When it comes to tech, Curalate CEO wants Mayor Kenney to be like Nutter - Technical.ly Philly

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Mar. 1, 2016 12:57 pm

When it comes to tech, Curalate CEO wants Mayor Kenney to be like Nutter

That's the gist of an open letter on Philly.com from Curalate CEO Apu Gupta.

Mayor Jim Kenney gets interviewed at the Tomorrow Tour kickoff, January 2016.

(Photo by Juliana Reyes)

As the CEO of one of Philadelphia’s most successful tech startups, Apu Gupta has clout. And the Curalate cofounder flexed it in an open letter to Mayor Jim Kenney on Philly.com Monday.

“Where the mayor and the tech community can best work together is in putting Philadelphia on the national stage as a city where exciting things are happening and where a thriving tech community is taking hold,” Gupta wrote, explaining that “when I talk to [job] candidates, I’m selling them not just on my company but on Philly. I’m selling them on a city that has excitement, momentum, and a buzz about it.”

He continued: “The mayor is uniquely positioned to serve as the catalyst for this transformation by simply giving tech a larger voice, by celebrating our start-up success stories and promoting us at the national level.”

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Reading Gupta’s letter, it sounded a lot like he was describing what Nutter did for the tech scene. (We’d venture a guess that Nutter’s former commerce department chief of staff Luke Butler, who’s now working for Curalate, had something to do with the piece.) Attending ribbon-cuttings every time a tech company graduated to a new office, speaking at AOL founder Steve Case’s national Rise of the Rest Tour, partnering with founders like Bob Moul on the StartUp PHL initiative. So it makes sense that Nutter enthusiastically shared the editorial. (So did First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, another local tech leader with clout.)

It’s helpful that Nutter has already laid the groundwork for a close relationship with the tech scene, that he did much of the tone-setting. Kenney and his Commerce Director Harold Epps could easily follow in his footsteps. But the question is, will they? We wonder how much the Kenney administration will try to distinguish itself from the previous one. We found some clues in Kenney’s list of new commerce department initiatives, which he announced two weeks ago.

Among the dozen projects he announced, two initiatives that sound like they could have come from the Nutter camp: Kenney’s hiring a director of international investment to attract foreign businesses and trade. He also launched a project to gets suburban companies to open satellite offices, which former Commerce Director Alan Greenberger called “gateway offices.” Kenney also trumpeted the city’s involvement with the effort to highlight Philadelphia at South by Southwest and spoke of expanding StartUp PHL to college campuses. (We’re not clear on what that last part entails but we’ll follow up.)

In those ways, it doesn’t seem like Kenney’s afraid to carry on some of the flagship Nutter business initiatives. We also know that Kenney is ready and willing to engage with the tech scene, even though he feels out of his element there.

One last thing: can we talk about Gupta lobbying the mayor in the press? Very interesting, especially from a CEO who has been more under the radar when it comes to the Philly tech organizing. Is Gupta angling for more of a leadership role in the scene, the way Moul has historically taken on? And will more founders continue to speak up about what they want from the new administration?

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Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes became Technical.ly's associate editor after reporting on the Philadelphia tech scene for four years. She's co-president of the Asian American Journalists Association Philadelphia chapter and a two-time Philadelphia News Award winner for "Community Reporting of the Year." The Bryn Mawr College grad lives in West Philly, likes her food spicy and wears jumpsuits often.

  • Mike Krupit

    Just to stir the pot (sorry, but I know you do appreiciate all the extra hits), here’s another thought I just posted on the original Philly.com article:

    Thanks to Apu for the thought-provoking post.

    As someone who has built companies in our region for more than 20 years, I, too, find that our single most important challenge is access talent. There isn’t enough of it here. The great work of efforts like Visit Philly and the chambers have made our city a vibrant destination for travelers and tourists, including great food and drink. Yes, it’s walkable and affordable. It’s also a nice place to be a student or for young professionals to live. But this kind of commerce doesn’t create the jobs that tech talent wants, and without enough of the right kind of jobs, they won’t stay or live here for long.

    It’s not the wage tax that scares talent away, but the lack of density and breadth of the right kind of career opportunities. Big and small companies, corporate and freelance, innovation and production. If you want to work for Google what do you do? Leave town. Much of what has happened in the city in recent years seems to be window dressing (without measurable results), such as StartupPHL, co-work spaces, ribbon cuttings, or even tax changes. First Round Capital moving to Philly perhaps was mostly symbolic – and as much as I love having them here, it hasn’t changed their investment philosophy (which remains super successful).

    I continue to think we need to act regionally. It’s not a problem for Kenney to solve, but perhaps for him to lead beyond more than Philly’s city lines. He can’t fix the roads, mass transit, the schools, or even the PPA. Tweaking a tax just isn’t enough. Other cities with higher taxes than Philly manage to attract business. We need critical mass and I don’t see it happening alone here in the “smallest” big city in America.

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