It was a big winter for the first 3 startups in Project Liberty

April 1, 1015 | Technical.ly Philly by Juliana Reyes

At  the beginning of 2012, a Philly media company opened its doors to three startups.

It was an experiment: Could the legacy media company behind the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com invigorate the tech scene while also modernizing its own offerings? (The following year, the New York Times launcheda similar program.)

Four years later, Project Liberty, as its known, is in the middle of its sixth class of startups (they have yet to be announced). The program was initially funded for three cycles by a $250,000 Knight Foundation grant, which got renewed for $345,000 in the summer of 2013.

So, has the experiment succeeded? That remains to be seen, but here’s what we do know: those first three Project Liberty startups had a big winter, full of exits and fundraising. And at least two of them have had an impact on the region’s tech scene.

The startups — SnipSnapCloudMine and Versa — all joined Project Liberty fresh off completing DreamIt Ventures. (The DreamIt accelerator provided mentorship to the first three classes of Project Liberty and now, it supports the program “in any way that [it] can,” said DreamIt cofounder Steve Welch.)

This winter:

  • Center City couponing app SnipSnap was acquired by Toronto’s Slyce for $6.5 million. SnipSnap’s five employees are remaining in Philadelphia.
  • Center City mobile back-end CloudMine raised $5 million in a Series A led by local investorSafeguard Scientifics. CloudMine employs 16 and is currently hiring.
  • Sponsored content startup Versa, formerly known as ElectNext, was acquired by online petition site Change.org for an undisclosed amount. At the time of the acquisition, Versa no longer had a Philly presence. Its three staffers, including CEO Keya Dannenbaum, are joining Change.org.

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Spark Therapeutics Goes Public

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, whose research the company is based on, owns more than half of the company’s shares.

January 30th, 2015 | Technical.ly by Juliana Reyes

Spark Therapeutics went public on NASDAQ today, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is one big winner.

The startup, based on a decade’s worth of research at CHOP, raised $161 million with its initial public offering, pricing 7 million shares at $23 each. But then, the share price ballooned to $43, raising the company’s value to nearly $1 billion,according to an Inquirer report. That made the 4.9 million shares owned by CHOP — that’s 53.44 percent of the Spark shares — worth as much as $220 million. (Obviously, this could fluctuate.) CHOP committed $50 million in the fall of 2013 when the company was formed. CHOP CEO Steven Altschuler is chairman of Spark’s board.

Spark Therapeutics is a pre-revenue company that aims to cure rare genetic diseases like types of hemophilia and blindness. Its ticker symbol is “ONCE,” referring to the company’s aim of curing, not just treating, these diseases, the Inquirer reported.

Spark raised a $72.8 million Series B led by Silicon Valley investors Sofinnova Ventures last year, and its 50 employees work out of a 28,000-square-foot office at the University City Science Center’s new 3737 Market Street building.

“Our foundation as a company has been born of the work done in West Philadelphia,” CEO Jeff Marrazzo said last fall at the 3737 Market Street ribbon-cutting. “We want to be an example of a company that can not only have its past here but also its future.”

Marrazzo (the son of WHYY CEO Bill Marrazzo) owns 380,000 shares of the company, now worth around $16 million, the Inquirer reported.

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Why this 25-year-old moved to Philly to run her digital marketing startup

December 2, 2014 | Technical.ly by Juliana Reyes

Nadia James used to work at LinkedIn’s London office, running international social media campaigns for major corporations like Google, American Express, IBM and Chanel.

After nearly two years at the company, the 25-year-old realized that smaller companies couldn’t afford digital marketing advice from a place like LinkedIn. So she moved back home, to Northern New Jersey, and opened up her own shop.

Griot Digital, named for the word for a West African storyteller, serves customers like Rutgers University, SemperCon and Practice Unite.

Once James got her business off the ground, she started scoping out cities to move to. She found Philly last spring, right before Philly Tech Week, which she said sealed the deal for her. (Full, self-serving disclosure: Technical.ly organizes Philly Tech Week.)

Below, she explains how she went from apartment hunting in Fishtown to office hunting (in Fishtown) in just six months and what’s overwhelming about the local tech scene.

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Meet 9 companies in the 2nd FastFWD social enterprise accelerator class

September 18, 2014 | Technical.ly Philly by Juliana Reyes

The City of Philadelphia, GoodCompany Group and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative announced the second class of its social enterprise accelerator, FastFWD, today. Each company is focused on improving public safety.

The second class kicks off this week. Backed by a $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Foundation, the accelerator awards $10,000 to each company, as well as mentorship, training and office space in Kensington’s Impact Hub. Every company will have the opportunity to apply for a city contract at the end of the 12-week program. The idea behind the accelerator is to cut through the bureaucratic red tape involved in the city procurement process…

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Jon Gosier’s new fund wants to make angel investing more inclusive

September 16, 2014 | Technical.ly Philly by Juliana Reyes

The angel investment world felt insular to Jon Gosier.

He wasn’t alone. At the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, Gosier, who runs data science startup D8A, met a group of Philadelphia business people who also wanted to get into angel investing but didn’t know where to start.

So they started their own fund.

Third Cohort, so named because the fund’s partners all met in the third cohort of the 10,000 Small Businesses program, invests between $10,000 to $25,000 in very early stage tech startups. They’ve already made two investments: one in New York City-based, pre-launch dream-remembrance app Shadow and another in Washington, D.C.-based “Bloomberg for Africa” startup Market Atlas. These deals have come through the partners’ networks, he said, as the fund hasn’t really started any outreach efforts yet.

