A comedy club really is a great stand-in for a pitch room: under the bright, hot spotlight, seven startups pitched their stuff on Tuesday at Helium Comedy Club, as part of the finale of this year’s Philly Startup Leaders accelerator program.
The room had gravitas: from government officials like Mayor Jim Kenney and Councilman Allan Domb, to corporate giants like Comcast and IBM, reps from stakeholders like Ben Franklin Technology Partners, reporters from a handful of outlets and low-key angel investors. The seven startups to emerge from the 12-week program pitched their companies to a hefty representation of the local tech ecosystem.
“One of my wishes in life is to make this room more diverse,” said Kenney, who stopped by for a quick intro and gave the companies his “blessing.”
“You make our city great and you’re going to continue to,” Kenney said.
It was also the first big, semi-public event helmed by PSL’s new executive director, Kiera Smalls. The former marketing manager at bike-share program operator Bicycle Transit Systems said she witnessed startups working “extremely hard” to craft clear pitches.
“We’re looking forward to staying in touch and helping them along their journey,” Smalls, 28, said. “They’ve already committed to supporting future founders and startups and the overall PSL community.”
For the early-stage companies to come out of the accelerator program — which takes no equity and gives no investments (which is usually what “accelerator” signifies) — the running question we had was: what did the experience yield?
Here’s what the founders had to say.
For Venezuelan founder Luis Gamardo, founder of Besto, the key takeaway from the program was guidance through a tricky move for any startup: the pivot. The company, formerly makers of an app that helped shelters boost animal adoption, came to the realization that the app market was too crowded and decided to relaunch as a vitamin pack subscription service for pet owners. So far, it has secured its first five paying customers.
A sharper focus
Before the accelerator, the team behind app NativX wanted to roll out its a mobile application for locally sourced travel recommendations to a bunch of cities. Hearing feedback from mentors and other companies, it decided to instead focus on a pilot program to launch in Philly this May.
A key mentor
Employee Cycle’s Bruce Marable connected with an ideal mentor for his HR data analytics company: Dave Becker, the CEO of edtech company CampusESP.
“Both of us are straight shooters,” said Marable in reference to the honest, unfiltered feedback he was able to get from Becker.
Jenzy is making an app that sizes up kids feet and matches it to the “real” shoe size in each model. It’s a play on the dwindling number of brick-and-mortar stores and the rise of ecommerce purchases. The thought is: if parents get their kids’ sizes right, both companies and customers won’t have to deal with returns. Cofounder Carolyn Horner said access to PSL’s network and the insight from other companies and experts was a key takeaway.
Phil Heifetz, founder of Saturn Care and healthcare industry veteran, learned to incorporate storytelling into his pitches as part of the accelerator. His company makes an engagement dashboard for diabetes patients.
One more for the pivot list: realLIST startup WeGardn is going B2B, with a model that connects food producers with wholesale food buyers. Cofounder Greg Donworth said the accelerator helped shape the business model as the company turns to the more predictable, stable business-to-business approach.
An intro to Philly
Wearwell founder Erin Houston recently relocated to Philadelphia, where she’s building her personal shopping subscription service with a sustainability angle. Houston said the accelerator was a good crash course — call it Philly Tech Community 101.