Does Philly’s Tech Community Want Nutter Back?
Technical.ly Philly hosted its annual Super Meetup on Wednesday, and about 1,000 attendees packed themselves between the brick columns at The Shambles at Headhouse Square.
Technical.ly reporter Roberto Torres is certain that the large crowd is a sign of Philly’s ever-growing tech and entrepreneurial scene that has more companies, more employees, more clients, and more connections than ever before.
With the large crowd came infinite chatter about how Philadelphia’s role as a hub for entrepreneurs and technological advancement is growing and changing. BizPhilly took the opportunity to eavesdrop and ask some questions of our own. We asked attendees: “Is Philadelphia relevant?” “Will Philadelphia be relevant in five years?” and “What does Philadelphia need to start doing?”
We spoke to attendees from all sectors of the local tech and business world, from two new entrepreneurs who just launched a business in Philly to Bloomberg representatives scouting the crowd for talent. Here’s what they had to say:
Keith Gregory: Senior Software Engineer at Stitch Data
Is Philadelphia relevant as a tech hub?
Yeah, I came here from Boston 14 years ago now, and I’ve been able to find interesting places to work ever since. I think it’s very relevant as a tech hub. Most recently, before Stitch, I was at Chariot Solutions, which is a local consulting firm. Before that I was at Navteq, the Traffic.com operation NavTech, which came out of Philly and basically introduced automated traffic reporting models, which is pretty cool stuff.
Do you think Philly will be relevant in five years?
I certainly hope so.
What is something Philly needs to start doing?
In one of our conference rooms is a photo from the 1970s of a billboard that says Philadelphia isn’t as bad as Philadelphians say it is. That’s basically it. We need to simply get the word out that there is interesting technology happening here.
I think that growing a tech scene is a very slow process. It’s an organic process in which people find interest in companies to work out of Philly, then move onto other interesting companies or found their own companies.
Tom Whelley: Community Manager at Make Offices
Is Philly relevant?
Absolutely. Look where we are right now. This place is packed with people. There are meetups and events 10 nights a week. There are too many things to even go to at one time. This place is absolutely growing and a huge hub for startups, entrepreneurs and all things tech.
Is Philly going to be relevant in five years?
Absolutely. Probably even moreso.
What’s something Philly needs to start doing?
I think the local government needs to be more involved in the startup community. I know the Mayor’s Office did just create a position for dealing with startups and dealing with tech, and I’d like to see that office grow. A lot of other cities do a lot better of a job courting the startup community and helping them grow. I think with tax credits and things coming out of the mayor’s office and statewide as well, I think that will definitely create a friendlier environment for this kind of work.
Kaitlin Cleary, Lauren Moreno: Co-founders at Team 624 Communications
Is Philadelphia relevant?
Kaitlin: In short, yes. We’re becoming more and more relevant, especially with lots of great press lately about all sorts of small business, people who have decided to do their own thing completely. I live in Fishtown, and just today, there was a mention of Philly Style Bagels, which is this one guy who decided to start a bagel shop. And it was in Bon Appétit magazine today as the best sandwich in America. Philly seems to be getting more and more friendly to entrepreneurs, especially in certain pockets of the city, Fishtown especially.
What is something Philly needs to start doing to grow and strengthen the scene?
Kaitlin: I think Mayor Nutter was a huge advocate for the tech scene in Philly, and I just hope that the new mayor has the same kind of attitude and embraces the tech and startup and entrepreneur community the way that Mayor Nutter did, because I think that’s really what it takes, someone elevating it and making it a priority.
Lauren: Starting a business can be very challenging here. We’re in the very beginning stages of ours, but my boyfriend started The Dapper Dog a few years back and there was tons of red tape just to get his business set up and running efficiently. I think the city has old systems in place that they can really update and streamline so that it is easier and friendlier to small business owners.
Community is really important to us. As Philadelphia residents, we really want to be a business that is based in Philadelphia, that is a part of a neighborhood and a part of a community and grow that way, rather than putting our effort into big marketing budgets. We’d like to really connect with people on a one-to-one level and grow our business that way.
Rob Thomas and Aaron Able: Financial Representative at Independence Planning Group and Senior H.R. Business Partner at Tronox Alkali Chemical
Is Philadelphia relevant? Is this a place where people want to be?
Rob: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s relevant yet. I think it’s becoming relevant. There’s a lot of saturation in markets like New York and San Francisco. I think because there’s a growing opportunity here, and the city is blooming, real estate is coming up. Because of that I’d say, yes, its on its way. So in terms of relevance, it’s not quite there yet, it’s close.
Aaaron: I would echo many of those points. I think we’ve got old, established traditional sectors here — healthcare, law — but as Philadelphia attracts more and more millennials, this just keeps exploding, tech and entrepreneurship here.
So where do you see Philly in 5 years then?
Rob: The [city’s] already so dominant when it comes to healthcare with UPenn because they’re building so much real estate in that area, essentially the next Center City just in that part of town. When I say healthcare, I don’t mean direct physical healthcare, but innovation, biotech, I think it’s going to be a big player in that area.
