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RealLIST Startups 2021 check-in: How have Philly’s most promising young companies grown, 9 months later?

After being named to our list of most intriguing companies, here's where the top 10 stand now.

Philadelphia. (Photo by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia)
For the last five years, has cultivated lists acknowledging the quickly growing and increasingly promising startups built right here in the City of Brotherly Love. We call them the RealLIST Startups.

(That’s not to be confused with the RealLIST Engineers recognizing influential technologists; check out the full RealLIST series here.)

We deem them “real” for being intriguing and innovative young tech companies that are already making an impact in our respective cities. In January, we released this 2021 RealLIST Startups, which called out a host of companies working within healthcare, robotics, B2B and medicine — some of Philadelphia’s strongest tech industries.

About nine months later — just three month’s before our 2022 (!!!) list will be revealed— it’s time to check in. Where do they stand now? How have they grown?

10.  Lula

Lula. (Courtesy image)

Lula landed on our 2021 list shortly after it launched in 2020. The young team behind this convenience store delivery startup regrouped after their last startup closed and entered the instant needs space.

Lula’s technology allows convenience stores to list and keep track of their inventory for delivery by third-party drivers for a subscription fee and gets paid back for purchases made through the app. A new version of the app launches this month.

Since January, the company has expanded its team to 19 people, raised a pre-seed round earlier this summer and recently partnered with Uber to allow thousands more convenience stores to offer on-demand delivery with its technology through Uber Eats.

9. Percepta

Two-year-old startup Percepta uses what the cofounders call “ethical” artificial intelligence to anonymize shoppers’ race, gender and age for loss-prevention teams to avoid racial and other profiling. Instead of using regular video surveillance, the AI tracks shoppers’ body movements — scanning for employees, looking up for cameras or putting products in their clothing. Then, an image of a person the tech found highly probable of having shoplifted is sent via a mobile app to the store’s loss prevention team, who ultimately make the decision to intervene or not.

In early 2021, the team had just participated in Pennovation Center’s summer 2020 cohort and the Comcast LIFTLabs accelerator in fall of 2020. They were also testing its product in retail stores in New York City and Philadelphia, looking to partner with big-box stores, and had received an investment of more than $1 million from a strategic investor.

This week, CEO Philippe Sawaya told that the Percepta team had just moved over to ADT Commercial — its main investor — to continue the project under its wing.

“Percepta’s no longer an its own entity; the team’s moved entirely over to ADT Commercial as ADT employees,” he said in an email.

8. CareAlign

At the start of this year, CareAlign had just rebranded from TrekIt Health, and the 2018-founded company raised a $1 million seed round. The rebrand came along with a partnership with HealthShare Exchange, a nonprofit that makes electronic patient health info available securely at healthcare systems throughout Greater Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, and allows data and tech companies to access a larger pool of patient data in order to make better clinical decision.

This year, the company has hired James Green as its chief operating officer and gained some traction in a few extra use cases like in skilled nursing facilities, population health organizations and accountable care organizations, a company spokesperson said.

“They expect a big Q4,” he said.

7. Stix

Stix cofounders Jamie Norwood (L) and Cynthia Plotch. (Courtesy photo)

Since January, fertility and women’s health startup Stix has raised a $3.5 million seed round, and is working to grow its team to a dozen people (up from nine) by the end of this year. The company also set up shop in its first office space at the Bond Collective in Center City, with a hybrid team split between Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Massachusetts.

Cofounders Cynthia Plotch and Jamie Norwood were recently named to Inc.’s Female Founders 100 list for their work growing the companies amid the pandemic. And Stix recently introduced additional health products, like UTI and yeast infection tests and treatments, and expanded its online library of health resources.

6. Cesium

Cesium, a 3D geospatial data company that spun out from Analytical Graphics Inc. to form its own company in 2019, has since raised a $5 million Series A, and set up shop in Center City’s coworking space The Yard. In its three years, its partnered with orgs like National Geospatial Agency to build a 3D web visualization of its Map of the World, with Firefox to add real-world 3D data to its virtual reality framework and with the Toyota Research Institute uses Cesium to visualize the 3D environment captured by sensors on their autonomous cars.

