Francisco A. Garcia '07 is Director of Business Development for Innovation & Tech for the City of Philadelphia, working under the umbrella of the Department of Commerce. His responsibilities include attracting and retaining start-up and tech companies, and leading the coordination with economic development partners to develop a diverse workforce and inclusive economy.
Garcia's path to Hotchkiss took shape when he was a seventh-grader at a Brooklyn public school. His homeroom teacher, who doubled as the high school admission counselor, showed an admissions video from Andover one day. "I was immediately obsessed with boarding school," remembers Garcia. "Eventually, I got into a program called A Better Chance (ABC), an organization that places students from underrepresented backgrounds in top independent schools. I remember getting a call from Hotchkiss faculty member David Thompson, informing me I was admitted, though I could not really process what he was saying. I wanted to go to boarding school, but until then I had only really thought about how beautiful the campus looked in an admissions video. I'm sure Mr. Thompson's call was intentional (and thoughtful), because he is fluent in Spanish and was able to explain to my mom what was happening. After going for a revisit day, I knew it was the place for me and my parents knew that, too, despite their many reservations. I had a great host that day; shout-out to Luke Flinn '06!" Thanks to Hotchkiss's long affiliation with A Better Chance, beginning in the 1960s, Garcia was on his way to Lakeville.
At Hotchkiss, his favorite courses were history and economics. Garcia says, "I remember Tom Flemma's AP US History was the most challenging social studies course I had ever taken, but he taught it with such passion that his enthusiasm for the subject was contagious. I've never been the most diligent student when it comes to sticking to a reading schedule, for example, but Mr. Flemma required copious notes, and he would check them regularly. That taught me that intelligence can get you by, but hard work is the way to master something. I took micro and macroeconomics with Don Mayland, and to this day he is the funniest teacher I've ever had. Mr. Mayland's class prepared me well for college economics." Garcia served as a proctor in Tinker, represented the student body on the Disciplinary Committee, and served as a teaching assistant in Human Development. "Those roles provided great opportunities to be a leader in the community and learn valuable lessons about accountability."
After Hotchkiss, Garcia went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, where he majored in entrepreneurship and minored in Spanish. Returning to New York, he worked first as a research analyst with Brightwire, and then as an entrepreneur, opening The Evergreen Ice Cream Company in Brooklyn. Though the shop is now closed, the process gave him firsthand experience in launching a business. "Opening a small business is a tough endeavor," he says, "especially in New York City! I have great appreciation for entrepreneurs and the challenges they face, and that is very helpful in my current role. And the Hotchkiss community was super-supportive -- alumni were at the soft launch and visited the shop throughout. Someone in the class above me sent out a group email to his friends asking them to visit my shop. One of the recipients of the message mentioned it to me, and it was touching because the sender was simply an acquaintance."
Garcia then took a job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, gaining a great background in finance. "One of the prominent messages of the culture at Goldman Sachs is that its people are its biggest asset, and that is something I genuinely did appreciate about my time at the firm. It is tremendously valuable to work with intelligent and driven individuals, and I also think it was important to get experience within a global operation. Finance and capital markets have so much influence on our daily lives - in good and bad ways - so some exposure to how that sector works is something I'm glad I received."
In 2016, Garcia's wife Johanna Lou's medical education brought them to Philadelphia, where he decided to pursue a Master of Public Administration at the University of Pennsylvania. "MPAs aspire to focus on the management side of the public sector, including government, nonprofits, NGOs, etc. I had only worked in the private sector or entrepreneurship, and I realized what I was most passionate about was cities and building sustainable, equitable, and resilient communities within them. I got involved in many economic development / public interest-related projects outside of class. I had made a connection with the CEO of Reinvestment Fund, a community development financial institution (CDFI), while working at Goldman Sachs and ended up interning with them my first semester. I was also asked to co-teach a business start-up course at a nonprofit called Entrepreneur Works. The summer between my first and second year of grad school, I became a Finance Fellow at GoodCompany Ventures, a social impact start-up accelerator. My role focused on helping the Executive Director build a long-term strategy for investing in early-stage technology companies that help mitigate the impact of climate change. They were all different experiences, but similar in that they helped me meet a lot of people focused on how business and social impact intersect in a short amount of time."
