After six months as long distance cofounders, Claire Kim and Kate Leisy are finally in the same city: Philadelphia.
The pair spent the last two years working at startups (Kim at Providence’s Swipely and Leisy at Center City’s Curalate). More recently, they were building their women’s boxer shorts company, Pugs, on the side. They owe their reunion to the new Venture for America Accelerator.
Venture for America is the New York City-based organization that places recent college grads at startups for two-year fellowships. VFA runs the program in cities with fledgling tech scenes, and Philly has been one of the group’s biggest markets. Last year, 12 fellows joined eight Philly companies, including Biomeme, LeadiD and Guru.
Now, backed by a $200,000 grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, VFA is running a three-month business accelerator for its 2013 fellows right out of First Round Capital’s University City headquarters (where, full disclosure, Technical.ly Philly also has office space).
“We want to create a path for fellows to become founders,” said Mike Tarullo, VFA’s SVP of Corporate Development.
The accelerator was inspired by several 2013 fellows who wanted to work on their startup side projects full time. Give us time and space to start our business, they said. It made sense because it fit with VFA’s mission, Tarullo said: “To help young people launch their careers as entrepreneurs.”
That’s why nine fellows just moved to Philadelphia, from cities like Detroit, New Orleans and Las Vegas. For the founders of Pugs, it was a “risk-free” opportunity to get the business off the ground, plus a chance to live and work with other young entrepreneurs, Leisy said.
They all live between two Rittenhouse Square apartments, which Leisy, 23, and Kim, 24, say is a lot of fun, though they joke that’s kind of like a frat house — the accelerator class is all male except for the Pugs cofounders.
The six startups range from ecommerce to a web annotation Chrome extension to weather insurance.
There’s no standard deal of investment in exchange for equity, the way that an accelerator like DreamIt Ventures does it, Tarullo said.
That’s not in the spirit of VFA, he said.
Instead, VFA is paying for room and board and offering mentorship and programming from people like First Round Capital’s Chris Fralic and MentorTech Ventures’ Brett Topche, as well as others from across the country.
It’ll culminate in a “Launch Day” in May. VFA does small seed investments (it invested $45,000 in Philly VFA Fellow James Fayal’s caffeinated tea business last summer) and it’s possible that it will invest in some of the accelerator startups but that’s not the basis on which they were selected, Tarullo said. VFA plans to host the accelerator every year.
VFA chose Philly because it was close to headquarters in New York and because it was an opportunity to deepen ties in Philly, one of its most active markets. But most important was the space: First Round’s Josh Kopelman offered the venture firm’s office up for free, Tarullo said.
Will they stay? Maybe. Kim and Leisy said it’s a possibility and that it depends on a number of things, including which manufacturer they choose. For now, they’re focused on closing pre-orders (they hit their $5,000 Indiegogo goal in eight days).
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