Philadelphia city has seen a rise in the number of tech startups choosing to do business here. But without continuing to build that support network, they’ll leave or fail.
Sean Sullivan, a lawyer and Democratic candidate in the May primary for State Representative in the 175th district, knows that access to resources is essential for helping entrepreneurs in the tech community thrive. Seeking to unseat incumbent Mike O’Brien in a district that runs from Pennsport to Kensington, including the length of the N3rd Street tech business corridor, Sullivan has followed the community here.
Sullivan lives in Queen Village. O’Brien lives in Fishtown and has held the office since 2006. The primary election is May 20.
At a town hall-style meeting last week at Impact Hub, Sullivan discussed plans for legislation he would introduce aimed to help support entrepreneurs and small businesses. The event was organized in part by investor and colorful tech event mainstay Yuriy Porytko.
“I’ve been talking to people in the tech community these last few weeks and a town hall meeting just made sense,” Sullivan said, “I want to listen to these people, hear what their concerns and issues are. There’s so much entrepreneurial activity going on here that it just seemed like the logical place to do it.”
The small discussion included representatives from organizations including social good news site Generocity and web publishing startup Simplpost. The conversation stretched widely and included perspective from this mostly young knowledge worker group.
Earlier this month, the North Third Street corridor that is a main artery of the 175th district was officially named “N3rd Street” by City Council, backed by the clustering of tech businesses there from Old City to Northern Liberties. Sullivan is well aware of this technology-conscious area in the district.
“I think this district now is one of the epicenters, if not the epicenter, of the tech community in Philadelphia,” Sullivan said, “and I want to continue to see more startups that go on to succeed [there]. It seems that success begets success in this area, and I really want to see it grow and expand.”
John Sullivan, representing the intellectual property law-firm Volpe & Koenig at the meeting, said he believes that the hardest part for entrepreneurs is knowing what resources are available. No apparent relationship between John Sullivan and candidate Sean Sullivan.
“One issue that the Philly community has had for too long is that there has not been a push to unify and raise awareness about the resources that are out there,” Sullivan said. “These startups are basically grassroots organizations, which is fantastic, but if you can supercharge those grassroots efforts by having a little more support at the legislative level, then I think the future is almost limitless.”
The meeting also provided a platform for local business leaders to see how enthusiastic and honest candidate Sullivan is about engaging directly with his constituents, a quality that organizer Porytko said is lacking with incumbent O’Brien.
“I still don’t know who the incumbent in this district is, because they’ve never reached out to see what’s going on in the community,” Porytko said. “Sean has come up and said, ‘Hey, tell me what your concerns are, and maybe even in this process of my campaign I can guide you to those resources and see if we can’t make a difference and change things here in Philadelphia.’”
Sullivan focused the majority of the meeting on listening, but he did detail a three-part initiative he wants to implement on his first day in office:
- Turn Pennsylvania into an open-data state
- Make capital more available for startups and small businesses
- Streamline access to government agencies
Turning Pennsylvania into an open-data state
Sullivan plans to create a statewide directory of open data, modeled on the open data policy in place in Philadelphia.
“Public data ought to be freely accessible,” Sullivan said. “It’s important for government accountability, so that journalists and other outside entities are able to monitor what government does and actually see what’s going on. It’s also important for businesses that utilize government data.”
Make capital more available for startups and small businesses
To make capital more readily available, Sullivan would institute a venture capital tax credit, and increase funding to the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a program that provides resources and capital for entrepreneurs and start-up organizations.
Streamline access to government agencies
Sullivan hopes that startups will have an easier time navigating government websites to quickly find funding opportunities that are available.
“Policies that help those businesses grow and create jobs is something that’s important for all of us,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think there’s enough being done at the state-level now, and I think if we want to see these businesses continue to succeed, we need to do a much better job in terms of policies that we’re making to help these folks.”
The first step for Sullivan still remains defeating incumbent O’Brien in the May 20 primary election.
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