(Photograph by Samantha Madera for the City of Philadelphia)
The Philly tech scene got some facetime with Mayor Jim Kenney this week.
Kenney visited the University City offices of insurance startup Margo, as part of the startup’s prize for winning a competition at this year’s Entrepreneur Expo. Back in April during Philly Tech Week 2016 presented by Comcast, expo attendees got “investment capital,” or monopoly money they could use to vote for the most promising startup in the hall. After stacking the deck by offering massages at the expo (we kid, we kid), Margo won the contest and a lunch with the mayor.
Margo is a spinoff of lead generation company Leadnomics, whose lead generation business led CEO Zach Robbins and his team to form relationships with insurance companies that would eventually become Margo’s customers. It works like other comparison-shopping destinations — think Trivago and Amazon — but for purchasing auto insurance. That way, shoppers know exactly what their plan covers and how much it costs.
On Monday, Robbins and Margo team members Taylor Burke and Clint Houck sat down to lunch with the mayor, RoseAnn Rosenthal of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Steve Zarrilli of Safeguard Scientifics, Philly Startup Leaders chairman Rick Nucci, the PSL team and the city’s director of entrepreneurial engagement Archna Sahay.
— Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) August 1, 2016
There was a twofold purpose to the meeting: to get the big stakeholders in the community to sit down and figure out how they could help Margo succeed, but also, perhaps more importantly, to figure out how the city could better serve the tech community at large.
Mayor Kenney asked the entrepreneurs this: If they could ask for anything, what they would want from their city government? Requests fell into three broad categories, all of which have been common refrains in the tech scene.
First, the table asked that the mayor and his administration continue to make appearances in the tech community. Nucci and the Margo team were especially appreciative that the mayor made time to hear their concerns and hoped other companies would continue to have such opportunities.
Secondly, they asked for better outward-facing PR. The startup veterans in the room pointed out how hard it was to recruit tech workers to a city whose overwhelming national image looks like a gritty still from Rocky. (Editor’s note: This is one point that the Philly tech scene always brings up. It’s why, for example, the community got so excited about AOL founder Steve Case’s visit last year.)
Finally, there was an acknowledgement of the tech talent problem that plagues our city (and others across the country). Nucci and Zarrilli said that to find great tech workers and keep them in the city requires a combination of university cooperation and better public schools and STEM/tech programs within them. Those at the table threw ideas around on how to address these issues, from the city increasing involvement in the Amplify Philly SXSW initiative to various PR strategies that could illustrate Philly’s entrepreneurial potential.
It’s no secret that the mayor places fixing the city’s school system as one of the top priorities of his administration, and the representatives for tech scene at this lunch expressed interest in helping schools connect with the entrepreneurial and tech communities in the city as a learning opportunity for students.
Margo’s already involved. The company plays host to students at Mastery Charter schools so that they can learn about working at a startup. The overall sentiment in the room was that helping Philadelphia schools ought to be perceived as investing in homegrown talent for present and future technology companies.
Because of that, Philly Startup Leaders is actively looking for opportunities to help Philly public schools. If you’re a technologist who works at a Philly public school and you think of a way the tech community could help your students thrive, shoot us an email here.
We believe that city government ought to play a role in building the tech scene. Startups are efficient engines of job growth and employ the type of skilled workers who contribute to (and pay taxes in) the city. Mayor Kenney seems to be in.
“Philly must shift from a city of poverty to a city of innovation,” he’s said.
That will require commitment from city government to back technology — even if they don’t totally understand how it works. It will also require the tech community to form ties with the city, its schools and institutions and be committed to its success.
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