Make Philly the tech place to be

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ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Apu Gupta

is CEO and cofounder of Curalate, a tech start-up based in Philadelphia

The technology industry has long been in an awkward dance with our elected leaders.

The epicenter of the tech industry, Silicon Valley, couldn't be further from Washington, the epicenter of politics. Tech folks move quickly, while government tends to be a little more, let's say, deliberate in its pace. And politically supporting an industry that employed fewer people than, say, manufacturing or retail, didn't really muster the vote.

But times, they are a-changin'.

From movies to magazines, tech is front and center. HBO's breakout hit Silicon Valley just renewed for a third season. And the most valuable company in the world? Just Google it.

Importantly for Philly, tech is no longer just a product of Silicon Valley or New York. As the cost of launching a tech company has fallen dramatically, the number of viable places to launch a start-up has exploded.

Philadelphia doesn't need to strive to be Silicon Valley. We just need to strive. We need to strive to build, to build big, and to celebrate our success.

And for this, we need help. I'm looking at you, Mayor Kenney.

The new mayor has made a great start by engaging with the tech community and reaffirming his commitment to establishing Philly as a start-up hub in his recent speech to the Chamber of Commerce. This administration should build on StartUp PHL and some of the tax changes made by Mayor Michael Nutter and City Council and continue to look for ways to make it easier to start a company and do business in Philly.

But where the mayor and the tech community can best work together is in putting Philadelphia on the national stage as a city where exciting things are happening and where a thriving tech community is taking hold.

Why is this important? Tech start-ups grow by hiring the most talented people in the country and so our success is directly tied to making Philly one of the country's most attractive, exciting cities for young people. At Curalate we have 120 employees, a number we are looking to double this year, fueled by our recently announced investment of $27.5 million.

Every day many great tech start-ups in Philly are trying to persuade candidates to join our companies rather than a start-up based in Boston, San Francisco, or (insert name of cool start-up city here).

When I talk to candidates, I'm selling them not just on my company but on Philly. I'm selling them on a city that has excitement, momentum, and a buzz about it.

That excitement can be transformative. By highlighting our successes, you create role models.

Young people throughout Philadelphia today who are learning to code or are hacking away at building an app need to know that they can succeed in their hometown. This doesn't just go for the Ivy-educated. Software is democratizing.

As more kids have the desire and the means to code, more will need to know that tech needn't be a pipe dream. And when they can see that it's happening in their own backyard, and when they can interact with people who work for or have built these companies, they gain the confidence to follow their dreams.

The mayor is uniquely positioned to serve as the catalyst for this transformation by simply giving tech a larger voice, by celebrating our start-up success stories and promoting us at the national level.

I first moved to this city 12 years ago and have never experienced anything close to the excitement I feel about Philadelphia today.

To put it in the language of my fellow entrepreneurs, we're gaining traction in the marketplace with the national attention we've been getting lately. That includes this summer's Democratic National Convention, the recent World Heritage designation, and publications like Lonely Planet telling readers to come and experience Philly for themselves.

We're achieving good product/market fit by using our universities, affordability, and high quality of life to position ourselves as the place to be if you're a talented, creative person. And from a tech start-up perspective, as I look at the growth of my own company and others, like Revzilla, Monetate, RJ Metrics, Guru, and Picwell, we're achieving scale in a way that we haven't seen for many years.

We need to build on this momentum. The growth of a strong tech start-up community can have a force-multiplier effect on a city's narrative that far outweighs our numbers in terms of employees or tax revenue generated.

So, Mayor Kenney, how about it?

It's not important to know what all of these tech companies actually do. You don't even need to own a hoodie or play Ping-Pong with us. But it is important for us to work together and for you to be our cheerleader, to celebrate our successes. And, together, we must make the case that if you want to work at a cool tech start-up, then Philly is the place for you.

@apugupta apu@curalate.com