There’s been an uneven discovery of the growing local tech scene for students at area colleges in recent years. But as brain drain in Philadelphia has faded, the need for more specialized outreach to retain talent has grown.
So beyond the guidance of each individual school’s entrepreneurial programs, there are several efforts to connect campus to community from throughout the dozens of colleges in the region. It has proved challenging.
There was Nvigor, a cross-campus, student-run organization that launched in 2012 and was founded by three energetic undergraduates. But, irony of irony, they’ve all since left Philadelphia.
“Our goal was for students to recognize the interaction medium that was possible in Philadelphia,” said Abhiroop Das, a now 23-year-old associate in the risk and compliance department of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Manhattan. “This increase in interaction would allow for students to come up with cool ideas for businesses or research.”
Das was a cofounder with fellow Drexel student Dias Gotama, who has relocated to Washington state, and Penn student Pulak Mittal, who left for a job at Y Combinator in San Francisco.
Nvigor originated the Student Startup Summit, a one-day conference that has landed during Philly Tech Week, including this year, with the help of Gotama from afar. The trio, with the help of other students, organized other events, like Philly Codefest, which is now housed at Drexel.
After creating buzz in the tech community, Nvigor gradually faded from the scene.
“It wasn’t as important for us to maintain this [organization] after we graduated. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, we just wanted to create student peace,” said Das. “We still come back to the community for events from time to time and discuss of what more we can do. There were too many competing groups and we didn’t like that, and that’s why Dias, Pulak and I established this organization in Philly. We caused enough noise in different places.”
- There remains the Start.Stay.Grow initiative, an event series led by stakeholder group including Technical.ly Philly and Philly Startup Leaders, which earned a StartUp PHL grant and completed its last cycle with the February NET/WORK tech jobs fair.
- Then there is the Blackstone Launchpad, a clearinghouse for entrepreneurship at Temple and Philadelphia University that has prioritized professional tech community connectivity.
- And then there are the multiple efforts that have spun out of PennApps, the celebrated, twice-annual undergraduate hackathon last held in January.
From a dozen students in 2009 to 500 in January 2013 to 1,100 in January 2015, PennApps draws from around the country, but many student organizers have increased their outreach to the Philly tech community.
A sister organization, PennApps Fellows, generates attention by bringing students from outside Pennsylvania into 10-week internships at local Philadelphia startups to show them that the city is indeed a growing tech hub.
“Our goal is to give all the fellows a different experience so that they could essentially see the different types of companies that Philadelphia has,” said Fabio Fleitas, cofounder of PennApps Fellows and now working at Tesorio, a business financing startup.
With an industry like tech hungry for talent and civic-minded enough to be passionate about student retention, it has caught the attention in recent years of Campus Philly, the nonprofit that is a research and internship hub for college students.
In 2012, Campus Philly’s Annual Report showed that in 2011 there was an imbalance between jobs created and degrees being granted to students, mainly in the science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) fields.
It’s another reason there has been growing interest in connecting students that have those skills but might not know of the tech opportunities growing here.
“We saw that tech and startups were becoming a growing industry. It was becoming something that couldn’t be ignored in the city,” said Campus Philly’s Jen Devor. “Our region was becoming more and more known for our involvement in tech.”
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