The answer to Philadelphia’s brain drain problem didn’t seem so complicated at Bliss on Broad Street, where Mayor Michael Nutter had lunch with eight students who were interning at local tech companies through a program funded by the Nutter administration’s StartupPHL program.
“What would make you leave Philadelphia?” asked Rob Weber, cofounder of AgileSwitch, one of the companies hosting the interns.
After a brief pause, the whole table — students from Penn, Haverford, Temple and Penn State — agreed: “If I couldn’t find a job.”
The internship program, run by Campus Philly and Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners, hoped to help with this predicament. After winning a $25,000 grant from the city’s Startup PHL fund, Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners identified companies from its portfolio that needed interns and Campus Philly did outreach to find the candidates. More than 100 students applied in the spring and the four BFTP portfolio companies (Viridity Energy, Real Win Win, Grassroots Unwired and Agile Switch) eventually chose ten candidates as summer interns.
At least one company, Viridity Energy, made a verbal pledge that it would hire its interns if they were looking for work after graduating. Virdity actually plans to continue working with interns on a part-time basis when the school year starts, said Sashenie Hayman, Viridity’s Director of Product Management who also acted as a mentor to one of the interns.
Campus Philly’s research points to a link between internships and talent retention. According to a 2010 Campus Philly survey of 4,600 undergraduates, graduates and alumni, 70 percent of alumni who stayed in Philly for a year or more after graduation had a summer internship in Greater Philadelphia.
The internship program was tailored to help the participating startups as much as it did the students, representatives from the companies said at the lunch. It’s not always easy for startups to find interns, said Grassroots Unwired VP of Engineering Corey Leigh Latislaw, because startups don’t always have the manpower to send to job fairs and universities to recruit and get the word out. But with the Startup PHL internship program, Campus Philly helped do the heavy lifting when it came to recruiting. Funding from the city also helped, as it enabled the interns to get paid without stressing a startup’s budget (the startups matched funding from the city to pay the interns).
The hope is that Campus Philly and Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners will be able to raise funding to recreate the program, said Rebecca Lopez-Kriss, the city’s Commerce Department staffer in charge of Startup PHL.