Nearly all the startups in this DreamIt Ventures class may stay in Philly - Technical.ly Philly

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Dec. 4, 2014 1:49 pm

Nearly all the startups in this DreamIt Ventures class may stay in Philly

The tide seems to be turning for Philadelphia when it comes to holding on to startups that come to the city for the DreamIt accelerator. What changed?
DreamIt startup Ntensify’s table during DreamIt Demo Day.

DreamIt startup Ntensify's table during DreamIt Demo Day.

(Photo by Juliana Reyes)

When Mayor Nutter called him out in front of crowd of local investors and entrepreneurs, Sunil Kosuri wasn’t even in the room.

Eleven out of the 12 DreamIt Ventures startups are staying in the city after the 12-week business bootcamp, said Nutter, on stage yesterday at World Cafe Live during DreamIt’s culminating demo day.

“Number 12, where might you be? What is the problem?” he quipped in his signature deadpan humor.

Kosuri — number 12 — had stepped out of World Cafe Live theater for a second and missed Nutter’s speech. He runs a hiring software startup called RightHire and plans to return to his home in Washington, D.C. He laughed when a friend later told him about Nutter’s speech.

It wasn’t always like this.

It felt like there was a revived sense of hometown pride at demo day.

In DreamIt’s six-year history in Philadelphia, startups up and leaving the city upon graduation have been more or less the norm. (For what it’s worth, DreamIt managing partner Patrick FitzGerald told us that 11 of the 12 DreamIt startups are “very close to staying,” so that number could go down. It’s still a dramatic statement compared to DreamIt Philly classes of yore.)

Deadlines for the 2015 classes of DreamIt Health Baltimore and DreamIt Philadelphia are Dec. 5 and Dec. 8, respectively. Apply here.

DreamIt startups don’t normally drop their connections to Philadelphia during their presentations, but the tone was different at this demo day.

Pico, a photosharing startup from Israel, received a round of applause when the founders announced at the end of their demo that they were one of those 11 companies staying in Philadelphia. The CEO of Myavana, a company from Atlanta that offers personalized hair product advice for women of color, said she was excited to build her company in Philadelphia. Matt Fineberg, CEO of Bestimators, told the crowd he was a “lifelong Philadelphian.”

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It felt like there was a revived sense of hometown pride at demo day, which was notable, given that accelerators are primarily focused on the success of their companies, rather than building a tech scene in a specific place. (Though some may argue that DreamIt should be focused on building a Philadelphia tech scene since the state-backed Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners was one of its founding sponsors. DreamIt also just received nearly $500,000 from the state to launch its women entrepreneurship program DreamIt Athena.)

"I sold Philly really hard."
DreamIt managing partner Patrick FitzGerald

DreamIt Ventures is “agnostic,” when it comes to where their portfolio companies locate, FitzGerald said, but he isn’t.

“I sold Philly really hard,” said FitzGerald, who has built a number of businesses in Philly, including RecycleBank and Nanny Caddy.

It’s also become easier for startups to stay because the city’s tech scene has grown, said DreamIt Ventures cofounder David Bookspan. The accelerator launched an effort to keep DreamIt startups in the city in 2011 but it didn’t seem to make a big difference. Was the city’s tech scene just not ready yet?

He also pointed to the local tech scene’s increased engagement with this DreamIt class. Nabbing local customers is the most important (just look at the partnerships with DreamIt Health), he said, but the draw of community isn’t to be understated.

This time around, DreamIt startups worked out of DreamIt’s new permanent headquarters at 3401 Market Street, on the same floor as the University City Science Center’s coworking and incubator space ic@3401. (Historically, DreamIt Philly startups worked out of a various, temporary Science Center spaces.) Incubator Venturef0rth is raising a seed fund and offering a “pay when you can” model with DreamIt startups in mind.

DreamIt is also in the process of raising a $30 million fund to invest in its portfolio companies. Drexel and the Science Center both invested in the fund, which Bookspan framed as another way to keep startups in Philadelphia since many DreamIt startups have said that funding is a big reason they leave.

As for Kosuri, who runs the one startup that’s definitely leaving the city, he’s heading back to D.C. for personal reasons. That’s where his wife lives, that’s where he owns a home. Kosuri said he was the oldest among this class of DreamIt founders.

“It’s different when you’re in your 20s,” he said.

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