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Innovation Leader Speaker Series – Championing the Dreamers and Storytellers: A conversation with CEO of La Colombe Coffee, Todd Carmichael

October 14, 2019 //

It was Philadelphia that Ben Franklin called home when he tied a key to a kite, flew it during a storm, got struck by lighting and discovered the harnessing power of electricity. Since then, the City of Philadelphia has not only been known as the birthplace of our country but a haven for thinkers, innovators and misfits looking to create the next big thing. Commonly known as the City of Brotherly Love, it was here that Todd Carmichael, founder and CEO of La Colombe Coffee, felt he could live up to his full potential.

Last Friday morning, Todd joined the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute’s Executive Director, Ellen Weber, for a sit down conversation about what it takes to be an innovator, changes in the coffee industry, and the core values he championed when starting La Colombe Coffee. Todd began by explaining how he views innovators, and his belief that “innovation favors the restless and the unhappy.”

When Todd moved to Philadelphia in the 1980’s, he was at the bottom and so was the city. “Everything starts with an urge, and if you’re going to get on the elevator it might as well be at ground zero,” explained Carmichael. He moved into a cheap apartment in Rittenhouse Square, and opened his first La Colombe cafe. When he began, all that he knew was that he wanted to be what his grandfather always taught him to be—a decent person. He wanted to create a decent company.

To his surprise, the first several months were spent explaining to customers—used to drinking regular hot coffee—about lattes, cappuccinos, and the many variations of coffee that can make it such a treat. The La Colombe brand began to grow into the industry staple it is today, and Carmichael noted that its always been clear to him that innovation played a role in continual market shifts—even if they weren’t always thought of as “innovations.” The biggest of them all? What Carmichael referred to as the “ice age” of coffee—the beginning of drinking your coffee cold, now a societal norm. 

In realizing the importance of innovation in the continued success of any large company, Carmichael makes it a priority in La Colombe’s overall business strategy. “In any company, innovators have to be in close proximity to the decision makers,” Carmichael emphasized. He meets with his innovation team twice a week, for at least four hours each time. “If you lessen the importance of the innovation team, they become cost savers, less like dreamers, and your company will get left behind.” 

The Innovation Leader Speaker Series is an on-going series that features breakthrough leaders in innovation from a variety of industries from food and beverage to the medical industry. For more information on additional upcoming events from the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute visit iei.temple.edu or email us at iei@temple.edu