With a seemingly endless parade of successful tech companies operating from California, is it any wonder why Philadelphia-based entrepreneurs sometimes relocate to the west coast? Consider that three of only four companies (Alphabet, Facebook, and Fortinet) consistently recognized on the Forbes’ list of Fastest Growing Public Tech firms1, all call California home for their respective headquarters. Still, the 2019 announcement of the Global Opportunity Philadelphia Fund (GO Philly Fund) provides a compelling list of arguments for existing entrepreneurs and new comers to build technology-infused firms that create valued offerings and accompanying jobs. Below is an interview with Scott Nissenbaum and Elaina Shekhter on venture fund opportunities in Greater Philadelphia’s technology ecosystem. Scott Nissenbaum serves as Chief Investment Officer at Ben Franklin Technology Partners, bringing more than 20 years of venture capital, entrepreneurial, and operational experience to his role. Mr. Nissenbaum also served as an adjunct faculty member at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School teaching the graduate course on Venture Capital. Elaina Shekhter is Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President of EPAM. Ms. Shekhter leads EPAM’s Global Marketing and Strategy, working to integrate a variety of functions that have a material influence on the strategy, positioning and global brand of the company.
Q & A
Q. What is the GO Philly Fund and what are the value propositions that it offers to the Philadelphia start-up ecosystem?
A. Scott Nissenbaum: It is a newly formed venture fund that is seeking investments in seed and early-stage tech-focused firms which are primarily in the Greater-Philadelphia region. The primary investment focus will be as a follow-on investor in the most successful Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ portfolio companies. Ben Franklin Technology Partners has more than 35 years of investment experience in 2,000+ companies with an active portfolio of 225+ firms. In addition to financial returns, the fund’s target outcome is to create a strong technology ecosystem for the Greater-Philadelphia area.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, a key value position is tapping into Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ existing ecosystem of private and public stakeholders. They have a playbook of best practices which have already supported 225+ companies that have successfully created new offerings. For investors, there are efficiency as well as effectiveness benefits. The team has a proven process which enables them to screen 1,000+ prospective candidates, to perform formal due diligence on the best 200 companies, and then to invest in 50 of the highest potential ones. Like the stock market, while the team’s past performance is not a guarantee of future returns, it should be a good sign that Ben Franklin has managed 15 funds since 2004 with five of them in the top quartile2. Finally, for the Greater-Philadelphia area, we are excited about EPAM’s collaboration with us since they are the fourth company that was recognized in the Forbes’ list of Fastest Growing Public Tech firms. What they bring to the table is an inspirational story of a local start-up which grew from $1 million in 1993 to $10 million in 1999 and last year to more than $1.84 billion. Imagine the value that a fledgling entrepreneur might secure from connecting with someone like Elaina who has been part of the C-Suite team that has guided EPAM’s explosive growth.
Q. What are the top three recommendations for potential action that you would advise to readers?
A. Elaina Shekhter: First, think strategically and globally. For instance, while the brand might be “GO Philly Fund”, the “G-O” stands for “Global Opportunity.” So, think hard about creatively engaging with not only global stakeholders but also other entities that you might have originally excluded. Second, execute with speed and purpose towards your organization’s strategy. For example, what actions should be completed so that your stakeholders can clearly see how you have a plan to guide your team’s success from stage I to stage II to eventually even a Unicorn success? Third, even as you might successfully progress against your initial target outcomes, how will you maintain that constant hunger at your company? At EPAM, our C-Suite is constantly trying to figure out how we stay on that Forbes’ list as it’s frankly quite challenging. We’re collaborating with not only other companies but also with local universities to stay lean and agile in our daily operations.
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Michael Wong has more than 25 years of experience working for Apple, AstraZeneca, EPAM, IBM, and Merck. Mike is Co-President of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association and his insights have been shared in the Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review.
1 Konrad, Alex, Meet The Fastest Growing Public Tech Companies In 2017, Forbes, May 23, 2017
2 Cambridge Associates’ US Venture Capital Index and Select Benchmark Statistics dated March 31, 2018