Philadelphia’s young and involved cohort need to take greater hold of the future of the city for it to outperform even the region’s highest expectations, according to a slew of speakers hosted Friday by Young Involved Philadelphia.
The role of the region’s investment community in that future was also called into question during the night.
The social and speaking event was the showcase event of the State of Young Philly series, a first-time, tw0-week crush of conversations, workshops and discussions that brought together the 20-and-30-something sect of Philadelphians, who make up the membership of 10-year-old YIP.
In addition to other events, the week featured a Technically Philly co-sponsored panel discussion on the city’s business future.
Held at WHYY’s new Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons in Old City, Friday’s showcase featured a cocktail reception followed by a dozen speakers, half of whom were “more seasoned,” according to YIP Chair Claire Robertson-Kraft, and half were themselves young and involved.
Though there were expectations to the contrary, no fireworks shot off between Mayor Nutter and former Mayor John Street, who has recently taken to criticizing his successor on a number of issues. While both spoke at the event, the two men weren’t so much as in the same room at the same time, as their speaking was separated by state Treasurer Rob McCord. Councilman Bill Green was in attendance, welcomed by both Nutter and Street.
All had words for the city’s creative economies, which rely heavily on the young and involved, as did Philly Startup Leaders co-patriarch Blake Jennelle, who spoke during the less-seasoned half of the program.
Kicking off the speaking was Mayor Nutter who focused on the need for young people to “be cheerleaders” for Philadelphia. Perception, he said, was among the strongest enemies to Philadelphia’s future success. He also sought to speak to the power of youth, taking ownership by recalling the support he received among young progressive voters in his mayoral election.
“Your active engagement in the 2007 election was very important,” Nutter said. “I can truly tell you that [young Philadelphians] had a big impact.”
Nutter was followed by state Treasurer Rob McCord, a former venture capitalist from Montgomery County, who rattled off advice, including an encouragement for young people to get to know the VC community and government leaders, like himself.
He also spoke about deciding to speak at the YIP event in Old City rather than at another event in Scranton.
“I’m sure most of you would rather be in Scranton,” he said, earning laughs. He lauded Philadelphia as a city poised for greatness.
“I look forward to Philadelphia being the greenest city in the country,” he said, before touting other successes, like the recent deal to bring a $129 million sustainability research and development program to the Naval Yard. “I look forward to a lot from Philadelphia and from you all.”
Arriving after McCord already began his speech, cutting through the crowd, was the next speaker: Street, the sometimes irascible former mayor who has been recently parading into local headlines following the controversy at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, of which he is board, and sudden criticism of Nutter’s policies and politics.
Not known for his public speaking, Street may have given the liveliest of all the speeches, centrally calling for the young and involved to be much more involved.
He credited the Tea Party movement and activism around casinos with earning victories for their respective positions.
Street urged young people to interact with those in power and create real action, a sentiment he managed to convey in a memorable contortion of phrase.
“I like to see people doing blogs, but that’s not really getting it. The blogs are not really getting it,” Street said. “People need to get out of their comfort zones.”
After two other speakers and an intermission, PSL leader Jennelle, dressed as the urban cowboy from MyDunkTank.com, spoke about what is ‘hot’ about Philadelphia’s startup community — innovative companies, supportive institutions — and growing what is ‘not hot’ about the community.
Watch his presentation below.
Jennelle credited the innovation of some in the region’s investment community, like First Round Capital and Genacast Ventures, but spoke about a need for greater early-stage VC to grow a still under-developed scene, characterizing investment companies like Ben Franklin Technology Partners and SeventySix Capital as being stubborn and stodgy.
Other speakers included WHYY civic engagement director Chris Satullo who introduced NewsWorks.org, the regional news portal that the public media company will be debuting in November.
YIP chair Robertson-Kraft said the group hopes to make the State of Young Philly an annual event series and “a continuous dialogue” about shaping and improving Philadelphia.
“When YIP was first founded 10 years ago, it was one of the only groups in the region for young professionals, so it had to grow that community,” Robertson-Kraft said. “Now, we don’t see that the problem is not having enough talented and interested young people, it’s about how fractured we all are, and that’s what we want to change.”
Video by Sean Blanda.
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