As students at William Tennent High School in Warminster, Dave Silver and Will Toms already were making creative magic together.
It involved Mentos mints and soda — that volatile mix that produces a geyser and has been an internet sensation for years. But Silver and Toms took their chemical-reaction assignment a step further and produced a music video to accompany the eruption.
"We just had so much fun with the process," Toms said. "That's where our friendship bonded."
Now, nearly 10 years later, he and Silver, both 27 and residents of Philadelphia, are business partners, joined in entrepreneurial ambition and their passion for art and video as cofounders of REC Philly, a membership-based incubator for Philadelphia's creatives, often some of the most resources-starved in the start-up world.
REC (Resources for Every Creator) Philly, which has national aspirations, is applying the resources-sharing principles of Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb to the creative community from a renovated window factory on Ninth Street in North Philadelphia, just beyond Temple University's campus.
There, not quite 2,000 square feet on the fourth floor has been reconfigured into studios for musicians, podcasters, photographers, videographers, and dancers, along with coworking lounges and offices. Membership costs $30 or $70 a month, depending on how much access to facilities and experts is desired.
But change is imminent, as Silver and Toms take steps to scale up, now that they've achieved proof of concept. The company of eight part-time employees is planning an Oct. 11 announcement about a major expansion to a 10,000-square-foot facility in Center City. They won't say where, just that they intend to sign a 10-year lease while also keeping their North Philadelphia presence.
Success, they said, will mean reach.
"The exciting part about empowering artists is that the great ones are going to impact other people," Toms said. "… So I would hope that if we're empowering these artists to look at themselves as entrepreneurs, not only are we going to impact that artist but … if they can find some stability in their careers [they can] be role models for other people."
REC Philly's potential has already been recognized. A panel of judges with expertise in young companies has selected it as one of 30 finalists in the Inquirer's third annual Stellar StartUps contest. Winners in all nine categories, along with a grand prize honoree, will be announced Thursday night at a gala and panel discussion on what corporations are doing to help emerging businesses. The event will be held at South Bowl; tickets are available at www.philly.com/stellarstartups.
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"I see such a paradigm in Philadelphia in particular where it's almost like a wall is up," said Silver, REC Philly's CEO. "You look at Philadelphia in one light and there's this abundance of resources, abundance of capital … of success. On the other side of the wall is these people who are so ungodly talented … they lack so much resources."
He sees REC Philly as a way over that wall.
"For me, success is … how large that bridge can be, how many people can we get over that bridge," Silver said.
For Toms, REC Philly's chief creative officer, success will be changing a narrative.
"I really believe that with our model being successful, we will help begin to dismantle that idea of the starving artist … really having people look at art and creative entrepreneurship as a viable economic engine for cities," Toms said.
Whether REC Philly has a viable economic model is yet to be determined. Its annual revenue is $500,000 with about 75 percent from an in-house creative agency that handles, among other things, event curation and talent booking, including for La Colombe's first Friday event series. REC Philly membership, first offered in 2016, has grown to 250, Silver said.
The company's business plan projects $1.5 million to $2.5 million in revenue within two years, based largely on growing membership to 1,000 and making it the primary income producer.
It's a long way from their college days (Silver at Temple as a major in advertising and entrepreneurship; Toms at Indiana University of Pennsylvania majoring in communications and minoring in economics). From putting on successful open mic events in the basement of Silver's fraternity house featuring dozens of local musicians, they moved on to getting artists gigs in bars and other venues, and then expanded their offerings to include media packages.
After college, Silver and Toms held day jobs to pay the bills while growing the venture about which they were most passionate. REC Philly would become a full-time devotion for Toms about 3½ years ago, and for Silver about six months later.
Then came a blow: a failed Kickstarter campaign in the fall of 2015 to raise $50,000 to help support the business. Fortunately, that was soon followed by what Toms called an "epiphany" while he and Silver sat in the dark at a friend's house in South Philadelphia and listened to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.
"What if we present this concept to the community and figure out a way for all creatives to contribute to one pot?" he recalled of what led to the idea of a membership-oriented coworking space offering shared equipment and access to mentors and support services.
Matt Henry, 27, of Grays Ferry, joined in October 2016 and, in less than a year, had the confidence to quit his job as a lead financial analyst at the Vanguard Group to build what is now a photography/videography freelance business. He said he was hooked on what REC Philly had to offer his first time there.
"It was this incredible creative space that I had never seen anything like before," Henry said. "I think the biggest thing REC Philly is, is an inspiration to the creative community in Philadelphia."
Count Karin Copeland among the inspired. Formerly working as an industrial and consumer product designer, Copeland has spent the last seven years as executive director of the Art + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, a post the 56-year-old left in June to "create the second half" of her life.