Inside CIC's 36for75 Program: What can 75 days of pro bono workspace do for you?

CIC Philadelphia is seeking 36 entrepreneurs who share our mission to fix the world through innovation for our second 36for75 cohort. 

The 36for75 campaign supports local startups and encourages collaboration and innovation by creating a diverse community of entrepreneurs and nourishing their endeavors with resources, connections, and workspace — pro bono — for 75 business days. Entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities and industries not already present in CIC are especially encouraged to apply. 

To take you behind the scenes of this program, we sat down with CIC Philadelphia Site Director Sally Guzik and Relationship Manager/36for75 Campaign Lead Francesca Galarus, as well as several members of this past year’s cohort: Camille Bell and Johnny Velazquez, cofounders of Pound Cake Cosmetics, and Nicodemus Madehdou, cofounder/CEO of JumpButton Studio. Here’s their take on the program’s benefits to entrepreneurs and how to successfully apply. 


CIC: 36for75. What a quirky name. Where does “36for75” come from? 

Francesca Galarus: The name comes from our address, 3675 Market Street, and describes what we are offering. We choose 36 entrepreneurs who are doing something truly impressive to receive coworking space, our full amenities, special programming, and networking opportunities — all pro bono for 75 business days. 

CIC: Where did the idea come from? 

Sally Guzik:  Every CIC site has some version of this program to support startups in our space by offering a select group of companies pro bono space and dedicated programming for a three-month period. In 2016, I had the opportunity to work with the CIC Miami team on Operation Launch, which was the original idea these programs are all modeled after. We modified the model for our Philadelphia launch last year by partnering with REC Philly and hosting a pitch competition at our launch party. We actually set up a small recording studio and helped entrepreneurs create their application video at our party. 

Camille Bell and Johnny Velazquez, cofounders of  Pound Cake Cosmetics

Camille Bell and Johnny Velazquez, cofounders of Pound Cake Cosmetics

Johnny Velazquez: I came to CIC Philadelphia’s grand opening last year to network, and a staff member from REC Philly suggested I pitch. She helped me make my video. Before we moved to CIC, we tried several Center City coworking spaces. As a founder of color, I always felt like an outcast or isolated in other spaces. I honestly think this has to be the most diverse space in Philly; there are so many people here who look like Camille and me. 

CIC: Application video? 

FG: Yes, you apply via video! We were amazed at the types of companies we were introduced to through their video submissions. The 36for75 concept is meant to give these startups relief for a few months and colocate them so they have the opportunity to meet and collaborate. We find that their presence brings  great energy to a new site. 

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Nicodemus Madehdou: My client, Thomas Dixon, made our video so we could continue to work on our project, me.mory, together. Thomas has episodic memory loss from being hit by a car while jogging several years ago. me.mory is a mobile app to help Thomas and other people with memory loss organize and manage their lives and their medical care on a large scale. It helps them prepare and plan by processing the data they input to provide important information they might forget to tell their doctors and evaluate their overall wellbeing and health. 

CIC: How can founders apply this year? 

FG: Local organizations of any size that are new to CIC can apply. They must answer one of three questions in a one-minute video submission. Sally and I sit on the judging panel, together with Create X Change founder Karin Copeland from our original 36for75cohort; BCK Group cofounder Allen King; University City Science Center Director of Business Incubation and Accelerator Programs Karina Sotnick; and US Department of Commerce Director of International Trade Administration Tony Ceballos.

CIC: What advice do you have for applicants? 

FG: CIC’s mission is to fix the world through innovation, which I love because it's not specific to any one idea or industry and can be interpreted in so many ways. I encourage all applicants to run with that and try their best to demonstrate, in 60 seconds, what makes their company unique and innovative. Share with us your impact, process, or 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. 

SG:  That’s good advice, Francesca. We want to see companies that think about how their mission has both a local and global impact. We want to see creative people who are compassionate in their approach and are truly working to make this world a better, kinder place for all, not just some. 

FG: We had so much success last year with our video studio that we’re doing it again this year when we host a combined celebration of CIC’s global 20th anniversary and Venture Café’s global 10th anniversary on November 7. Entrepreneurs are welcome to join us for the party and create their submission. 

CIC: Why should entrepreneurs apply? 

NM: They’d be crazy not to. You’re being given an opportunity to utilize resources to grow your idea that normally would cost you thousands of dollars. We never really had a home until we came here; we were moving from coffee shop to coffee shop. 

