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Nutter admininstration using paid tech internships in battle against brain drain

 Mayor Michael Nutter meets with the 10 students over lunch. (Zack Seward/WHYY)

Mayor Michael Nutter meets with the 10 students over lunch. (Zack Seward/WHYY)

The mayor of Philadelphia treated 10 college kids to lunch this week.

The occasion was a city-sponsored internship program that’s part of Mayor Michael Nutter’s StartUp PHL initiative.

Here’s why

Three years ago Campus Philly did a big survey [PDF]

The nonprofit tapped hundreds of local students and recent alumni and found that one thing worked really well at fighting brain drain: If you had an off-campus, paid internship in the area, you were much more likely to stick around.

“When they have a paid off-campus internship, they’re a Philadelphian—and that’s a nice thing to be,” said Campus Philly President Deborah Diamond. “They realize that and so it really is a driver for staying.”

In fact, 70 percent of students with paid summer internships in Philly stayed in the city after graduation for at least a year.

Diamond said that data point was the impetus for the StartUp PHL Scholars program, which got $25,000 from the city to fund paid summer internships at local tech startups.

More than 120 students applied, and 10 were selected by the four participating startups. The program is a collaboration with Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP). The startups—Grassroots Unwired, AgileSwitch, RealWinWin and Viridity Energy—are all BFTP portfolio companies and collectively put up a matching $25,000. Each student received a $4,500 stipend.

At lunch

Which brings us to a restaurant just south of City Hall and a visit with Mayor Nutter.

This is one of six of new initiatives funded by the mayor’s StartUp PHL “Call for Ideas” fund. The $500,000 pot of money looks to boost Philly’s tech scene with grants to existing players in the region. (There’s also a much larger “seed fund” associated with the StartUp PHL program.)

Nutter says the “scholars” program is equal parts supporting the startup scene and fighting brain drain. The goal is to cultivate a group of young professionals who are “that much more invested in Philadelphia, that much more likely to stay and, as you heard from one of the companies, probably much more likely to be hired,” Nutter said.

One of those 10 students is Melissa Schwartz, a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania. She’s from Miami but is spending the summer working at Viridity Energy.

“I mean, I definitely see my career being up north,” Schwartz said. “I’m not sure necessarily what city, depends on the job, I guess. But I see a future here for me, personally.”

Other students at her table were also bullish on Philly futures.

“Since coming here freshman year, I’ve pretty much known that this is the city I’m going to be in,” said Nina Gordy, a rising UPenn junior from northern New Jersey.

With young professionals helping to fuel the city’s recent population growth, Nutter told students and startup officials over lunch that he’s just trying to build on that momentum.

“The more people who stay here … that’s to our benefit,” Nutter said.

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