Mayor Kenney on his #SXSW trip: 'Tech has to be part of the conversation' - Technical.ly Philly

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Mar. 21, 2017 9:37 am

Mayor Kenney on his #SXSW trip: ‘Tech has to be part of the conversation’

Philly Mayor Jim Kenney spoke with Technical.ly about the lessons he reaped from the Austin megaconference. Plus, which startup caught his eye?

Mayor Kenney trying out Boost Linguistics' platform.

(Photo by Tyler Queen)

At Austin’s South by Southwest megaconference last week, a T-shirt-clad Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelphia, could be found among those perusing the Amplify Philly section, where 19 Philly tech companies were showcasing their technology.

He checked out Boost LinguisticsAI-fueled speech pattern recognition platform, measured his stress level with NeuroFlow’s software (no word on what the results were) and posed with a split-flap display from maker collective Oat Foundry.

Quite a far cry from Kenney in his early days as mayor, when he was still getting into the swing of connecting with the local tech ecosystem early last year.

Though we attempted to get Kenney on the phone to ask him what his takeaways from the trade show were, a sore throat — likely from all the talking he did at SXSW — prevented him from answering. Apologetic, he offered to email us his thoughts instead. And so, here they are.

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Why was being present at the festival important to you?

As we consider job growth and the types of businesses to attract, or even the types of skills to teach our kids in school, tech has to be part of the conversation. SXSW is arguably one of the most influential tech conferences in the country, so it was important for us to go and participate. It was equally important for me to support the Philly companies who were there. It was fun walking through the trade show and meeting with all of them. I try to get out to offices here in Philly too, but seeing them in this environment, interacting with each other and with new faces from around the country was great.

Is it going to be worth your time next year as well, you think?

I enjoyed my time this year and learned a great deal from the wonderful entrepreneurs and other mayors I met. We will see what next year looks like, but I’m definitely interested in going back. I’d like to see how we can do something similar here that’s more reflective of the diversity of our tech community.

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After attending the US Conference of Mayors, any lessons reaped from how other cities are supporting their tech ecosystems?

I had some great conversations with other US Conference of Mayors participants, and they’re all supporting the tech community in their cities in different ways. From simple things like just showing up to more complicated issues around addressing digital divide and infrastructure. We learned how Atlanta has effectively created public-private partnerships to support startups. Denver is delivering services to where their residents are — rather than citizens coming into downtown to take care of bills and licenses, they can do most of that online in their home or at a nearby library or rec center.

We heard from many cities about the importance of appropriate infrastructure. None of this works if you don’t have proper Internet. And I believe most importantly, I learned all the cities are concerned about their most vulnerable residents, including immigrants. That was heartening to see.

Should the city have a bigger hand next year in financially backing the effort to send companies to Austin?

We have sponsored the Amplify Philly initiative for the past two years through StartUp PHL, and this year’s sponsorship was an increase over 2016. The City can contribute in many ways besides just financial support. The most influential way is by being a convener and trying to bring more people to the table. It’s a balance.

Any interesting startups catch your eye (Philly or otherwise)?

Keriton. What a great story! I hadn’t heard much about Vidur [Bhatnagar, Keriton founder] or his company until I was down in Austin, but I was so impressed by them. Vidur’s story is a great example of the positive impact immigrants are having in our city and across the country. I’m proud he calls Philly home.

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