JV: Nicodemus is right. There are a lot of opportunities here. We’ve gone through a couple of coworking spaces and it’s always just like you’re there and fending for yourself. Here, they’re always looking out for you. If you’re going to be here, there are going to be people caring enough about you and your company to help you out.  Look, everyone loves their business, but sometimes sitting down to work on it for long periods of time can be really draining. Coming here is a radical shift. You can walk outside and talk to people, flip on one of the huge screens to see what you’re working on larger than you can on your laptop, or head over to a Venture Café event. 

FG: Venture Café is  such a great opportunity to network and learn. It’s run in partnership with the University City Science Center and happens every Thursday from 3 to 8pm in our space. Venture Café’s mission is to bring together innovators, entrepreneurs, and resources. There’s programming that runs on the hour so you can choose your own adventure and attend, for example, a female founders round table, book 30 minutes with an IP lawyer, or hear a street artists panel. The event is free and open to the public and offers a great way to engage and connect in the ecosystem. 

CIC: What are some of the biggest benefits of being chosen for the 36for75 Cohort? 

JV: That’s really hard because it’s been a bunch of things that have led to me feeling happier coming to work.

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NM: That’s true, like I love the cereal and orange juice in the kitchens! No but seriously, the big benefits are Venture Café and being able to form relationships with others in the space. Venture Café has been amazing. It’s a weekly opportunity to engage with others and connect with the community. And you know that it’s a time every week that the space is trying to give back to the community.

CB: They really are community-driven and the staff is awesome. As soon as you come in, you’re happily greeted and they really want to learn about your company. They’ll have lunch with you just to get to know you and your business. They genuinely care about the people behind the company. There’s so much opportunity to connect with people, but you can also disconnect if you need to. 

NM: You can’t overemphasize the chance to connect. We formed a powerful relationship with the director of Backstage Capital’s accelerator that would not have otherwise been possible. We met in the space and figured out we had both been chosen by Billy Penn for its “Who’s Next in STEM” article. We formed a connection because of this shared history, and now we’re talking about potential projects together. 

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CB: Yeah, the connections! We brought on a really awesome intern because of CIC’s partnership with Drexel University. We’ve also connected with another person from this cohort, a founder who has a successful skincare brand and who’s taken me under her wing. She’s been really helpful in developing our launch plan. CIC's global network is strong, and I know that I can go to Francesca, our relationship manager, for resources to help solve problems and grow my business.

SG: What they said. Collaboration is the largest driver and component in our model. We wouldn't be CIC without companies and people who are willing to help one another and provide genuine support and mentorship. Their stories sound special and they are, but they’re also everyday occurrences here. 

FG:  Hands down, collaboration. I can't say this enough. I think the best thing that a company takes take away from their time at CIC is that they get to meet the most interesting people across all industries. I've heard time and time again from entrepreneurs that their most valuable resource is their network, and there are plenty of ways to network naturally at CIC — whether you're pouring coffee in the morning, attending Venture Cafe, or doing power poses on adjacent yoga mats. One of our clients actually attended another's wedding after meeting through the 2019 cohort. 

CIC: What’s the benefit for CIC Philly?

FG: For me this is very personal, because this cohort was my first group of clients at CIC, and I've been lucky to get to know them so well. I love going to events in the community and seeing everyone support each other, catching a glimpse of two clients I didn't realize knew each other working together in a conference room, and celebrating all of the successes along the way.

SG: Usually we see more established companies taking space within our community. 36for75 connects us with entrepreneurs who are just getting started, so we get to interact with and support companies who are testing an idea or concept. As Francesca described, those companies enhance our client connections by being so collaborative in the space. 

CIC: Tell us one piece of advice for the next cohort. 

CB: Try to get connected as much as possible. When CIC sends you an email about an event, know that they aren’t just sending that email to everyone. They’re specifically reaching out to you because they’ve found an opportunity for you. Don’t waste it.

NM: Communicate with CIC’s staff 100 percent; they’re flexible and supportive, but you need to tell them what you need and where you’re at. 

FG: Attend Venture Café! 

CIC: Everyone can’t win, so what would you tell those founders who aren’t in the winning 36?

SG: 3675 Market is a porous building with many resources. Francesca mentioned Venture Café, which is an excellent entry point. There's also ic@3401 down the street, which is a close partner; Quorum drop-in lounge with office hours and events in our building; and you can even catch us and our clients at the PHS pop-up beer garden.

 

CIC: Okay Nicodemus, Camille, and Johnny, we want to give you one chance to shamelessly plug your companies. Go!

JV: We’re the first cosmetic company creating non-nude lipsticks for different lip tones, so head to poundcakecosmetics.com to sign up for our newsletter, and you might win a new lipstick.

NM: We help make products that solve problems, invoke change, and inspire creativity through games, mobile apps, websites, and animated entertainment with a focus on gamified experiences and impact-driven organizations. 

Ready to apply?