The 25,000 participants in this year’s Philly Tech Week events are living, breathing proof that Philadelphia is well on its way to becoming a giant in the land of nerds.
At least that’s the way Chris Wink sees it. When he co-founded the event six years ago, attendance was just about 1,000, at 15 events. This year’s tech fest, a production of Wink’s Technically Philly news network, comprises 150 events.
And there’s more evidence to support Wink’s trademark enthusiasm. Philadelphia recently ranked fifth on Huffington Post’s list of the “Top Ten Tech Cities,” and Fast Company anointed Philly “the next big tech town.”
Technically Philly and NewsWorks are content partners but have no financial relationship.
Philly Tech Week has become a rally that recharges the city’s tech, entrepreneurial, and startup communities each year, Wink said. Fifty partners have signed on to support the week, including broadcasting giant Comcast.
That rapid growth is a sign that this rough-and-tumble town deserves to be known for more than its hoagies and foul-mouthed sports fans, tech fans agree.
“I think it’s rooted in our DNA; we’re a city of firsts, going back through history. Despite the fact that we’re a tough, gritty, blue-collar town, we embrace new things and innovation in a way other cities don’t,” said Rich Negrin, an attorney who oversaw several city technological innovations when he served as Mayor Nutter’s deputy mayor and managing director from 2010 until January. “It’s like Philadelphia is what happened when New York and Portland [Oregon] had a baby: It’s a tough gritty town with a tattoo but also on its smartphone creating an app.”
But why Philly, as opposed to Miami or Des Moines or any other place?
Wink isn’t shy about taking a bit of credit.
“We think we’re a really big part of it,” Wink said, explaining that before he and Brian James Kirk created Technically Philly in 2009, Philly’s tech entrepreneurs were “siloed.”
“There were too many little sub-communities that didn’t talk to each other; they weren’t necessarily seeing themselves as part of the same community,” Wink said, whose network spends as much effort building relationships among techies as reporting on them.
“We have worked hard to try to convene this community, and it has become a very inclusive community, where the stalwarts of Philly stand alongside the startups.”
Ellen Weber, executive director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute at the Fox School of Business at Temple University, agreed: “Philly Tech Week and Technically Philly were really game-changers in the community. They really provided the city with a hub, a buzz, that wasn’t there before.”
Now, Philly even has its own “N3RD” Street — the cleverly renamed North Third Street, which many tech companies and other startups call home.
And no technological boom happens without millennials, Negrin pointed out. Since 2006, Philadelphia has experienced a bigger influx of 20- to 34-year-olds than any other major city, according a 2014 Pew Charitable Trusts study.
“Philadelphia has become a place where millennials want to live — it’s affordable, walkable, bikeable, and it has great nightlife, great food and a good arts scene,” Weber said.
And tech careers are more appealing than ever to that demographic, she added.
“A few years ago, if you went to law school, you couldn’t get a job; medical school has gotten so so expensive; and Wall Street is not where people necessarily want to work anymore,” Weber said. “So this has become a really interesting, feasible path more people are choosing than ever before.”