Philadelphia’s Morgan Berman is the founder of sustainability app My MilkCrate, which promotes "sustainable options for dining, shopping, transit, and many other lifestyle categories." She took part in the $400,000 Pressure Cooker event at the 2014 Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia. Berman shared her experiences with the Philadelphia conferences and the state of Philly's start-up community upon learning that Forbes’ Under 30 Summit is moving to Boston. What follows are her opinions and not those of NBC10.
It was late summer 2014 and I was eagerly packing my bags for a much needed vacation, before ‘hitting go’ on what would be a very soul-sucking, yet fruitful crowdfunding campaign for our company, MilkCrate. On an entrepreneurial whim, I applied to the Forbes Under 30 Summit Pressure Cooker Pitch Competition.
As a founder, you get used to rejection way more than lucky breaks. So, when I got a call from Forbes saying I was one of the Top 5 finalists I swear I said, “Are you sure?” Taking place on the main stage, the competition certainly became one of the most highly anticipated portions of the conference. Judges included AOL founder Steve Case. The excitement and pressure were thicker than whiz.
Spoiler alert: We didn’t win. Yet, while it sounds cheesy, I felt like we did. Nothing will ever scare me as much as doing that pitch. My new found fearlessness is priceless. This event pushed us into the spotlight, earning press coverage from all over, and helped us secure our first funding.
Fast forward to the fall of 2015. Forbes and Young Involved Philly co-hosted an award ceremony, and MilkCrate, as the decided underdog to the well-lauded Scholly, won Startup of the Year. Getting to say “We won Startup of the Year at Under 30” still turns a lot of heads. But, the lesson I’ve learned, and that I think Philly has learned, is that big names and tenuous external relationships aren’t nearly as important as the more long-lasting, homegrown relationships you can build right here in Philly.
I’m not in a position to weigh the economic and political choices or consequences of the Forbes Under 30 Summit moving to Boston. What I can do is share my view as an entrepreneur with a front row seat to what Forbes has and has not meant to me and my company.
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Forbes brought people from all over the world to our city. It made us feel shiny and special. And, we deserve the acclaim. But I can honestly say that not one person that I met there (Taylor Hanson doesn’t count, I just bumped into him at a buffet table ← #humblebrag) has made a shred of difference in my company or, I think, for Philly. They came. They left. They came and left again. This time for good (?).
Much like Philly, I put a lot of value on the Forbes halo. But at the end of the day, what did it get us? It made us feel special, lessons were learned -- it helped us learn what we are capable of becoming. And that is enough. Now we can focus on what truly matters -- building an independently functioning business (and city) and raise ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
Let’s channel that energy. Let’s double down on our investment in local startups, particularly ones that overlap with existing civic efforts. Let’s address issues like eliminating poverty, and improving education and environmental sustainability.
I know the City of Philadelphia put a lot of work into building that relationship, and I'm glad they did, but I’m also 100 percent fine with Forbes leaving. It’s time. We are no longer an early stage startup city. We can do this on our own.
I’m not just saying this because I was born and raised in this city. I feel a supernatural need to proselytize on its behalf. I’m saying it because, when I look back on the last two years of my company, the ups and downs, the only things that have truly mattered are the relationships I made with the people here.
So let's focus on the present and the future. For the present? We have a whole slew of cool homegrown things coming up: Philly Tech Week, MADV, The Angel Venture Fair, and other programs and events that are strengthening our local startup community. The future? We have the fastest growing population of millennials, a great cost of living (at least in comparison to San Fran), and a plethora of civic and university programs like StartupPHL and Blackstone Launchpad. We are going to be just fine.
And if Philadelphians need one more reason not to mourn the loss of Forbes --take comfort in the fact that when we visit Boston next fall (and we know we will), my company’s free, green Yelp-like app, My MilkCrate, will help you navigate the scene. Find farm-to-table restaurants or a local craft beer with ease. And when you return home, we can remember that we helped Forbes Under 30 get off the ground. Like democracy. Like great startups. Like cheesteaks.