Here’s the thing, I know more about the rudiments of a Federation starship’s propulsion system than a cell phone – actually any real life tech (It’s all about keeping that dilithium articulation frame in the matter/antimatter stream, fam).
Despite, or perhaps because of, my dearth of practical knowledge, events like Philly Tech Week (PTW) are really intriguing. This citywide festival of events, created by Technical.ly highlights the city’s burgeoning tech and startup community. PTW celebrated its sixth year this Spring.
The Journey Begins…
One might think “being in the tech industry” is reserved for coding wizards, engineers, and the like, but as Monica Peters, President of the Philadelphia Black Public Relations Society (PBPRS) and cohost of the PTW event, #TechInColor presents Success Hacks, stated: “You can hire somebody!” The tech industry is opened to those with ideas and if you have a good one, you can partner with a person, team, or a service that has the technical know-how to bring your vision to fruition.
Many tech startups created by PoC and other marginalized groups fulfill a societal need for their community. Take for instance Whose Your Landlord, co-founded by one of the event’s panelists, Felix Addison, this app allows renters to rate and view ratings of city landlords. The company uses the possessive “whose” to symbolize renters taking ownership of their living situation. For a community that experiences housing discrimination this goes beyond mere convenience and into something vital.
Monica also dropped some other gems of wisdom during her short but dense break-out session positioned between the two panel discussions at the event:
- Take the time and steps necessary to make your start-up legitimate on paper. Is it a sole proprietorship? A partnership? A corporation? Do your research and choose the best fit!
- When you’re legitimate on paper, make your next priority accounting. There are free software options such as Wave apps available when you’re just starting out. Still, make getting an actual accountant an early objective as your business starts to take-off.
- Keep your day job for as long as it’s feasible, and invest in your dream. Don’t quit your job prematurely, as running back to a 9 to 5 when things get rough can actually impede your progress.
- Maintain your network of contacts, they can provide referrals or contracted work as needed.
- Be willing to sacrifice and make changes to your lifestyle.
- Be strategic. If the good or service you want to provide is similar to something else on the market; make sure you find your niche population. Know your lane!
- Find good people to work with as soon as you can; if you work alone you don’t run a business, you have a job!
- Know your weaknesses; make contingencies. If you need to grow your business but promotion isn’t your strong suit, then finding someone who is good at it is your next priority.
Another interesting tidbit Monica shared was her preference for getting people’s contact information and putting it directly into her phone, as opposed to exchanging business cards, which can be lost and discarded. She even noted that some business communities such as Silicon Valley types have all but done away with business cards altogether.
Choose Your Party Members
So let’s say you have this potentially golden idea for a truly inspired doohickey but no real doohickey production know-how, what do you do? Where can you go to get hands-on experience and training with the tools you need to make a successful doohickey?! Unbeknownst to me before this Spring, there are several maker spaces that have established themselves all over my city. Each has their unique selling points, but I wound up going to Hive76 because one of their contributions to PTW was a classic console video game night. On top of that, one of the systems advertised was the Panasonic 3D0, which is rare and a personal favorite of mine.
When I got there – a bit of a journey in an unfamiliar part of town at night, I was greeted warmly by the the president, Chris and got down to business…….. No, I didn’t. First I made a beeline to the 3D0 and flipped through the selections until I found my favorite game of that era and one of my favorite games of all time: Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters.
After a short while, I remembered myself, and did finally get down to business (admittedly, it was only after this 22 year old game system crashed and decided to turn itself off but still).
I started picking Chris’s brain about what exactly Hive76 is. It bills itself as a “hackerspace” where one can literally build their ideas using an assortment of tools such as 3D printers, electronic components, and construction equipment. It’s also a place where people who want to learn new skills, build things, and conceptualize new techniques can come together and help each other create. In fact, helping one another on projects and sharing ideas seems to be a cornerstone of the space. The pricing for membership is even structured around this tenet.
For instance, Chris showed me a newspaper vending machine that he had acquired. At first, he was going to just redo the outside and put it in a local shop as a place where he could stock the organization’s newsletter. But then, another member of the collective had the idea that they could soup the case up and make it into a mini-printing press, remotely sending the newsletter fresh from their computer into the box miles away. This seems a perfect expression of their slogan: Make things awesome and make awesome things!
Hive76 runs on membership dues, so they aren’t beholden to any sponsoring body or corporate interest. They have regular elections for the positions of president, secretary, quartermaster, and additional board members who all work together to organize events and keep things running smoothly. The quartermaster, Matt showed me around the space, including his pretty sweet network of four computers running the original Doom that he made in the mid 90s (which seemed to be fairing better than the poor 3D0). The members have an assortment of professional backgrounds, from network engineers to bookbinders. One of their larger collaborations was featured at the Kickoff event for Tech Week, a giant Connect 4-like game operated by using a touchpad on the ground.
No matter where you are, it’s worth a look to see what “hackerspaces” or other maker collectives are out there for you to get involved with. Hive76 has weekly Open Houses, for instance. If nothing else, you might learn how to do something you never thought you’d know how to do. At best, you might just find a way to create the perfect doohickey to market to the masses and a few collaborators to take your invention to the next level, just don’t forget to hire that accountant!
BGN’s assistant editor C R Sparrow wants desperately to throw off the shackles of wage slavery and live a life of leisure. Unfortunately, she hasn’t quite figured out how to turn her encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek Deep Space Nine or deftness at playing Bioware RPGs on the easiest setting into a fortune. She’s still working on it though. Sci-fi/Fantasy blerd with a strong affinity for binging television shows and having lots of feelings about them.
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