Can 'the birthplace of startups' find its footing?

In the U.S., technology startups are found in San Francisco, New York, Boston and Austin. But what about Philadelphia? Exactly.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Would you move to the U.S. city of Philadelphia to launch a tech startup?

Most folks in the technology industry would say no, but city officials are trying to change that. With a vast resource of brain power at its disposal -- the region is home to a huge number of educational institutions (the University of Pennsylvania among them), mature health and education sectors and a valuable location along the country's Northeast Corridor -- the city has a lot going for it.

One big problem: no capital.

Bloomberg recently filmed a short video in town about the city's new support for a budding scene, starting its own $3 mllion seed fund for local startups. That initiative comes on the heels of First Round, the venture capital firm, opening its own office in -- surprise, surprise -- the University City district, where it has begun funding startups like Firefly, which allows customer service representatives to see customers' screens without downloading an additional piece of software.

It's an interesting look; you can watch the clip here. (I'd embed it, but the code has proved a bit troublesome.)

For the city's part, it's a surprisingly risky move. Most municipalities aren't willing to stick their necks out that far in terms of investment strategies, though New York -- roughly 100 miles to Philadelphia's north -- already does so. Philly's particular challenge is startup retention: Google acquired Philly-born AdMob for $750 million in 2009, but the company had to move to San Mateo, Calif. (across from YouTube's old digs) to get there. Ditto Venmo, the mobile payments company that moved to, and subsequently grew in, New York before being purchased by Braintree for $26 million. The list goes on.

Mayor Michael Nutter has been calling Philly "the birthplace of startups," but it will take more than words to keep the city competitive with others for budding tech companies. The question is whether well-connected firms like First Round, plugged into the SF/NY mains, can nurture enough eventual successes here to create some momentum.

Photo: First Round partner Josh Kopelman wants Philly's tech scene to be, well, explosive.

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