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Think Company: With Russ Starke at the helm, clients are involved in thinking differently...


The GPLEX team sat down with alumni Russ Starke, founder of Think Company, to pick his brain on leadership and cross-sector collaboration.



GPLEX: Your company offers a unique approach to service design. What is your philosophy?


RS: Our overarching philosophy is that at the heart of all great strategy and design (digital and otherwise) is empathy, respect, and the desire to move something toward its ideal state—ultimately making the world a better place, even if just for a small subset of people. Holding true to this in our process and decision-making is what results in optimal experiences for employees, customers, patients and humans in general.

GPLEX: How do you see your work adding to the cross-sector approach to the improvement of our region?


RS: We’re very intentional about not just “doing the work” for people but educating them in the process—"teaching them to fish” if you will. As a result, they learn to appreciate and internalize how and why we do what we do, see how people on the receiving end of our solutions benefit, and how in turn they and their organizations benefit as well. We’ve done (and are doing) this for the largest companies in our region and beyond, and we’ve also done it for many non-profits and other folks on the front lines making a difference against the biggest challenges facing our region.


Furthermore, we operate in a very technology agnostic way—we’re not trying to sell specific products or platforms; we’re focused on what is truly best, easiest and most intuitive for all the people in the extended ecosystem. So, our methodology is very transferrable across verticals and sectors. The more folks that experience and adopt this very human-centric, considered and proven approach… over time as they move around to different organizations and more and more folks get clued in, it can become a bit of a movement across sectors.

GPLEX: If you were to give a keynote about your work, what would you present as the major takeaway?

RS: Throughout history, those in decision-making positions have felt a certain pressure to know everything, make decisions in the moment, and rely on their gut and intuition when doing so. The problem there is that operating that way is rife with ego, personal preference, and confirmation bias. These things are not necessarily “bad”; they’re present in all humans no matter who we are. But the data clearly shows that creating solutions based on the objective wants, needs, pain points and workflows of our target audiences (i.e. not what we want them to be, expect them to be, or what we want for ourselves) is the straightest path to transformational success. It sounds like common sense, but it is amazing how often this is received as a novel concept—but maybe that’s not so surprising; in situations of great stress, what often goes out the window first? Common sense.

GPLEX: What is one of your best GPLEX memories?

RS: I have a bunch of them! Well, the most obvious might be the dine-arounds, because that’s a concept I’ve “borrowed” for our own biannual events—they’re brilliant for really creating strong interpersonal connections. I remember sitting with Peter Blau, Soibhán Lyons, and Danielle DiLeo Kim having an awesome (Heated? Ha!) conversation about our first concerts, my go-to ice breaker. That was several years ago and I still remember it like yesterday. And then doing the same thing a couple years later with Stephen Bradley and Guy Generals (their answers are jaw-droppers, they’re as cool as they come).

Of course I have strong and impactful memories of the site explorations around Philly (the Waste Management recycling plant, Triple Bottom Brewing,  etc.), and even the year GPLEX went remote and after the event our group spun-off and met a bunch of times to keep the conversation going and brainstorm solutions (including the inimitable Jocelyn Jones Arnold, Tiffany Newmuis and Diana Lu). 


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Kimberly McGlonn: House of Fashion/Power House 

Dr. Kimberly McGlonn is a social justice and human rights activist, entrepreneur, and GPLEX alum who leverages sustainable fashion to support marginalized communities in Philadelphia. Raised in Milwaukee by activist parents who dedicated themselves to improving the lives of Black Americans, Kimberly's upbringing instilled in her a deep commitment to generosity and service. She spent 18 years teaching about marginalization and colonialism in the classroom before founding Grant Blvd in 2017 while serving as a councilwoman in Montgomery County.
Grant Blvd is a sustainable clothing company with a steadfast mission to transform the fashion industry. Kimberly's business is a leader in social justice, demonstrating eco-consciousness by purchasing locally and using upcycled fabrics. Additionally, Grant Blvd partners with local re-entry organizations to hire people transitioning after incarceration and donates a portion of proceeds to like-minded organizations such as Books Through Bars.

Kimberly also recently opened a vintage clothing store dedicated to Black liberation movements from 1954-1972, highlighting the powerful connection between fashion and activism. The shop, Blk Ivy, is in University City at 3605 Lancaster Ave, the original home of Grant Blvd. Meanwhile, Grant Blvd has relocated to the University of Pennsylvania campus at 140 S 34th St, offering more menswear options and nearly doubling its current offerings.

"When people come to visit [Blk Ivy], they're going to see vintage garments that are archival to the Civil Rights era; I'm tracking it from 1954 to 1972. You will see thrift garments that are in that same aesthetic, so there's fabric like corduroy, leather, solid colors, and denim." Kimberly shared with Radio Kismet host Chris Plant at the GPLEX podcast launch event.

Grant Blvd has grown tremendously since its founding, with multiple original collections released using a tiered sustainability model. Kimberly's work has gained recognition from high-profile figures such as Beyonce, who granted the business $10,000 in 2022. Kimberly believes businesses like Grant Blvd will only continue to expand as consumers become more aware of the detrimental effects of fast fashion. As a pioneer in Philly's sustainable fashion industry, Kimberly continues to inspire and blaze the trail for other climate-conscious entrepreneurs.

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