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Staying Put

by Denise Clay

Every year, city leaders in places with some of the best colleges and universities in the country watch wistfully as the young people trained at these institutions take that knowledge and use it somewhere else.

It was a problem Philadelphia once had. Young people would graduate from schools such as Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania or Drexel University, and be packed up and out before the ink on their degrees was dry.

This fear of losing the city’s best and brightest has manifested itself in some interesting ideas. From a proposal to keep the city’s bars open until 4 a.m. in the name of bettering nightlife to increasing the number of artistic experiences avail- able to millennials, some of the city’s best minds have been taking up this issue.

But according to a study done by Campus Philly, an organization specifically created to ad- dress the problem of “brain drain,” the topic no longer comes up in conversation, says Deborah Diamond, Campus Philly’s president. In fact, the report indicates Philadelphia has surpassed Boston as a place where college graduates decide to stay.

“We’ve stopped talking about ‘brain drain’ here,” she says. “We do a better job than the national average in terms of retaining graduates than other cities. Over the last 10 years, 64 percent of our graduates stay here. Nationwide, other cities retain only 44 percent of their college graduates.”

Campus Philly partners with 36 of the region’s colleges and universities to put together programs designed to try to keep the thousands of young people who come from around the country and the world to get an education to stay here in the long run. Through internships and a variety of other opportunities, students are given a chance to see that a permanent residency in Philadelphia might be a good idea.

For students at Drexel, cooperative education has been a big part of their educational experience. But at the school’s three-year-old Charles D. Close School for Entrepreneurship, the emphasis is on creating your own job, says Chuck Sac- co, the school’s assistant dean.

“We focus on entrepreneurship and creating a start-up ecosystem,” he says. “We help students make connections to start that community.

Students need to be a part of a community. It can be kind of insular without it. We want them to see that Philadelphia is a great place to start a company.”

The school works as part of a regional consortium of schools and organizations such as StartUp PHL which gives students internship experiences that connect them with start-ups and help students who might want to start their own companies get the know-how and possibly the funding to do so, Sacco says.

Among the ways that Drexel has been help- ing students create entrepreneurial ecosystems is by connecting students to organizations that can help them come up with the funding they need to start a business by partnering with organizations like StartUp PHL for capital.

At Temple University’s Fox School of Busi- ness, the whole idea is to keep students in town after they graduate, says Robert McNamee, assistant professor of strategic management and academic director for entrepreneurship at the school.

“Historically, universities release students with a plan in hand and say ‘good luck’ to them,” he says. “We want them to launch businesses while they’re in school, so that they’re well on their way by the time that they graduate. The vast majority of our students have launched businesses by the time they graduate and have strong ties through investors.” For example, the Fox School of Business has two venture capital groups, Robin Hood Ventures and Mid-Atlantic Diamond Ventures, that provide students with the capital needed to start their businesses, McNamee explains. Students also begin doing intern- ships their freshman year so they can make the kinds of connections that will give them the option of either finding a job or beginning their own business once they graduate, he says.

Temple also has its own business plan competition called “Be Your Own Boss.” One of the winners, Brian Linton, started his company United By Blue, which is located in Old City and removes a pound of trash from the world’s waterways for every item purchased, McNamee says.

At Delaware Valley College, Deanna Parkton, who runs the college’s Experiential Learning program, and Stacy Moore, who runs the college’s Career Services pro- gram, handle the college’s Experience 360 program, which focuses on students gaining the kind of real world experience that might make them want to stay in Philadelphia.

“We’ve always focused on students gaining real world experience, reflecting on that, and taking that experience to the next level,” Parkton says. “They do an experiential learning activity based on their ma- jor and graduate with that experience.”

Moore adds, “One of the things that I like to tell our students is that we’re giving them all of the tools they need in their tool kit to land the job they want.”

There are also chances for students to earn the start-up money they need to stay in town. The College Pitch Philly Competition, a regional business plan competition created by the Philadelphia Regional Entrepreneurship Education Consortium and its partners, also gives students from the area’s entrepreneurship programs the chance to compete for $15,000 in start-up money in early 2016.

Those investor ties have helped students and by extension, the region itself. For example, one of the investments Start Up PHL has made is in the financial aid app Scholly, created by Drexel graduate Christopher Gray, who also won investment dollars on the show Shark Tank.

But while internship programs and funding for start-up projects are great, it’s the sense of ownership these students are made to feel for the city that makes them stay in the long run, Diamond says. Be- cause of this, Campus Philly focuses as much on getting students off campus for fun as it does connecting them with future work.

“Every year, we have College Fest, which welcomes students to Philadelphia, and produce other events that expose them to things about the city that they may not have seen before,” she says. “We want to make them a part of something bigger than just their campus. These kinds of events connect them to the city, so that when they’re weighing job offers after graduating, they stay because they like where they live. We’re helping students fall in love with Philadelphia.”

And if it’s a long courtship, the city can only benefit.


Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 1 (December, 2015).
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