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Scaling Up Philadelphia helps underrepresented founders take their companies to new heights

By Verne Harnish

Karla Trotman, CEO of Electro Soft, was determined to put the second-generation family business in Montgomeryville, Pa. on the fast track when she joined Scaling Up Philadelphia, a program to help local founders put the systems in place to scale. The contract manufacturing firm was one of seven companies that completed the first, six-month cohort of the program in April, under the guidance of Scaling Up Certified Coach Cheryl Beth Kuchler.

Trotman’s father, Jim Wallace, now retired, and mother Sheila Wallace had founded the company in 1986 and run it as a lifestyle business. In Scaling Up Philadelphia, Trotman and her leadership team completed the One-Page Strategic Plan for the company, developed Core Values, put into place meeting rhythms and began using Greg Crabtree’s Simple Numbers to improve the company’s cash flow. This year, the 32-person company’s revenue is on pace to hit $4.3 million, up from $3 million, its typical revenue.

“I realized I wasn’t dreaming big enough for the business,” says Trotman. “I had gone to a conference and saw other companies way bigger than mine and realized we were doing the same work but I wasn’t capitalizing on the opportunities. That motivated me to want to grow this business bigger than I had ever thought.

The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia partnered with Kuchler’s firm CEO Think Tank on the program, raising about $70,000 to fund it. Participating companies took part in two coaching calls per month. CEOs were required to bring someone else on their team to hold them accountable. 

Cohort 2 will start in September. Kuchler and her partners are looking to expand the program to 100 companies over the next five years, which will become the Philadelphia Anchors For Growth (PAGE) 100. The idea is to create businesses with the capacity to serve institutional anchor clients. “All of this comes back to ‘How do we build a more robust city and how do we build a more robust infrastructure in the greater Philadelphia area?'” says Kuchler. 

One focus for Kuchler is helping businesses run by women and black and brown entrepreneurs get access to the tools needed to scale up. Three of the seven companies that completed the program in April were woman-owned and six were African-American-owned businesses. 

“We’re creating a group of diverse companies that are growing, profitable and valuable and building intergenerational wealth among entrepreneurs,” says Kuchler. 

For Trotman that mindset was a powerful draw to the program. She knew that many minority-owned businesses could not tap traditionally recommended routes to funding, like a friends-and-family round, because their families were not able to accumulate as much wealth as they might have, due to historic factors such as slavery and systemic barriers. “The things we were taught to do in school don’t always apply,” she says.

Kuchler, an engineer by training, spent her early career working in manufacturing. In 1996, she started her consultancy, working with big companies such as J&J and GE. By 2001, she began coaching small companies, with her first client a $48 million distribution company. 

She launched the first cohort of Scaling Up Philadelphia in early 2023. In addition to Electro Soft, companies that completed the program include Alpha Transports, a freight shipping and trucking company, and the Greater Knead, a gluten-free bagel company. All of the participating companies had at least $1 million in annual revenue and up to $5 million.

Kuchler has focused her attention on helping companies master the 4 Decisions every company must get right: People, Strategy, Execution and Cash, with a focus on strategy and putting fiscal management systems in place. One key step has been creating One-Page Strategic Plans with the companies. 

“It’s been a tremendous amount of work since April of ’20 when we first started the initial meetings to address the lack of access that black, brown and woman-owned businesses have to the right business knowledge and systems as well as capital for growth–but extremely rewarding watching these seven companies grow and learn,” says Kuchler. 

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.