4 Philadelphia Innovators on Work, Life and What's Next

Antonia DePace and Kristin Detterline | April 15, 2021 | People

The next wave of innovators has arrived, bringing a flood of fresh energy to Philadelphia.
Kimberly McGlonn Founder and Brand Director, Grant Blvd PHOTO BY ANDREW ANTWI AND AMANDA NEAGLE
Kimberly McGlonn Founder and Brand Director, Grant Blvd

The Designer
Think sustainable clothing can’t be sexy? Kimberly McGlonn’s Grant Blvd (grantblvd.com) label invites you to think again. Her 3-year-old Philadelphia-based fashion startup has earned national attention for its forward-thinking aesthetic and recently received a coveted $10,000 grant from the BeyGOOD Small Business Impact Fund, through Beyoncé’s foundation. “We want to help people curate a new kind of closet,” says the former English teacher, who holds a Ph.D. in education. “Sustainable fashion can be romantic, playful, edgy and bold.” It can also spark important conversations. Grant Blvd’s reclaimed screen-print tees champion social justice causes with messages like “Books, Not Bars” and “End Cash Bail” while upcoming collections celebrate Juneteenth and contemplate America’s history with cotton plantations. And those are the dialogues that McGlonn, who oversees an all-female team of seven makers who work from deadstock sourced within 30 minutes of the city, not only wants to have with fans of the brand but citizens of the world, starting right within her West Philly boutique. “This neighborhood is the most ripe for the conversations I want to have. It’s richly diverse—there are wealthy and incredibly poor people, Jewish and Black people and so many other ethnicities. This is where we can talk about an intersection of values around social justice and climate.”

What’s the mission behind Grant Blvd?
We are a Philadelphia-based manufacturing startup on a mission to construct stylish, sustainably sourced fashion, while not only reducing recidivism but also supporting women who were formerly incarcerated or have experienced homelessness, in leading self-sufficient lives by partnering with local nonprofits and government agencies to create fair wage employment opportunities.

What is your background in fashion?
My background is education, but my intuitive skill set is design. Fashion is about telling stories and performing. As a teacher, I would wear a costume every day. So I think about the story Grant Blvd wants to tell and how do we tell that story with a zero-waste design direction. I’m not a classically trained fashion designer, so I’m not married to traditional constructs around the industry.

What’s ahead in 2021?
We are looking to double the size of our studio, which is also based in Philadelphia. We will be growing the team in international ways and working on new partnerships with Philly’s work release program. We are also working on some brand partnerships with other companies that want to do better.

The Connectors

David Silver & William Toms Founders, REC Philly PHOTO BY JOLEAH LARKE, @JOLEAHLARKE
David Silver & William Toms Founders, REC Philly

In December 2019, David Silver and William Toms (recphilly.com) opened the doors to REC Philly’s new 10,000-square-foot flagship location inside Fashion District Philadelphia. Started in 2015, their creative agency and incubator for local artists had outgrown its original home inside a fourth-floor warehouse in North Philly. Finally, after a year and a half of fundraising and construction, they were ready to begin a new chapter for their first-of-its-kind startup, one that included moving into other markets. While the pandemic dashed any programming plans for the new hub last year, Silver and Toms, who met in high school, doubled down on digital. “We are launching REC U in April,” says Silver. “It’s a new digital-only membership tier that we are offering to not just Philadelphians but people around the country who want resources and a community but don’t have access to a space. This was a whole new opportunity and a real transitional moment to launch nationwide.” Toms goes on to explain that this will help them identify which cities are ready for an outpost of REC. “We can see which communities are most in need and take that data and go to those communities and, over 12 to 18 months of construction, have a new facility in that market.” This sweeping move into digital memberships has greatly accelerated their plans to expand over the next decade. Says Toms, “We want to be in 50 cities across the globe serving 1 million creators in the next 10 years.”

Sum up what REC Philly does in a few words.
DS: Our incubator is like a gym membership for creatives. We offer access to a number of things, like recording studios, podcasting studios, photo and video studios, and coworking spaces. Our members need strategy and support to make a sustainable living.

Tell us about the charitable programs you launched during the pandemic.
WT: Black and brown-skinned folks were disproportionately affected by COVID. For our creatives, their livelihoods are made on the road, so all that revenue went away overnight. Then the uprisings in the community took place. We challenged those in our network to support creatives in their time of need through programs like REC Relief and Black Music City, a partnership with WXPN. We raised $100,000 in resources and capital.

Last December you were named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. How has that impacted REC Philly?
DS: It was a real honor to be named to the Forbes list at the end of a very challenging year. That pushed us into 2021 on a high note, as we move into our next round of fundraising to open up our next round of cities.

The Entrepreneur

Christine Krzyzanowski Co-Founder, PLLAY PHOTO BY NELL HOVING
Christine Krzyzanowski, Co-Founder

Christine Krzyzanowski was never a gamer. In fact, she was a NYC marketing mogul working for the likes of Ralph Lauren Global, among other big names. It wasn’t until 2018 that this all changed. It was then that she found a gap in the gaming industry, together with Shawn Gunn. Combining his knowledge of artificial intelligence and gaming with her marketing expertise, they founded PLLAY (pllay.me), a skill-based video game wagering platform that allows gamers to play head-to-head and compete. Currently, it’s available in the Apple Store—with Android not too far behind—and counts the likes of Travis Scott and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards as fans and supporters. “We were able to use artificial intelligence and learning technologies to analyze player behavior,” Krzyzanowski says. “Because of this, we solved the problem of welching because our technology can figure out who won or lost the match within a nanosecond.” The winner takes home 100% of the proceeds. Although founded three years ago, Krzyzanowski didn’t begin aggressively marketing until about a year ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court passed the U.S. federal gaming laws, which allowed gamers playing head-to-head to wager money against one another. No chance, no Russian roulette—game on.

Why Philadelphia?
All of our angel investors, I would say 99%, are from the Northeast. More specifically, from this area. We really felt that this was a place that had a lot of talent. We also really wanted to bring something cool in this realm to the area, because we did feel like the West Coast is very saturated. We do have a West Coast branch, but the hub is here.

What is it like being a female entrepreneur in this space?
I always say it’s a blessing and a curse, but I think it’s more of a blessing. I always tell women that if you’re in a male-dominated industry, at the end of the day, you are now one of the few—meaning all eyes are on you, meaning you have the opportunity to make a big statement. And you have the opportunity to really show what you’re made of and what you can do. Will you have to overcome some extra hurdles? Of course. But I think everybody has to endure hurdles. But if you have your head on right, you really have something to deliver, you’re prepared and you come to the table correctly, you have a huge opportunity that men don’t even have.

Photography by: Andrew Antwi and Amanda Neagle; Joleah Larke; Nell Hoving