If the Philadelphia technology and entrepreneurship communities want to continue to flex their standing, the collective group needs to take to City Hall.
In November 2015, residents will elect a new mayor of the City of Philadelphia. With Mayor Nutter midway through his second and final term, the conversation about who will succeed him has already begun.
Though Nutter has some lasting combatants and self-inflicted wounds, he has remained fairly popular and, amid one of the worst economic declines in our country’s history, protected some wage tax rollback gains and rolled out the StartupPHL investment-matching program. So the expectation is that if the excitement in Philadelphia should continue, a mayor who can inspire, attract and motivate the city is paramount to many other issues.
It was of no small interest that during the Ben Franklin Technology Partners Philly Tech Week event, state Treasurer Rob McCord gave one big idea for improving the region’s technology standing: get more entrepreneurs into office.
That would require the technology community to get political in a way it never has — outside of business-focused lobbying in Harrisburg and City Hall from groups like the Chamber and PACT. Because the political establishment is already making its plans.
There are forces clearing the way for state Sen. Anthony Williams and other likely usual suspects — but, of course, Nutter himself was not a serious contender two years before the election.
There are already those discussed as potential contenders who have been involved in the tech scene — Councilman Bill Green was by far the earliest adopter, former mayoral candidate turned documentarian and angel investor Sam Katz still gets mentioned in these conversations and Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez and Councilman David Oh have both been involved in small business legislation and entrepreneurship conversations.
But in the spirit of action, now is the time worth looking at who might best represent this community. If ‘New Philadelphia’ wants a mayor, then why shouldn’t it be one with the spirit of this technology and entrepreneurial community?
Given that at least half of these people don’t live in the city, it’s worth noting that while City Charter residency requirements mandate that a mayoral candidate live three years in the city before being elected, that could perhaps be interpreted as the November Election Day or the January installation, rather than the May primary. Additionally, as Molly Morrill, a policy assistant for the Committee of Seventy told Technically Philly, City Council candidates need to live in the city for just one year prior to elections.
The focus here is for those who might make good Philadelphia chief executives, but getting effective entrepreneurs into public service in all its forms can be seen as a kind of good.
Bob Moul, Artisan Mobile CEO, Philly Startup Leaders president
- Good: In the past two years since leading the sale of Berwyn-based Boomi to Dell, Moul has come fully on board to the narrative of a technology community being headquartered in and around Center City. He’s doubled down on Artisan Mobile’s Old City presence, gave new blood to the Philly Startup Leaders and has looked positively mayoral since his dip into the civic waters around the Startup PHL initiative, on which he advised Mayor Nutter. He also has just the right mix on his resume of big corporate names — he worked at Dell while keeping Boomi’s employees in the region — and early-stage work to be the dream for a business community. He’s also quite attractive to a broad region as his work has extended beyond the city.
- Bad: Artisan, the mobile backend product company that is his first venture in the city, is likely several years from the kind of growth he has said he wants — that is, the kind of scale to warrant the acquisition, public offering or size for him to step aside, which would make it the ideal narrative. He also still lives near Berwyn, giving a tight, if impossible timeline to run in 2015, though the hours he puts into Artisan has to qualify Old City as a second home, right?
Lucinda Duncalfe, Real Food Works CEO and founder
- Good: If it’s overdue for Philadelphia to have its first female mayor, why not one who has lived the startup lifestyle in and around Philadelphia’s technology community since the early 1990s? She has a sterling entrepreneurial pedigree and the brain power to impress. Her long tenure in building business and creating jobs has made her a darling of many an economic development organization. Though she lives in the suburbs, she recently brought Real Food Works into Center City.
- Bad: Like Moul, her latest venture is too early to label a success, and, less than Moul, she hasn’t flexed her public personality. Also, what she benefits in coming without city baggage, she loses in an understanding of city politics and government.
Steve Welch, DreamIt Ventures cofounder
- Good: He has the experience of running an aborted Congressional campaign. He cofounded one of the country’s best known startup accelerator programs, DreamIt Ventures, where he is still involved and has had success with his edtech startup KinderTown.
