good networking event is rather simple:
The event must have the intention for people to connect and meet each other
It needs to be welcoming and easily accessible
It needs to be consistent
Intention to connect means that the setting must invite conversation and the introduction of new people, aiding individuals to break out of their shell and collaborate with one another.
Philadelphia is one of the largest, most diverse cities in the United States, so there are lots of events here where you can expect to see people from many different backgrounds. And with many events now offering a virtual option, potential barriers to participation like transportation, geography, childcare, and building accessibility have lessened, which is a benefit to both event hosts and attendees.
Lastly, consistency makes a big difference when it comes to networking. Attending a weekly, monthly, or even yearly event can be beneficial as now you have a set follow-up with the people you met. Knowing you’ll see each other next month makes it easier to sustain contact, versus meeting once, coordinating schedules, and having to do all the legwork of meeting up outside of an existing framework.
Understanding your perfect networking event through these three lenses can help you pick the best event for you.
Now that we’ve set the scene for our ideal networking event, let’s look at some of the best free networking events in Philadelphia that get the CIC stamp of approval.
6 (Free) Recurring Networking Events in Philadelphia
Time: 3–8pm every Thursday
Location: Virtual and/or 3675 Market Street, 3rd floor, University City
Venture Café Philadelphia is a nonprofit that hosts free weekly programming and networking opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs. As our sister organization, Venture Café makes its home at CIC Philadelphia, where it creates intentional space for individuals and organizations to connect and build relationships. For people looking to network, this is the perfect gathering because most other attendees are also showing up ready to meet new people. Every week features a new roster of unique conversations — anything from a fireside chats about diversifying the tech pipeline to panels on industry trends to a virtual tour of an artist’s studio space — guaranteeing that there will be programming to pique the interest of everyone in the entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystems.
Venture Café is community-oriented, frequently partnering with local organizations and individuals to create new and unique content. What better way to network than to lead your own conversation with fellow Philadelphians who want to hear what you have to say and better the city together?
While Venture Café is currently virtual and occurring over Zoom, when hosted in-person Venture Cafe utilizes various event spaces in CIC Philadelphia to craft the perfect environment for each individual talk. If you need a break from programming, step out into the cafe/bar area, grab a free drink, and go mingle with fellow entrepreneurs! Lastly, Venture Café welcomes every person who walks through their doors to present their idea and share their knowledge. If you have a cool idea for a program, you can submit it to the Venture Café team here.
Time: 9am, every third Wednesday of the month
Developed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 1 Million Cups (1MC) is a free monthly gathering held bringing together entrepreneurs and the local community over cups of coffee and conversation. It is designed to be a supportive and inclusive front door to Philly’s local startup ecosystem, so entrepreneurs are invited to give presentations, not pitches. 1MC is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to authentically share their business ideas, and needs, in an environment that can provide answers so that the entrepreneur can take their next step in starting or growing their business.
While 1MC is a thriving event in Philadelphia, it also occurs in various cities around the country as well. When you’re traveling, check to see if there is a 1MC near you! Whether you are a local looking to be more involved in a community or an entrepreneur that is looking for a support system to lean into, 1MC is a great event where consistent connections and a sense of community exists. RSVP for the next gathering in Philadelphia, or apply to present next month!
**Photo: Philly Tech Week’s 2019 Entrepreneurship Expo, held at the Fillmore Philadelphia
Time: Events throughout the day for one week per year
Location: Throughout the city!
Frequency: Yearly, in May
Philly Tech Week (PTW) is basically the Coachella of Philadelphia networking events. Their lineup of speakers, fun locations scattered around the city, and new engagement tactics each year to keep attendees engaged and connected are one-of-a-kind. Highlights of their virtual 2021 programming included “Cell and Gene Therapy: Why Philly? Why Now?” and “Tech for All: Growing Talent in the City of Brotherly Love.”
You should have this week-long festival circled on your calendar each May! Plus, make sure to include their yearly Entrepreneurship Expo in your plans, as it’s the largest annual showcase of startups and technology companies in the Philadelphia region.
Another strongpoint of Philly Tech Week is the variety of networking events. For the Philadelphians who are morning people, know there will be plenty of early workshops and conversations to take advantage of, as well as plenty of after-work events perfect for the night owls among us. Visit PTW’s website for updates on next year’s festival and how you can host your own event on the PTW calendar.
Time and Location: Sep. 29 – Oct. 1, 2021
B.PHL is an annual festival focused on highlighting the ingenuity and innovation located right here in Philadelphia. B.PHL describes itself as a “knowledge laboratory of sorts,” packing three days full of workshops, events, and interactive experiences that encourage attendees to “earn, listen, connect and discover new ways to think, re-think, create, and activate change.”
If that sounds overwhelming at first, don’t worry. Just like Philly Tech Week, attendees are able to create their own schedule, handpicked from a plethora of unique events that appeal most to them. Visit B.PHL’s website for the official countdown to B.PHL 2021, be up to date on all festival announcements, and submit your idea for a workshop/event!
Frequency: Unique monthly events
Startup Grind Philadelphia is a blossoming group of 5700+ individuals in Philadelphia. Programming doesn’t have a set theme or recurring schedule, but you can count on Startup Grind Philadelphia to provide a monthly free talk or presentation geared towards bettering Philadelphia’s entrepreneurial community.
For example, the April 2021 program was “Keys to Running a Successful Fundraising Pipeline & Strategy,” and May’s was “Self-Care is a Collective Effort,” highlighting the fact that Startup Grind pays mind to all aspects of the entrepreneur experience.
These monthly events are held virtually while COVID-19 guidelines remain in place, but you can look forward to attending one in person someday soon. Due to the various programs and partnerships they have in Philadelphia, each talk is hosted in a unique location. Like 1MC, Startup Grind Philadelphia is part of a larger Startup Grind global network, and startups can apply to their free program to get access to even more workshops and resources.
Time: Last Tuesday of the month
Join the University City Science Center on the last Tuesday of each month for Coffee & Capital. This virtual discussion brings in a different local venture capital expert each month and gives them a platform to share their successes, experiences, and wealth of knowledge. It’s a perfect event to attend if you’re looking for ways that your business can build capital and attract investors. Not only do you get the chance to ask an expert your questions, you’ll be in a room (a zoom room during the pandemic) with like-minded individuals also trying to get their ideas off the ground. Visit University City Science Center’s events page to RSVP for the next one.
More Opportunities to Connect in Philadelphia
The above events are awesome ways to dive into Philadelphia’s vibrant networking scene and begin making lifelong connections. As these events prove, building your network doesn’t have to be exhausting or expensive, you just need to know where to look.
While all of the above events are recurring, we’d be remiss if we didn’t call out the excellent organizations hosting one-off networking events and boasting diverse community calendars. Bookmark these organizations’ websites, follow them on social media, or subscribe to their newsletters to be in the know about upcoming events.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your calendar and start penciling in some of your favorite upcoming networking events!
Want more opportunities to network organically? Check out our workspaces at CIC Philadelphia, where meeting fellow entrepreneurs and innovators can happen when you’re making your morning cup of coffee.