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Ascanio Guarini '16 Connects Students to Philadelphia's Tech Startups

Ascanio Guarini '16
Fromn left: Sean Lynch, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Ascanio Guarini '16, and Fabio Fleitas at the announcement of Startup PHL "Call for Ideas" grant winners in March.

Ascanio Guarini '16 is at the forefront of a city initiative to connect talented students to Philadelphia's tech startups, enriching the industry and stemming the brain drain.

Guarini and two University of Pennsylvania students created PennApps Fellows, which won them a $25,000 Startup PHL grant from the city. The program brings top students from colleges around the country to Philadelphia for paid internships with tech startups this summer. It responds to tech leaders' concerns over students leaving the city for opportunities in New York City or Silicon Valley.

"They say there's just not enough talent in the region to address their problems," says Guarini, a New York City native. "So we're looking to bring top talent straight to Philly."

PennApps Fellows differs from previous attempts to link students and startups by reflecting the students' perspective.

"We are students," Guarini says. "We know what they want."

The idea for PennApps Fellows arose in the fall. Guarini and colleagues at nvigor, a student tech group devoted to connecting students to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, discovered HackNY Fellows and explored applying the concept to Philadelphia.

"It doesn't make sense that we didn't have one," says Guarini.

Penn students Fabio Fleitas and Sean Lynch joined Guarini to start PennApps Fellows, named after the prominent hackathon. The first step was gauging the interest of the tech community.

"We could feel the city getting behind us right away," says Guarini. "Almost everyone has been incredibly supportive."

In March, Mayor Michael Nutter announced PennApps Fellows as a winner of the Startup PHL grant. The program was created to raise the profile of Philly's tech scene and, through the lure of paid internships, retain talent, says Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development.

"Companies continually tell us that a talented workforce is one of the most important factors to their growth," Greenberger says. "Connecting the city's world-class universities and students to our burgeoning tech community is a necessary component in retaining students past graduation and maintaining the momentum of [our companies]."

Between June and August, 10 students will come to Philadelphia to intern with the more than a dozen organizations. PennApps Fellows will provide community housing in which the students can share notes on their experiences, collaborate on projects, and listen to tech talks. Along with Campus Philly, it will also guide students on tours of the city, showcasing it as "a great place work and live in," says Guarini.

The first few Fellows have been confirmed, and the rest will be chosen soon. Two Swarthmore students made the first cut, but it wasn't a case of hometown refereeing - the companies themselves decide, Guarini says.

"That just goes to show you that Swatties have the skills that it takes."

Read more at Philly and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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