DEI / Entrepreneurs / Events / Marketing / POC in Tech

Why the Steve Case visit was such a big deal for Philadelphia

As one investor put it, it was “good old-fashioned marketing” — and that's something Philly needs to get better at.

Steve Case at Distrito during the VIP lunch on his Rise of the Rest tour stop in Philadelphia. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)
Sometimes you just need somebody else to notice you.

That’s what it felt like Tuesday, when AOL founder and investor Steve Case came to town on his Rise of the Rest bus tour, aiming to showcase tech sectors outside of Silicon Valley and New York. Case’s attention felt like an acknowledgment, a way of saying, “We see you” to tech scenes that are aching to be seen.
“We’re trying to get the word out to the rest of the country,” said Brett Topche, an investor with MentorTech Ventures who helped organize the local tour. “Outside of Philly, I don’t think that people know that stuff is going on here.”


At the National Constitution Center. (Photo by Juliana Reyes)

It’s a characteristic of fledgling tech scenes, Case said in an interview with Philly after the tour’s VIP lunch at Distrito, Jose Garces’ upscale Mexican spot in University City.
“They don’t tell their stories with enthusiasm,” Case said. “They feel like second-class communities because most of the attention and capital goes to a few places.”
Case spent the day visiting startups like RJMetrics and Curalate, having meals with curated groups of tech leaders and running a $100,000 pitch competition at the National Constitution Center in Old City. (Scholarship app Scholly won the big prize.)

We heard more than one startup had Federal Donuts on hand for Case’s visit, which may be why he skipped dessert at Distrito and ice cream at the Franklin Fountain later that afternoon. (He opted for chocolate from next door’s Shane Confectionery instead.)
City Hall had a strong presence throughout the day, with its director of entrepreneurial engagement, the charismatic Archna Sahay, emceeing several of the day’s events. Mayor Michael Nutter spent most of the day with Case. Clad in a camel suit, matching suede shoes and no tie (he knows the drill by now), Nutter spoke at breakfast at the Continental, lunch at Distrito and on a panel before the pitch competition.

It was an opportunity for Nutter to showcase his tech scene acuity, which include the city’s social entrepreneurship efforts, its StartUp PHL investment and grant fund and the importance of building a unique city identity, instead of trying to mimic Silicon Valley.

As for Case, it seems the two main themes of his tour thus far are social entrepreneurship and diversity in tech. He constantly repeated that Philadelphia had the opportunity to lead in both those spaces.
“Philadelphia can show the way for the country to level the playing field,” Case said during lunch.
For what it’s worth, he said the same thing about Baltimore the previous day, which fits into the narrative that Case is trying to build around “Rise of the Rest” cities: one thing that unites them are their focus and interest in impact and inclusivity, he told Philly.
As for Philly, the Case visit was “good old-fashioned marketing,” MentorTech’s Topche said.
It’s the kind of marketing that Philly’s tech scene needs to do to attract capital and talent and to convince people who are already here to stay here, he said.
Topche said that Philadelphia’s tech scene already has a lot going on, now it just has to let other people know.

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Curalate / RJMetrics

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