We sat down with Philly entrepreneur and EVA Facilitator Rudy J. Ellis to talk about the program, his experience, and why he wanted to get involved helping founders with the Early Validation Academy.
Name: Rudy J. Ellis
Startup: Switchboard Live
Time as an Entrepreneur: 20 years
Connection to 1Philadelphia: EVA Facilitator and 1PHL Advisory Council Member
Hobby: losing to my son in a game of Madden
Can you tell us about your experience and history as an entrepreneur?
RE: I've come to the realization that I’ve been an entrepreneur for close to 20 years! I’ve always had a “hustle” on the side of my 9-5. I had a web design/web hosting consultancy as well as an IT support business for small businesses. I am a tinker and love to learn about new technology and how best to utilize it for efficiency.
Before I became an “entrepreneur” I used to work in the video game industry; yes I was in the game and was a producer on the video game John Madden Football, along with a few other video game titles.
How are you involved in the Philly tech community?
RE: When I moved back to the Philadelphia area, my first introduction to the Philly tech community was through Philadelphia Startup Leaders (PSL). That was a great way for me to connect with the community and the ecosystem and I actually had the opportunity to join their board in 2018.
In 2022 I was invited to join the board of PACT (Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technology) and that's a great organization that's really focused on providing programming like the Capital Conference and the Enterprise Awards.
And lastly, getting involved with 1Philadelphia - I joined the Advisory Council last year which was totally new to me, was a part of the Pitch Competition as a judge during last year's Innovation Weekend, and now being involved with the Early Validation Academy.
Why do you think 1Philadelphia is important to our city?
RE: The thing that attracted me to 1Philadelphia is the model, the core mission of really building an equitable and inclusive tech ecosystem. That resonates with me being an African American male and first time founder. It is also necessary for other future founders to be able to believe that they can take the step and become an entrepreneur.
Being a part of 1Philadelphia has allowed me to connect with other entrepreneurs in the city too, to shine a light on what they are doing as well as provide insight, feedback, and nuggets of information that could help them succeed in their journey. 1Philadelphia definitely embodies that concept, which I firmly believe in.
What is the Early Validation Academy?
RE: The Early Validation Academy is a structured framework that will help first time founders and entrepreneurs to fully validate their idea before they go and design it, write a line of code, or raise any capital.
Everyone can come up with a good idea. But the process of truly validating if that idea has legs, if it makes sense, if people are willing to pay for it - there's actually steps and things that need to happen.
Why did you want to get involved in the program?
RE: The reason I got involved with EVA is that when I was a first time entrepreneur there really wasn't a centralized location for me to get questions answered or learn about the process of taking an idea that I had and seeing it all the way through. So I spent a ton of time in the beginning doing my own due diligence - reading a tons of blog posts, attending meetups, attending founder speaker series, just to learn and get a better understanding of what it took to get to that next level.
I firmly believe that you have two resources when you're an entrepreneur, one is time, one is money. you can't get back time. So if I am able to provide any insight, any tidbits of knowledge or wisdom early on, so that a founder can learn from my experience to help them overcome a challenge, what better way to do that than through the Early Validation Academy.
Why is the program important?
RE: The Early Validation Academy is super important because there are key things that are necessary when starting a business and validating an idea. You have a certain amount of resources, time, and capital and our goal is really to put those aside and allow you to focus on validating if your idea makes sense without any emotion.
Everyone has good ideas. They go to their family members and pitch them on the concept and of course, they're going to tell them that it's a good idea. But that's not what you want - you want your idea challenged, you want data driven decisions to validate that people will pay for this product or service. The framework that we've instituted with EVA is doing just that.
And honestly, I think it's a unique opportunity because you're getting a VC (venture capital) perspective with Sylvester (Mobley), and then you also have the opportunity to hear my take and an insight from a founder's perspective. I really think we're onto something special here and that's why the program is super important.
What has been your process developing the program?
RE: One of the things that I think it's super interesting with EVA is we are practicing what we preach. When we started planning earlier this year, we mapped out programming, we mapped out sessions, we mapped out what we thought we wanted to talk about. Through the interaction with founders and the weekly sessions, we've iterated and gone back and updated the content. By using the feedback from the founders in the program, we are able to update what's coming up the next week or the next session.
What is your impression of the founders so far?
RE: I am impressed by the passion and dedication that these folks are putting into the program. They want to better themselves as founders as well as better their business by learning from the facilitators within the program. It's interesting to see the different ideas, different concepts and the willingness to learn the across the board. I'm excited to see what happens at the end through Innovation Weekend.
What do you hope the founders get out of the program?
RE: I hope the founders are able to walk away with a clear data-driven decision. Whether their idea makes sense for them to pursue or whether they should maybe change the way they're thinking about it.
We want this program to be valuable, we want this program to be worth their time and we also want them to become raving fans of what we're doing - putting the emotion aside and putting an idea or product through a framework to make sure that it does make sense. I really hope that founders believe in that and are able to see that for themselves at the end of the program.
The Early Validation Academy is a program that aims to support underrepresented tech founders in identifying and validating their core problem and preparing them for the next stage; building an MVP. This initiative is supported by a cohort of program partners, including Plain Sight Capital, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Comcast Lift Labs.