Roundups / Startups / / Awards

These are the 20 most exciting startups in Philly right now: realLIST 2017

Meet the companies we're watching this year.

Blackfynn made our 2017 realLIST. (Courtesy photo)
What is a “real” company, anyway?

Figuring out which companies are “real” and which ones aren’t is key to productive, relevant coverage of any tech ecosystem. The term is often kicked around in our newsroom when a new company reaches out with an update. “Are they real?” can also be thought of as the question that helps us keep tabs on the big companies of the future.

That’s why created the realLIST: a roundup of those companies whose moves we’ll be tracking but, also, companies which have already proven to be real in their short lifespan.

And what exactly makes a company real? A bold idea is a good start. Are the founders hoping to cash in on a buzzy market/space or are they, as Josh Kopelman said, choosing the big idea?

Next up: founders themselves. As some investors will say, a strong founding team can take precedence over the initial idea itself. Just remember how Curalate’s Apu Gupta got a second chance after his initial idea failed. Past experience, tenacity and creativity in a founder is often the sign of a real company.

There’s also factors like investment capital, team size, office space and of course, customers.

We took the liberty of setting up a few ground rules to narrow the scope of our experiment. To be considered for our realLIST companies had to:

  • Have been founded no earlier than 2013. That sunset period stems from cofounder Christopher Wink’s 2012 definition of a startup. This sunset period took away some pretty real contenders (sorry, Biomeme) as well as the companies which have moved out of that early stage (like Slyce and Sidecar). We had to draw the line somewhere.
  • Companies must make the majority of their revenue from a product. That means agencies were not eligible (say, for example, Think Company).
  • They haven’t exited or undergone something close to that nature (think RevZilla or RJMetrics).

And so, here is’s 2017 realLIST. Click on each company to read our coverage and get a sense as to why they made it.

(One important caveat about this list: Not making this list does not mean we deem a startup “unreal.” This is simply a snapshot of what we’re most excited about right now.)


10. Lilu

  • Ambitious idea: A hardware company focusing on breast pumping accessories. Won a PennDesign competition and participated in Y-Combinator’s fellowship program.

9. FinPay

  • Led by Chris Wolfington, a fintechveteran who ran a firm that managed electronic payments for a casinos. Plus they scooped up precocious startup youngin Raheem Ghouse.

8. AnneeLondon

  • Another ambitious idea: a foldable bike helmet with LED lights. Senior staff include a former Lockeed Martin and Boeing engineer and a veteran sales and engineering staffer of Thyssen Krupp.

7. Orai

6. Stitch

  • CEO Jake Stein showed us what he could do as the CTO of RJMetrics, which got bought by Magento. Plus his team at Stitch is largely made up of RJMetrics staffers. Let’s see what he can do as CEO.

5. Oncora Medical

4. LIA Diagnostics

  • Another ambitious idea alert: LIA is making a flushable, plastic-free, biodegradable pregnancy test. Vetted by DreamIt Ventures. Plus, founder Bethany Edwards has kept quiet, which suggest she’s less about hype and more about getting it done. She also received an early vote of confidence from Temple’s Ellen Weber, who told us to pay attention to LIA when the company had just launched.


  • Spinout company from the University of Pennsylvania focusing on robotics, computer vision, perception, and artificial intelligence that already has paying customers.Team is made up on research scientists, including founder and CEO Jonas Cleveland500 Startups alum.

2. Curren-c

  • Adtech company in stealth mode cofounded by Will Luttrell, who founded NYC adtech heavy hitter Integral Ad Science. Plus: DreamIt Ventures’ cofounder David Bookspan is a cofounder. When’s the last time we saw him joining a founding team?

1. Blackfynn

Honorable Mention

In no particular order.


A few observations about the list:

  • It’s health IT heavy. That’s no surprise given the region’s efforts to become an industry hub.
  • We haven’t written about two of the companies on our list: Curren-C, which is in stealth mode, and FinPay, but we’re choosing them based on the track record of the teams involved and the backchannel chatter we’ve heard.
  • At least five companies on our list were founded by women (FixList, LIA Diagnostics, Lilu, Blackfynn, AnneeLondon) and two are focused specifically on tackling problems that women face (LIA Diagnostics, Lilu).
  • At least five companies on the list were founded by entrepreneurs who weren’t born in the U.S. (Borderwise, Tern Water, Graphwear, XEED). (For more, see our list of 12 companies founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs.)
  • The city’s anchor institutions came out strong: Penn is heavily represented (XEED and Cosy are both out of the Pennovation Center), as is the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (Diagnostic Driving, Bainbridge Health). There are also Drexel entrepreneurs (Tern Water, Orai, AnneeLondon) and at least one Temple founder (LIA Diagnostics).

And finally: who did we miss? Tell us who’s on your realLIST.

Full disclosure: cofounder Brian James Kirk is partners with Stacey Mosley, founder of FixList, which is featured on the realLIST. He was not involved in this report.

Companies: Bainbridge Health / Tern Water / Orai / COSY / LIA Diagnostics / FixList / Stitch, Inc. / Bainbridge Health / Blackfynn / HealthVerity / Oncora Medical
Series: RealLIST Startups / RealLIST

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