Since it made the RealLIST in January, the company has begun working on building the metaverse — an interactive, immersive, 3D version of the internet — and has brought on Norm Badler to lead that research. Cesium is working with Epic Games and NVIDIA, using its platform to stream massive amounts of 3D data and will provide a bridge to bring real-world 3D data collected from sensors like satellites and drones into digital worlds.

Cesium is currently employs 42 people, 34 of whom are in full-time roles, and is doing lots of hiring right now.

5. RenoFi

A RenoFi before and after. (Courtesy photo)

Fintech startup RenoFi was cofounded by former Zoomer execs Justin Goldman, Robert Shedd and Lee Miller in 2018 and aims to help lenders and potential loan seekers who want to start a home renovation project but might not yet have the equity to tap. The company raised a $6.4 million series A in 2020 and grew to 49 states that year.

CEO Goldman told that this year, the company grew to 52 employees and is on pace to grow roughly 1o times the number of RenoFi loans originated in 2021. It also has some exciting products coming down the line, but they aren’t quite ready to announce the details, Goldman said.

4. Nextmv

Data engineering startup Nextmv is behind a platform that uses algorithms to consolidate and automate deliveries and manage large, distributed teams. The company launched in July 2019, and helps with the logistics of what founder Carolyn Mooney calls “manual chaos,” or the disorganization that can come from a human needing to plan decisions within a system.

Nextmv’s new mascot. (Screenshot)

Earlier this year, the company raised an $8 million Series A from existing investors, and has grown its team to more than 25 people across the world (and they’re still hiring). The team also launched “new-and-improved” routing features on Nextmv Cloud, released a new version of its hybrid optimization solver and made custom routing applications super low code, Mooney said. It also adopted a cute new mascot.

3. Black and Mobile

The 2019-founded food delivery startup cofounded by brothers David and Aaron Cabella connects its users with local, Black-owned restaurants. In 2020, the company was included in the music video for “Entrepreneur,” the song from Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z that featured 33 Black business owners. Black and Mobile was also voted Philly’s Startup of the Year in the 2020 Awards.

So far this year, the company has made a few changes, most because of the ongoing pandemic, David Cabella told They now work with third-party delivery systems like Lyft, Doordash and UberEats to deliver from their roster of restaurants in Philadelphia, Detroit, Michigan, Atlanta, Georgia and New York City. They’re expanding to Los Angeles this month, and have their eyes set on Houston after that.

They’ve also parted ways with JumpButton Studio and are working with new developers for their app. And keep your eyes peeled for a round of seed investing via crowdfunding campaign, as the company aims to begin spending on marketing and growing its team.

2. LifeBrand

This 2018-founded, Newtown Square-based startup that uses uses AI and machine learning technology to scrub the platforms of a social media user for potentially “harmful” posts landed second on our RealLIST earlier this year for its quick traction. And indeed, that traction has continued, as the company has added the majority of its team during the pandemic, growing from a handful of employees to around 15 by this spring.

In March, Jemma Barbarise, LifeBrand cofounder and COO, told they were eyeing new offices in Las Vegas and Kiev, and the company was creating 25 new positions for its West Chester HQ. The company has also partnered with multiple local orgs like the Philadelphia Eagles, Kraft Sports + Entertainment, and its founder, Thomas Colaiezzi, was chosen as a finalist for EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year 2021 Greater Philadelphia Awards.

1. Misfits Market

Misfits Market box. (Courtesy photo)

This year’s first-place startup hardly falls into the startup category anymore. Earlier this year, Misfits Market raised a $200 million Series C, and has since been valued at $2 billion after raising even more, a $225 million round C-1 last month.

The 2018-founded delivery company saw an increased demand for its “ugly” produce and shelf-stable groceries like many other food delivery services amid the coronavirus pandemic, as consumers limited their trips to the grocery store. The C-1 round will be used to fuel its nationwide expansion and increase the selection of items available to customers as it continues building its online grocery platform. Last month, the company said it was nearing 2,000 total employees.


And check out updates on some of these honorable mentions, in no particular order:

Companies: RenoFi / Lula / Stix / RecoveryLink / Black and Mobile / Percepta / LifeBrand / Nextmv / Misfits Market / Cesium / CareAlign
Series: RealLIST Startups / RealLIST

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