NeedsList closes $570K seed round, will move out of Philly - Technical.ly Philly

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Aug. 10, 2018 6:51 am

NeedsList closes $570K seed round, will move out of Philly

Cofounder Amanda Levinson is moving to Durham, N.C. for family reasons. She gave us the pros (and cons) of starting a company in Philadelphia.
NeedsList connects people with volunteering and donation opportunities.

NeedsList connects people with volunteering and donation opportunities.

(Courtesy photo)

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that NeedsList declined to accept Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Village Capital's $25,000 seed investment. (8/10, 10:35 a.m.)

Impact investors just pumped $570,000 into NeedsList, the Philly-born startup that connects volunteers and donors with urgent causes around the world.

But next weekend, cofounder and COO Amanda Levinson, who we first met as her company emerged at the top of the Village Capital/Ben Franklin Technology Partners fintech accelerator, is relocating to Durham, N.C., and taking the promising company with her.

See, Levinson’s husband, former Haverford College professor Adam Rosenblatt, has accepted a position at Duke University. With NeedsList cofounder and CEO Natasha Freidus based in Toronto, the distributed company will use the funding to grow a staff in one of the two locations.

“We’ve been primarily virtual for the past two years, and we now want to have as much face-to-face time as possible,” Levinson, 42, told Technical.ly. “It’s unlikely that we’ll end up having staff in Philly.”

The seed round was led by Silicon Valley impact investors Omidyar Network (part of the same group that joined Phenom People’s Series B raise) and Next Wave US Impact Fund, a women-led fund that invests in female founders.

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With the funding, the company plans to bring aboard a strategic partnership manager, a chief technology officer and a community manager, along with other employees in marketing and sales coming aboard in the fall.

“Omidyar were the first ones to commit to the round,” Levinson said. “They’re the dream investors in the sense that they care deeply about impact but also care about returns.”

The cofounder, originally from Denver, moved to Philly in 2015 when Rosenblatt took a job at Haverford. Had the Duke position not opened up for Rosenblatt, she said, Philly would still be NeedsList’s home, as the local community was supportive during its formative years.

“There’s not the cut-throat competition you see in other regions,” Levinson said. “I think the startup scene in Philly is incredibly supportive and tight-knit. I feel a lot of gratitude for the support, encouragement and generosity that folks showed us through mentoring and making introductions.”

But, when asked about the counterpoint to Philly’s welcoming environment for nascent startups, we heard a familiar refrain: Fundraising in Philly can be an uphill battle.

“We didn’t get any investments from Philly investors,” Levinson said. “I’ve heard other entrepreneurs comment that the investment scene is more conservative in its approach to supporting risky startups, and we definitely butted up against that.”

Still, she cites the support of BFTP and its fintech accelerator program with Village Capital as key to their growth and connection to other companies in the region. That program warranted the company the offer of a $25,000 seed investment, but it was ultimately declined by NeedsList, due to their plans to move out of the Philly area.

“Philly was a great place to get our start,” the cofounder said.

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