- Bad: The strong-minded Welch is a rather outward Republican, more so, it seems, than even the aforementioned Katz or Moul, which is still something to overcome here, and more critical of the city to boot. Like Moul, he doesn’t live in the city.
David L. Cohen, Comcast executive vice president
- Good: He was chief of staff to Ed Rendell’s celebrated Center City revival, is chairman of the board of the Chamber of Commerce and the executive vice president of Comcast, which, hate ’em or not, is one of the country’s most powerful companies.
- Bad: Why run? He was sidekick to one of more celebrated urban turnarounds in this half-century and now is the very busy doer behind one of the world’s largest media companies. Running the City of Philadelphia just might be a demotion.
Liz Dow, LEADERSHIP Philadelphia executive director
- Good: She is likely one of the best networked people in Philadelphia, with some corporate experience and a finger in efforts throughout the region by way of the professional development nonprofit she runs. Because of that, her fundraising capacity is likely among the strongest on this list.
- Bad: Her assets might be better to be tapped by someone else — say, for being a supporter of LEADERSHIP alumnae, Mural Arts executive director and oft-cited mayoral possibility Jane Golden. Additionally, though her LEADERSHIP group and creative connectors work has tapped her into the foothills of the technology and entrepreneurship communities, it is one of the few arenas she may not have a strong hold on.
Rob Wonderling, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce president
- Good: He had a fairly popular, if short lived, state senate term, spent time at Bentley Systems and now is the leader of a century-old business membership group that has taken an interest in technology. He has the resume to be taken seriously and be seen.
- Bad: Though he’s regionally connected, his state senate career and current home life keep him suburban based, despite those Center City offices and frequent lobbying of City Hall.
Brigitte Daniel, Wilco Electronic Systems executive vice president
- Good: Her fast networking has given her relationships in the technology community, the social services, nonprofit and foundation worlds, the political establishment, black leadership and a broader business community. She’s good at getting attention, and she could bring together previously disparate groups and efforts under the same banner. Like Welch, she has been an Eisenhower fellow, a prestigious academic distinction.
- Bad: She has been around her fair share of big efforts — one of the country’s only black-owned cable companies, the KEYSPOT digital literacy effort and more — but still in her 30s, she may lack a big initiative to call her own. Spinning out edtech startup Knick Knack Learning could be the start of something she could.
Steve Tang, University City Science Center executive director
- Good: He has balanced the real estate and enterprise life sciences foundation of the University City Science Center with a desire to play nicely with an early stage innovation and creative community that could have easily passed him by in recent years. He’s done work at the congressional level and is a broad regional ambassador.
- Bad: Could he summon a large enough base and find a way to excite them? What’s more, with the Science Center’s vast University City holdings, he may wield more direct power and fewer headaches than he would as mayor — that’s one reason often cited for why Center City District top chief Paul Levy may likely never run for the office.
Sharmain Matlock-Turner, Urban Affairs Coalition president
- Good: She is a fixture of the political and foundation worlds in Philadelphia, the leader of a wide-ranging organization and a vocal advocate for closing the digital divide. She’s come to know a technology community while remaining well-established in traditional power blocks.
- Bad: Would she embrace her KEYSPOT entrance into the technology community or be seen as more establishment than not? She also, like Dow, and Tang, may be a better connector behind the scenes than playing too much in the spotlight.
Robert Moore, CEO and cofounder of RJMetrics
- Good: He is likely the most representative of the ‘New Philadelphian:’ educated, entrepreneurial and turning his suburban roots into city life. He is young, bright and well-spoken, the CEO and cofounder of one of the more cherished early stage technology companies in Philadelphia. His data driven business informs a data driven approach to much else, and we’d love to see a Moneyball for the City of Philadelphia.
- Bad: He’d be better suited with a business exit or two and then a committee or appointment to an advisory board or two around policy. In short, his young resume lacks the depth and diversity to build a coalition around, but that’s something to grow upon.
Who is missing? Any favorites of these or others? Are we overstating the importance of starting this dialogue now?
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