Finance / Startups

At the PHL Innovation Picnic, we got a sneak peek at Philly’s fintech bullpen

Two Philly startups earned $25,000 at the end of the 12-week program. But that was just the start.

The accelerator startups (and program administrators) at Ben Franklin's fabled sticker wall. (Courtesy photo)
As if school was letting out, the eight startups in Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Village Capital’s fintech accelerator broke free from their final session at BFTP’s Navy Yard HQ last Thursday to join the PHL Innovation Picnic.

It was a scene of leisure. FixList founder Stacey Mosley played beer-pong with BFTP’s new PR lead Amanda Wagner under the piercing sun. College Affordability’s Fred Amrein slayed his much younger opponents at cornhole. NeedsList’s COO Amanda Levinson gazed calmly over the sprawling Marine Parade Grounds lawn (where, it should be noted, the Technically Media team triumphed over Stitch to win the Field Day championship).

The event, which drew 900 attendees and raised $10,000 for three local tech education nonprofits, was an ideal scenario to check in with Philly’s budding fintech startups. Two from the cohort were celebrating more than just the warm summer day: AssetMap and NeedsList came out of the 12-week program on top, receiving $25,000 investment each.

“It’s made our business so much stronger,” Levinson said of the accelerator as she sought refuge under a leafy tree. “It was great to be in the investor’s seat and see so many people be passionate about their own company while helping us with ours.”

Following the VilCap model, it’s the companies themselves who chose the top two companies according to nine indicators of “investment readiness.” But NeedsList wasn’t always on top: It was the company’s June 20 beta launch (on World Refugee Day) that helped them climb up the ranking. Since launch, the platform has helped get 20,000 “needs” (supplies, like T-shirts, shoes and diapers) to refugees in need in four countries.

“For us it was less about the money,” said AssetMap founder Adam Holt. “It was more about spending 96 hours working with a community of creative fintech innovators. We should have paid them $25,000.” The company has been in a push to connect within the startup community, recently moving out of Bala Cynwyd and into an Old City office.

Easy to think that way once you have the cash, this reporter thought. With VilCap’s peer-reviewed model, one question that always stuck with me was: did the company’s that didn’t get the cash still think it was worth their time and focus? Particularly in an industry-specific setting like this, it may seem like a vote for the neighboring startup was a vote for the competition (even though “fintech” was kept purposefully broad in the selection process).

Factury cofounder Arturs Ivanovs wasn’t having none of that talk. “The actual value add here was the connections: experience from all the people there was of valuable to me,” the New York-based founder said. A similar tune was sang by College Affordability’s Amrein, who stuck out from the pack with his silver hair. “I was the oldest guy in the room, so I fed off their energy and passion,” Amrein said. “But I also got exposure to investors and people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.”

Gushing reviews of the program by the startups aside, the real interesting takeaway here is that Philly, while better known for its eds and meds successes, drummed up a cohort of early stage companies in the fintech space that got attention from the D.C.-based investment firm.

VilCap Communities Associate Emily Edwards kept the praise rolling, this time for the startups themselves:

“The Philly cohort was competitive with our national programs, which recruit entrepreneurs from all over the country,” Edwards said. “I think any of these companies could have participated in a national VilCap program and done well, if not won.”

The investor’s words are testament to how the Philly fintech ecosytem, which already has its share of bigger players, is showing promising future.

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