Aside from investing in tech startups, the fund will also provide low-interest loans to early-stage brick-and-mortar businesses that don’t traditionally get funded by angel investors. The group wants to help “these small businesses that make up most of the economy” who may not be able to get a loan from a bank yet, Gosier said…

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Philly chapter of socially-minded Investors’ Circle is biggest in U.S.

May 28, 2014 | Technically Philly by Juliana Reyes

With nearly 30 members, the Philadelphia chapter of Investors’ Circle, a national angel group that invests in social entrepreneurs, is the biggest chapter in the country.

The local chapter started in 2009 and was the first of its kind, said IC-Philadelphia president John Moore. Investors’ Circle was traditionally a group of angel investors spread throughout the country. They’d meet twice a year on each coast for two days of startup presentations. Now, cities like New York, Raleigh and San Francisco are following Philadelphia’s lead and building up local chapters of their own.

“This is one way that Philly is teaching the rest of the venture world,” said Moore of the group, which meets monthly to hear pitches from local companies.

IC-Philadelphia has invested $3 million in 10 companies since its launch,including sustainable laundry service Wash Cycle Laundry, sponsored advertising startup ElectNext (now Versa) and women’s financial literacy siteDailyWorth. Those companies have gone on to raise $22 million, Moore said. The group only considers companies in a two-hour train ride radius (that would put D.C. in, but Boston out).

Why create a group that focuses on investing locally?

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Vistar Media: why this NYC adtech startup’s tech team is based in Philly

May 7, 2014 | Technically Philly by Juliana Reyes

The beginning of a startup is “a huge software problem,” as the cofounders of venture-backed adtech startup Vistar Media put it.

That’s why Mark Chadwick and Michael Provenzano wanted to hire engineers in a city they were comfortable in. That city was Philadelphia. It was the place they learned the ropes of running a startup, while working at Invite Media, the Center City online advertising company that sold to Google in 2010 for $81 million.

Today, Vistar Media’s six-person engineering team is based in Rittenhouse Square, while the rest of their team (eight staffers) is based in New York City. They’re currently hiring in both cities.

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How these real estate developers used open data to find new business

April 28, 2014| Technically Philly by Juliana Reyes

Streamline Solutions used to drive around neighborhoods to find run-down houses to rehab. But last July, the South Philly development company realized the city had released reams of data on property violations, like which homes had broken windows or rodent infestation or were in danger of collapse.

Why not use that data to find houses to rehab?

The company hired a software developer to build a tool for them that used the city’s Licenses and Inspections API, which offered a real-time feed of data about property violations.

Since then, Streamline has identified about 100 properties each month that it hopes to purchase and fix up, said Dhanraj “Danny” Phagoo, the Streamline staffer who led the project to use the city’s data. Identifying the properties is one thing, but finding the owners and purchasing the property is another. Streamine has been able to purchase between two to five properties that it found through L&I data per month, Phagoo said.

Still, the city’s open data has been important to Streamline’s business.

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SevOne’s satellite office expands into new Center City space

March  20, 2014 | Technically Philly  by Juliana Reyes

One year after it opened its satellite office in Old City, Wilmington, Del.-based IT management company SevOne has moved its Philly-based development team into a bigger space to accommodate growth, according to a release.

SevOne initially opened a satellite development team in Philly as a pilot to see if the city location would help the company attract talent, a spokesman for the company said. It worked.

The new 6,500 square foot space in Center City’s Land Title Building at Broad and Chestnut Street can fit up to 55 employees. SevOne currently employs 30 in its Philly office, which makes up about 11 percent of its 270 total employees. It also has another other satellite development office in Boston.

It’s the first news we’ve seen of a satellite office outgrowing its original space — might the same happen for satellite offices of suburban tech companies like Bentley Systems and the newly-acquired Fiberlink?

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See the 5 winners of City of Philadelphia’s ‘Call for Ideas’ grants

March 20, 2014 | Technical.ly by Juliana Reyes

The second set of the city-backed StartupPHL ‘Call for Ideas’ grants focus on training and retaining talent in Philadelphia. The grants were created “to support the culture” of the Philly tech scene, said city Commerce Director Alan Greenberger in an interview last month.

Full disclosure, as listed below, Technical.ly applied for and, in partnership with another community group, received one of these grants. This reporter was not part of the process.

According to a release, the awardees, which were announced today at SevOne’s new Center City Office, include:

  • PennApps Fellows Internship Program: $2,500 per student participant to support a local program connecting student interns from across the nation to Philadelphia based companies for a 10-week internship during the summer of 2014.
  • Philadelphia Fashion Incubator: $25,000 to create a series of monthly seminars, panels and interactive workshops focused on the business of fashion for the design community.
  • Zivtech Developer Boot Camp: $24,000 to teach a six-week developer bootcamp to a class of 30 participants.
  • NextFab Fellows Coop Program: – $25,000 to support four co-op fellowships. Students will receive training and materials while gaining experience working for NextFab companies who struggle to find talent.
  • Technical.ly / Philly Startup Leaders: $25,000 to create and execute a series of eight workshops to better connect the PHL tech community to universities and students. (Find coverage of the event that sparked this idea here)

*Full Disclosure: Technical.ly applied and won a Call for Ideas grant. This reporter was not part of that process.

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