While at Penn, Garcia was a Lipman Family Prize Fellow. "This was very meaningful to me. Barry and Marie Lipman endowed the prize at The Wharton School, and every year $350,000 in prizes are awarded to three organizations making an impact in a transferable way around the world. The Fellows are graduate students across all Penn graduate schools, who select the shortlist throughout the year and make a recommendation to the Steering Committee. This was a tremendous experience in becoming a stronger leader in a room full of accomplished, diverse individuals with a variety of career interests. Developing skills in evaluating social programs and innovations is also an experience that I will carry with me forever, as it is a major part of public sector leadership as well."
For Philly, the challenges in attracting, retaining, and supporting start-up and tech companies are many, according to Garcia. "Venture capital is definitely the biggest challenge, but it is one that everyone outside of New York City, Boston, and the Silicon Valley faces. More than three quarters of venture capital dollars go to just three states (New York, Massachusetts, and California). Philadelphia has much to offer as a place to live, including James Beard award-winning restaurants, world-class arts and culture institutions, top universities, and affordable urban living that includes robust public transportation and outdoor recreation options. However, high-growth start-ups and tech companies need investment. There is a chicken-or-the-egg factor where the talent either follows the money or the money follows the talent, and it takes major events to reach a stable point. Often what we see in places like Silicon Valley is that a few companies become extremely successful, and many employees find themselves with newfound wealth. Those folks are very comfortable putting that capital back into their start-up ecosystem, creating a multiplier effect. Philly hasn't really had those high-scale successes yet, but they will come.
"The Department of Commerce is tasked with ensuring the city's businesses thrive and creating jobs, so we have people who support everything from the local barbershop to a Fortune 500 company. The Business Development team specifically focuses on the attraction and retention of companies, and I oversee the tech sector. Relationship building is a big part of the role, so I have a lot of meetings with current Philadelphia companies and ones we are trying to convince this is the right place for their next operation. I have taken the approach that if the way companies grow is by attracting the best talent to generate innovations, the city's business development efforts will be wasted without a focus on including everyone in the tech workforce. Philadelphia is a city with the majority of the population being made up of people of color, so it's not possible to be a serious hub for tech talent if the tech workforce is not diverse. I have been leading the city's efforts to hold an annual conference called Project NorthStar in partnership with an organization called Black and Brown Founders. The conference is in October this year, and I'm very excited that owing to this effort, it will be announced by Microsoft and Backstage Capital that Philadelphia will be one of four cities to host an accelerator offering $100,000 each to tech companies led by founders of color."
Garcia plans to run for elected office within the next few years and will eventually move back to the city where he was raised. "I mentioned that I'm most passionate about building equitable and resilient communities, and I'm still drawn to doing that in my hometown. It is truly a pleasure to serve the people of Philadelphia, but I still feel like a New Yorker, and I'm most at home when I visit NYC. From the outside, most people would say New York is thriving and doesn't need much help, but that's not entirely true. Unfortunately, we still track poverty rates using a federal poverty level ($30,750 for a family of four in 2017) so New York can boast of a poverty rate around 20%, compared to 25% in Philadelphia, for example. But anyone who has spent time in New York knows that the cost of living is extraordinary, so at a much more reasonable 'near poverty' rate of $47,634 for a family of four, we have a New York City that finds half of its 8.6 million people living in poverty. As our populations continue to urbanize, I plan to dedicate my career to figuring out how we can grow inclusively." Garcia gives back to the community, wherever he is. He has volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York, Entrepreneur Works, and currently, Year Up in Philly. "Year Up is an organization whose mission is to close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. Through a one-year, intensive training program, low-income young adults experience a combination of hands-on skills development, coursework eligible for college credit, corporate internships, and wraparound support. As a mentor, I am paired with a young man who just started his corporate internship, and I help answer questions and give advice that he may not necessarily feel comfortable seeking from his manager. In the inner city, we often lack positive role models, or the adults in our lives may not have the right experiences to guide us as we enter new spaces, such as a corporate work environment. As someone who was fortunate enough to get an early start (at Hotchkiss) on learning to navigate different social and professional circles, I feel it is my responsibility to pass that on."
And Garcia is happy to credit Steve Dodge '63 with much of his success. "I was the recipient of Steve's Scholarship, and it would not have been possible for me to attend Hotchkiss without it! It is not hyperbole when I say Hotchkiss is the most fortunate thing that has ever happened to me. The value of that experience was more than just about the education, facilities, and gorgeous campus. I could've gotten a good education and gone to a great college if I had stayed in New York, but Hotchkiss changed my life because it gave me access to a world I could have never imagined otherwise. It introduced me to so many opportunities and a truly global perspective during my formative years. I recently contacted Steve, just to thank him for making all this possible."