March Magic Memories: Yuval Yarden
One of the main organizers of her city’s delegation to SXSW, Yuval Yarden works at Philly Startup Leader (PSL) where she connects entrepreneurs with resources, opportunities and programing that help them develop new relationships that support their company growth. In addition to her role at PSL, Yarden works in commercial real-estate at Jones Lang Lasalle supporting startups in finding office space. She is a self-proclaimed “pretty good doodler” and an over-sharer of random yet useful facts she’s picked up along the way. Yarden graduated from Temple University in 2013 with a Bachelors Degree in Strategic Communication and has previously been part of several early-stage technology startups including Cloudmine and Zoomer.
In 20 words or less, what is the main focus of your current job?
I am the Executive Director of Philly Startup Leaders. We’re the ultimate connectors of the Philly tech and startup scene.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a teacher. I have vivid memories of sitting with my dad explaining how I could teach the lessons we learned that day in a new or different way. I always wanted to teach whatever grade I was in.
How do those career aspirations from your younger self connect to what you are doing now?
I was a mini-disruptor, always looking for ways to make any experience better, more effective and inclusive. It is a characteristic that I still identify with and hope to possess the rest of my life.
What are you most passionate about at present?
I’m passionate about the growing community of startup ecosystem builders around the country. I’ve recently joined a group called Startup Champions Network that connects these folks. They are all pretty incredible people reviving and growing cities across the country doing very similar work to ours. I’ll be launching a podcast telling their stories this winter. Stay tuned!
In your mind, what is the most under-rated tech trend at present?
Infrastructure. Not sexy, but a huge market.
What is the last great book you read?
Start-Up Nation. I can’t believe it took me this long to get to it. I was born and raised in Israel so learning about the startup story of our country (Israel) was pretty incredible.
What band / musician you are listening to most these days?
Hardwork movement. Look out for them in the Philly House at SXSW 2018.
How / when do you first find out about SXSW?
I originally went to SXSW in 2014 with the first startup I worked with, now called Neu Brands. I dragged my friend Dave Silver (now my co-founder of Amplify Philly) down with me because he loves music. He was so inspired by the Chicago Made stage that he created the very first official Philly music stage at SXSW the following year. The rest is history.
What is your best memory of SXSW that’s not a panel or a networking event?
I have a very distinct memory of our first SXSW concert, mainly because it almost ended horribly. Dave, my co-organizer of Amplify Philly and I were 24, and this was by far the biggest project either of us had ever taken on. We had a PACKED house and a massive crowd/line outside of the venue for our Philly music showcase. With 5 minutes until our headliner was scheduled to go on stage, we found out that he only accepts his final payment in cash and that he needed to receive it before he performed. We had no cash. All the banks were closed. Time was ticking. Miraculously, we figured it out and he actually came back again the following year to spin at our VIP event.
You helped get the Philadelphia startup ecosystem more involved with SXSW. What SXSW-related tips do you have for other cities (or other countries) that want to get their message out via the SXSW platform?
SXSW is an extremely complex organization. If it’s your first year, find a few folks who have been involved in the past and ask them for a more in depth answer to the question above (we’re happy to help!).
— Hurry up and wait: Start early, but get used to waiting patiently. You’ll spend a lot of time in conversations with community members, sponsors and SXSW team members. It’s a big undertaking, and while everyone wants to know your plans very early on, they often take a long time to commit to being involved.
— It takes a village: Amplify Philly (unlike most cities) is a crowdfunded effort, with 15–20 local sponsors. We have a steering committee and over 250 Philadelphians (government, VC, non-profit, corporations, startups, musicians included) that join us every year. It’s impossible to represent an entire city on your own, don’t try.
— Share resources and be radically inclusive: SXSW is (understandably) expensive, there’s no way around it. In order to build a large delegation on a small budget, look for opportunities to share resources. Whether it’s trade show booths, hotel rooms or shipping boxes, helping each other out will enable a larger group to attend, and bring your community closer together.
— Utilize your rising stars: SXSW is all about discovering the undiscovered, so we made sure to incorporate that sentiment into the work we’re doing in Philly in preparation. For example, we used a local recent grad as our graphic designer. For us, we were able to save money and move quickly. For her, it built her entire freelancing business. Win win.
— Make a splash: There’s a lot happening at SXSW, so use this time to highlight your city’s quirkiest and most creative aspects. As an example, this year, we’re in conversation with the Philadelphia Opera about their involvement. Walking around handing out pamphlets and t-shirts ‘aint gonna do it, get creative.
What kind of investment (financial, emotional, spiritual and otherwise) do cities need to make to make a big splash at SXSW? As context, how long did you work on creating a Philadelphia presence at the event?
We spend the better part of a year planning for Amplify Philly at SXSW. This year, our goal is to raise $300,000 and we’ll probably work with 15 organizations to get there. Both Dave and I have full time jobs, but we love this work so we put in extra hours to make it happen. In addition to the financial capital, we put in a lot of social capital convincing our city that this is a valuable experience and that they should join us in Austin. It’s emotionally exhausting, but probably the most valuable work I’ve done in my short career.
What is your best tip for newbie SXSW attendees?
It’s a marathon not a sprint. Stay hydrated, eat and nap when you can :) It’s important to get a clear sense of who you want to meet down there, but while it’s all happening, go with the flow.
What is the best networking connection you’ve made at SXSW?
Every year that I go down to SXSW, the world seems bigger and bigger. I also spent time with our City Councilman Allan Domb, who has become a big proponent of the Philly Tech Scene. The most valuable connection I made was probably with the Kauffman Foundation. They opened my eyes to a new world of resources and community for startup ecosystem builders. This year, I’ll be helping them put together their SXSW house.
How many folks from Philadelphia do you expect to attend SXSW 2018?
300+ that we’ll know of. But then many more we’ll run into when we get there.
How long does it take you to recover post-event?
SXSW is exhausting but it’s also energizing. I remember coming home, showering, sleeping and being ready to dive into planning 2018 right away. We had so many new ideas we wanted to incorporate and it already felt like time was running out.
What person / company / idea excites you most about the current Philadelphia startup scene?
I’m excited for all of the 5–10 person startups in Philly right now. They’re about to pop, and I can’t wait for you all to hear about them!
It looks like the Philadelphia-based co-working company Benjamin’s Desk may acquire the Washington DC based co-working space 1776. What does this deal mean for your ecosystem?
People are finally picking up on the incredible scene we’ve built in Philadelphia, and that’s pretty exciting. Hopefully others will follow suit.
Yuval Yarden (center in black with glasses) is pictured above at the Temple Alumni event at SXSW 2017. From left to right in this photo are Jordan Poole, Yasmine Mustafa, Matt Taylor, Brendan Lowry, Yuval Yarden, Danielle Cohn, Lauren Cox, Andrea Gaudini, and Eliza Stasi.
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.
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