For a quick, speed-dating-like hour, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf sat down with a dozen entrepreneurs and tech execs at the University City Science Center.
The premise of the chat was simple enough: How can state government better back Philadelphia’s tech growth? The feedback can be summed up in three large buckets: cash, connections and talent retention.
“Continue to offer access to early stage funds from the estate,” was the straight up pitch from Dreamit Ventures’ Karen Griffith Gryga. “We need more strength in earlier-stage funds.”
Telesis founder Maurice Hampton doubled down on the ask. “There’s a dearth of the kinds of funds that could help us,” the executive said.
“I’d be cautious of putting that in the door of government,” Wolf pushed back. “I agree that that’s a requirement to grow but I wouldn’t rely on us too much. You need people who are willing to take that risk.”
Connection to the tech ecosystem, one founder said, was also a way the state could support tech growth. Christina Lopes, a Brazilian immigrant and founder of The One Health Company, gave a summary of her startup and explained how the Science Center ecosystem was key to the company’s access to clients and opportunities.
Of course, the state is already backing the Science Center through a $2.5 million grant from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), which will go towards the development of 3675 Market St. Part of the UCity Square complex, the new building will house the Science Center in 2018.
Talent retention, the third pillar of the ecosystem, starts with cities like Philadelphia being a welcoming environment for tech talent. Harry Du, cofounder of Fit.ly and a Penn alum, said creating a range of job opportunities for grads is key.
That starts with an anchor institution, said Spark Therapeutics CEO Jeffrey Marrazzo, whose company is on tap to become the first company to receive FDA approval for its gene therapy.
“It’s important to see what companies can become an anchor that other companies follow,” Marrazo said.
Before jetting out to respond to an emergency situation in Western Pennsylvania, Wolf gave a quick update on the tech tax situation that local founders, PACT and Philly politicians had rallied against is, at least for now, kaput.
“As you can see that was not included in the revenue package that came out from the Senate,” said Wolf. “I think that’s not an issue anymore.”
We have an email out to PACT for an update on the org’s campaign to strike the proposal down.