Kiera Smalls knows about startups. The 28-year-old West Philadelphia native is the new Executive Director of Philly Startup Leaders. In her spare time, she runs City Fit Girls, a women’s wellness community she co-founded with her best friend. We talked to Kiera about her new role and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur (hint: a whole lot of passion).
What is the mission of Philly Startup Leaders?
Our Mission is to help current and future founders succeed in Philadelphia and beyond. A lot of our programming and events are centered around, ‘How do we continue to keep this ecosystem thriving? How do we continue to provide opportunities for new founders?’ We want to keep people engaged and happy and make this a community where we can lean on each other to grow and thrive.
Can you talk about an upcoming event you’re excited about?
I’m super excited about our Entrepreneur Expo, on Tuesday, May 1, during Philly Tech Week. We are hosting the event at the Franklin Institute, which I’m really excited about! You can check out the Heart and check out all these startups and companies doing great work in the city. It’s going to be a lot of people, a lot of information sharing, a lot of best practices, and it includes 100 tables for startups and entrepreneurs to share their work and resources.
What’s a cool resource for emerging startups?
Our Accelerator program is really great. It’s for new startups and they go through a 12-week program; we cover topics regarding business development, organizational development, funding, legal matters. We give entrepreneurs the tools to grow. It’s a successful program that continues to evolve.
How has your prior experience prepared you for this role?
I have a passion for community building. I have a passion for connecting ideas and groups to resources and building strategic partnerships to make sure that work gets done.
For the past five years I’ve been building City Fit Girls, a network for women interested in fitness and leading a healthy lifestyle. I’ve built that company from a few of our friends to thousands of women in Philly and beyond.
Most recently I was overseeing the marketing and partnerships for Indego bike share — that’s a public-private partnership owned by The City of Philadelphia.
I was working for the startup behind it called Bicycle Transit Systems, where we were responsible for building and maintaining the system for the City. I was the second employee, and when I left we had 113 employers, so that experience of building a startup and scaling … a lot of that work lead me to Philly Startup Leaders.
Are you a Philly native?
I am. Born and raised in West Philly. And then I went to West Chester University for school. I graduated and said, ‘I can’t go back to West Philly, that’s all I know.’ I lived in Germantown for a little bit and now I’m in North Philly, near Broad and Girard, and I absolutely love it.
Is there a particular character trait that has helped you in your career?
One quality is emotional intelligence. I pride myself on meeting people where they are. I believe there is no one way to approach relationships or solutions. I pride myself on thinking really critically about decisions. ‘Who’s not at the table that should be? How does this decision impact our communities? Who else needs to be considered?’
Emotional intelligence has helped me a lot in my relationship building and maintenance.
Looking back, what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
I would tell myself that you are very capable of doing anything you set your mind to. Your environment and your circumstance does not have to dictate your future, and if anything, you can learn from it and grow from it. Be proud of where you come from and where you’ve been, and know where you want to go.
What’s your favorite thing about Philly?
This city takes pride in who it is, despite what other people think it is or what it should be. Sure, we can be on some list, at the bottom, but who cares? We’re doing great work, we’re making improvements, we’re thinking critically about the best way to move the city forward. Whether I’m going through West Philly or I’m going through Old City, I just get such as sense of history and pride … I feel Philly is as real as it gets.