Aaaron: I haven’t been here long enough to say much about this, but I will say that there’s a great migration here and Philadelphia is very inclusive, very open to outsiders like myself. So I think that sense of community that Philadelphia provides is definitely important.
What’s something Philly needs to start doing?
Rob: That’s a tough question. Realistically, you have to think about cost of living, which is why I ended up coming here. New York is so expensive and D.C. is so expensive. So to find that happy medium in the Northeast, I think Philadelphia makes a lot of sense. The problem is you have to make it appetizing to come here. New York is New York — one of the biggest, greatest cities in the world. So to compete with that, you have to have a lot of the same amenities and lower costs. Philly is definitely close there. There are some things that need to happen in terms of real estate and in the general community sense. So if [Philly] can do that, then Philly can certainly be there.
Aaron: I think that proximity to D.C. and N.Y. really plays a part. You can go and meet investors in N.Y. or D.C. and pitch an idea. It’s much more accessible here than it would be in the Midwest. Like in a Chicago, you have the coast. It’s much more attainable to make those connections here.
Ashley Bernard: Project Coordinator at Delphic Digital
Is Philly relevant?
I think it’s extremely relevant, and not just because we are having more articles written about the Philly tech area, but I think in terms of cost of living, it’s a really enticing place for entrepreneurs to make connections at a very deep level relatively quickly. It’s generally an easier market to break into than San Francisco or New York. There are also a lot of established institutions. Penn has their Pennovation Center and Mentor Tech Ventures, for example. A lot of people are realizing that there’s great tech coming out of Philly.
Will Philly be relevant in the next few years?
I definitely think Philly will still be relevant in five years. I was raised in Philly, went to Philly public schools, George Washington High School in the Northeast Philly, and then I was really lucky to then go to Penn. But right now I think it’s really upsetting to see a lot of development dollars going towards “How are we going to attract millennials?” The fact of the matter is once [millennials] hit their early 30s, they start getting married, they start having families, they’re peacing out to the suburbs and they’re commuting in because our schools aren’t up to par. And I think that is going to be an issue for us. Urban development is so related to tech.
What does Philly need to start doing?
In terms of education and accessibility, Philly really needs to make it a priority at the governmental level if we are going to be this tech hub. And we can’t just depend on charter schools and the lottery system. You have to really keep in mind the digital divide. As Philly gets more known in the tech world, you have to “mind the gap.” You can’t have more and more development, innovation and amazing businesses coming into Philly, but at the same time give them massive tax breaks that are contributing to Philadelphia’s tech ecosystem economy.
It’s not just about enticing us, but it’s how do you get people to stay? You make it worth their while, not just in the short term, but in the long term. And I think that vision is lacking. And the people who do have that vision don’t have enough of a platform or enough pull in the government. I think it goes beyond Mayor Kenney’s universal pre-K. What about after? Even if they have universal pre-K, what about primary school? What about college prep or college counselors? Are there technology classes at the high schools? I’m an avid biker, but I know this all goes beyond bikes lanes and building massive skyscrapers. It’s about what comes next and what comes next is education, always. We need actionable steps, not just pie-in-the-sky dreams.
Ben Zimmerman and Robert Liedtka: Bloomberg, L.P.
What is Bloomberg doing here?
Ben: What we represent today is our technical operations group, which sits between our data experts and software engineers. Right now, our main epicenter for what we do is in Princeton. Yes, we have Princeton University and TCNJ in the area, but we are really thinking about where we will find the talent to take us to the next level and help us move forward.
We really sat down and strategized about where could get that. If we go to New York, we’re competing against ourselves. We have our headquarters based out of New York. To try to not compete against ourselves, we thought about Philly. Philly is a thriving tech scene. So we started looking at collegiate programs we can recruit from for entry-level positions, and so we looked into Drexel’s co-op program to really understand the talents and skills-sets we can expect from entry-level positions, and then how do we integrate ourselves with those.
Robert: We are trying to bring our brand out to Philadelphia.
So since you’re here, do you think Philly is relevant?
Ben: As someone who has lived in Philadelphia and have seen the growth of N3rd Street, and the tech meetups with this event going from 700 last year to 1200 RSVPs this year, yes, Philly is more than relevant. It’s going to be a struggle for us because we’re still not in Philly, but I think as it grows here we will think more about what we should be doing in terms of investing in Philadelphia.
Rob: The exciting thing is you see startup companies as well as larger companies, so I think that this good mixture of who is investing in the Philadelphia market will continue to allow talent to grow.
Will some kind of Bloomberg office make its way here soon?
Ben: I would love to, yes, but I’m not the one to make that decision. We’ve been pushing for expansion in this area. If the talent is there, we are a very smart and sensible organization. If we see something that makes sense, we go after it. Events like this, with this kind of turnout, give us an awareness of the talent that’s here in Philadelphia.
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