With days jammed packed with team strategy or reporting sessions, research for a new entrepreneurs resource center + accelerator and meetings with a diverse range of startup entrepreneurs and evenings filled with startup events, and/or dinners with entrepreneurs, it is no wonder that Danielle Cohn, Comcast's first director of entrepreneurial engagement starts her day with yoga and a reflective walk from her to condo in Old City to the Comcast Center. Innovation after all, needs reflection as well as strategy and connections (something Danielle is deeply in tune with).
Most weeks, in addition to spending time in Philadelphia where Comcast NBCUniversal is headquartered, Danielle travels to numerous cities to mentor startups around everything from storytelling to marketing to partnering with big organizations (like Comcast NBCUniversal). Then there internal meetings: Danielle advocates an entrepreneurial mindset with Comcast, working closely with business leads to find new areas to partner with startups around innovation and problem solving.
In the midst of all she has going on, Danielle carved some time to sit down with me during a break between stops on the Tomorrow Tour (I had the pleasure of participating in five of the six city events on the inaugural tour) to discuss advancing entrepreneurship in a 50-year old company and why she left an established marketing role to take on this career challenge.
Why this particular role as a way to advance entrepreneurship?
I believe Comcast NBCUniversal has the ability to amplify startup stories maybe more than any other company in the world. My passion for this role comes from the company's mission to innovate everything we do. On a daily basis for me that means helping startups across the world tell their stories to a wider audience and helping them connect more easily with the company. The next important inventions can come from anywhere; any neighborhood, background, gender, age. If we can inspire others to share their startup stories, uncover and connect more startup DNA, and access more resources in cities and across cities, we can help turn more ideas into businesses that will create jobs, economic activities, and life-changing innovations.
What were you doing before (and what attracted you to this new opportunity)?
Comcast NBCUniversal created this new role about a year and a half ago and recruited me from the Philadelphia Convention + Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) where I marketed Philadelphia around the globe for more than 15 years. This exciting challenge at Comcast NBCUniversal tapped a passion of wanting to promote Philadelphia as a great place to live and work, and to see more startups succeed in Philadelphia by creating easier paths for connecting with Comcast to collaborate, innovate, and grow together.
How did what you were doing before equip you for the role you're in now?
Besides funding, startups are always looking for mentors, connectors, and resources such as marketing and communications. During my time at PHLCVB, I was also studying startup culture everywhere I'd travel. I also started a health tech startup, and volunteered to help the Philadelphia startup community to amplify its voice through Startup PHL and Philly Startup Leaders. One of my first jobs was working at an ad agency that handled a lot of startup accounts (those were always my favorite clients).
A year or so on the job, what have been the lessons?
Externally, as an ambassador for startups, the number one lesson for me has been to show up, listen, be present, and stay authentic. Startups appreciate honest feedback, mentor networks and expertise - across cities and companies. The Comcast team (there are three of us) helps provide important feedback and connects startups with business leads where we see a good fit.
Internally, in a company of Comcast's size, it's been critical to build a coalition of business leads willing to take the time to mentor, try innovative solutions, and work with startups. As a result, we have a newly formed, and very active internal Startup Council.
You're based in Philadelphia, what excites you about the Philadelphia startup eco-system?
Philadelphia is home. I continue to be inspired by friends and peers building new businesses here. They are the ones shaping Philadelphia, through real estate development or innovation companies, pushing for education transformation, and becoming more and more influential citizens of Philadelphia. Each day, it reminds me of the days of Ben Franklin and the Junto -- in the original startup city -- creating a place for mutual improvement and business idea exchange.
Your role has you on the road a lot - from SXSW to Denver to Atlanta...what are you seeing?
Over the years, travel has certainly opened my eyes and mind to many things, with a vast network to get things done anywhere. I've seen that the American Dream is alive. There is a thirst for entrepreneurship in everyone - of all ages and backgrounds- fueled by necessity, opportunity, technology, media (shows like Shark Tank and Power Pitch), and the desire of more and more people to have freedom to do what they want in their work and life. Comcast's recent Tomorrow Tour demonstrated there is great diversity in startup communities in cities across America. While each city is so different in terms of diversity, geography, neighborhoods, there are so many similarities. One day, it would be great to see more startups and cities finding ways to work together across cities and countries for greater outcomes.
You partner frequently with local organizations / startups (Technical.ly and Women In Tech Summit being two examples). Any suggestions on what makes for successful partnerships?
A great partnership is the result of three things: unified vision, transparency and trust. You need to know where your partners excel and let them have the freedom to do that work. It's key to bring in detailed professional support to dot the i's, so creatives stay focused on producing engaging programs and excellent content. It's important to celebrate successes, share credit across the team, and reflect on the things that need improvement, while making adjustments along the way. We chose to work with the startup Technical.ly on the Tomorrow Tour because our teams had collaborated so well together on Philly Tech Week. We also both had skin in the game, and shared a vision for telling diverse startup stories. We selected Tweed Video to help document the Tomorrow Tour stories because they, too, shared the same passion for this work.