Legislators make policy, approve budgets and shape tax structure. As sectors gain influence, they aim to shape how those legislators see their impact.
That’s why five Philadelphia technology community representatives, meant to be a cross-section of tech business here, testified before the City Council Committee on Global Opportunities and Creative/Innovative Economy, chaired by Councilman David Oh, during Philly Tech Week this month. Full disclosure, the speakers were chosen by Technical.ly Philly in conjunction with Oh’s staff.
In addition to Oh, Councilwomen Maria Quinones Sanchez and Marian Tasco and Councilman Denny O’Brien attended — Cindy Bass, Blondell Reynolds Brown, W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Brian J. O’Neill were not present. Councilman Bobby Henon, who is not on the committee, also joined for part of the 90 minute hearing, which was also viewed by a handful of attendees.
- Luke Butler, City of Philadelphia, Dept. of Commerce — The Nutter administration has made the tech sector a major part of its economic development strategy, most notably its StartupPHL initiative — which included 175 submissions over two rounds of its ‘call for ideas’ — and efforts to attract satellite offices from suburban tech firms. “Philadelphia is one of America’s great startup cities,” he boasted.
- Ellen Weber, Robin Hood Ventures — Though the angel fund’s management group is still suburban based, in 2009, she moved her operations to the University City Science Center to “reduce friction” for meetings with entrepreneurs.Simplify taxes for early stage firms that don’t have accounting teams to help be compliant, be a company’s first customer but shorten the procurement process and guarantee landlord deposit on a company’s first office space before they can afford a down payment. “Angel investors are philanthropists,” she said, despite the connotation. “Get high net worth individuals in the region and city on board with investment here.” StartupPHL is trusted because “someone like First Round Capital” is running it. She called it a positive step in the investment imbalance Philly has had in the past.
- Maria Quinones Sanchez: In her line of questioning of Weber, she asked “how do we get a UPenn to see this as an opportunity” to invest in local firms by way of using a portion of its endowment as another way to approach a replacement for its nonprofit, tax-free city status. (PILOTs as investment in local firms)
- Chris Cera, ArcWeb and Philly Startup Leaders cofounder: The first “cliff” at which he found friends leaving Philadelphia was after college as part of the ‘brain drain’ wave. Now, he says, the second cliff is as entrepreneurs age, have families and leave because of fear of public education. “The schools crisis is going to become a dominant part of the Philly tech scene’s conversation,” he said. “Taxes probably don’t stop someone from starting a business…KIZs seem to be drawn arbitrarily around hospitals, not to spur real growth.” “The capital infrastructure here is not set up for high-scale consumer startups,” he said. “This is a business to business town…You’re taught from the beginning to build more slowly with revenue. That can set us apart and should be embraced.” Cera mentioned Indy Hall cofounder Alex Hillman describing Philly as having a strong ratio of its quality of life to its business opportunity.
- Brigitte Daniel, Wilco Electronic Systems vice president and edIQ founder: “If the majority of our workforce can’t participate in what is happening here then we’re missing the bigger point,” she said, citing the Step It Up America program as important. “Look at the size and composition of the STEM pipeline” and grow it “by energizing it with ‘the cool”
- Marian Tasco, City Councilwoman: In response to Daniel, whom she has known for years, Tasco said she wanted to bring back the Mayor’s Commission on Technology that then-Ed Rendell started in the 1990s and was spearheaded by the late Carole I. Smith. “One Mayor sees an agency like that as someone else’s. I want to institutionalize that.”
- Wil Reynolds, SEER Interactive: In 2010, SEER made $2.1 million in revenue, which has grown to be in “the low teens” in revenue for 2014. In 2011, the company had 15 employees and now has closer to 100. “Forty percent of our hires are not from Philly,” he said. They’re from the Valley, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis. “People will relocate here to Philly,” he said crediting the overall betterment of the city. “All the things we do to make Philly a better place to live makes it easier for me to get someone on the phone from Portland to relocate their family here….People don’t think I’m crazy for locating here.” Legislators from Boston and Baltimore have recruited SEER, “but I’ve never met any of you before,” he said to Council representatives. “We have a West Coast offices not because of our clients, they were fine with us being on the east coast, but because I couldn’t hire talent fast enough,” he said, in a region that fits national degree-mismatch trends.
- David Atadan, Trellist CEO: The Delaware-based marketing tech firm will be formally announcing a Navy Yard office expansion. The decision is part of its expansion plans and is driven by talent attraction plans. “We expected that as our staff grew up, they would move to Delaware, but they’ve stayed in places like Philadelphia.”