Sally Guzik’s favorite song is Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black.” But why that’s relevant to her heading one of the region’s newest co-working spaces, CIC Philadelphia, can wait.
There’s a reveal far more important to Philadelphians: The first "C" in CIC is for Cambridge, as in Massachusetts, where they root for the New England Patriots and compete for Philadelphia’s tech and life sciences talent.
Guzik knew how that could be a sensitive topic around here, and trod lightly when she first arrived last April to pitch the kind of “innovation center” — the "I" and "C" in CIC — that she had in mind for what was then just a construction site on Market Street in the heart of University City.
“I talked about the history of Boston and Cambridge while being mindful of not leveraging that to the fullest extent because Philadelphia is a very prideful city, too,” she said laughing. “And not everyone wants to hear, ‘We want this city to be like this other city.' "
Open since November, CIC Philadelphia is now about half-full with 78 companies — memberships start at $300 a person a month. When two more floors open in the fall, it will have capacity for about 500 companies no larger than 100 employees each.
What Guzik wants most, she says, is to create entrepreneurial opportunity for the underrepresented populations outside the glass walls of CIC Philadelphia, a tenant at 3675 Market St., the newest building at uCity Square. That’s why Guzik intends to pretty much always wear black while on the job here.
“The black for me is always making sure that we’re looking at things in terms of equity and inclusion," said Guzik, 30, a first-generation college graduate with blue-collar Pennsylvania roots.
She cited a line from her go-to Cash song, despite the ill-fitting gender: “'Till things are brighter, I’m the man in black.'"
Guzik’s route to Philadelphia began in Turtle Creek, a small Pennsylvania borough just outside Pittsburgh where Westinghouse Electric was a major employer. Guzik’s grandfathers were part of its payroll. In that hard-working community, she said, residents “don’t have a lot of access to resources, to education or health care, addiction is pretty prevalent — and violence and abuse.”
After attending what is now Chatham University, where Guzik majored in women’s studies and Latin American history, she would go on to work as a doula, a translator for women who did not speak English, an aid to teen mothers, a manager of partnerships and outreach for an urban forestry nonprofit, and a volunteer with Teach for America in Houston.
Then she and her husband, T.C. Jones, a writer, headed to Miami, where Guzik pursued a master’s degree in global strategic communications at Florida International University and, concurrently, helped launch CIC Miami in 2016. At the time, CIC, founded in 1999 by entrepreneur Tim Rowe, was in only two other cities outside Massachusetts: St. Louis and Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Philadelphia would become its sixth campus — super-appealing to Guzik, who wanted to move closer to family still around Pittsburgh and to try something new. She pitched a position that didn’t exist at any of the other CIC locations, something she recounted during a recent interview at the Market Street location, which was developed by the University City Science Center (also a tenant), Wexford Science & Technology, and Ventas.
“I think we need someone who really focuses on community engagement and relationship building at least six months before we even open a center,” she told her bosses.
She got her wish -- Guzik was sent north as CIC Philadelphia’s first senior community engagement lead.
CIC includes a wet lab provided with partner BioLabs. There are also venture capital firms and another Guzik-driven CIC first: a social impact cohort of nonprofits housed for free. A Venture Café, operated by the Science Center but within CIC space, provides a weekly mini-conference open to the community at large.
Earlier this month, Guzik was promoted, becoming the youngest CIC site director.
Dynamic. Excited. Passionate.
That’s how Guzik was described by Kim Carter, vice president of strategic partnerships at the Enterprise Center, a West Philadelphia nonprofit providing business training and access to capital to entrepreneurs, many of whom are minorities.
“A refreshing change” Carter said of Guzik’s listening tour when she first got to town. She visited the Enterprise Center’s commercial kitchen, sampling products.
Four months later, CIC paid $10,000 for five of the Enterprise Center’s food entrepreneurs to participate in its launch party, Carter said, emphasizing the valuable opportunity “to showcase in front of a whole, completely different crowd of people — tech-oriented. Our entrepreneurs don’t typically have access to that.”
Coded by Kids is a five-year-old nonprofit that provides coding classes to kids ages 8 to 18 in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware. It is now also one of Guzik’s social impact agencies at CIC Philadelphia, which is sponsoring an internship program for Coded students to work on websites for local businesses and nonprofits, said Danae Mobley, Coded’s chief marketing officer.
“I think she actually has a vested interest in making the city better," Mobley said of Guzik.
As for when the woman in black might start wearing other colors, Guzik said not soon.
“I always want to be the person that reminds people of those things we need to be working on to be better.”