Something big is happening. It’s not obvious, and it’s nothing tactile—but it’s most definitely a shift in the way we normally do things around here. It’s spurred on by a group of people who, above all else, want to create something that is their very own. With a whole lot of passion and tireless energy, they’re dreaming up new uses for technology, coming up with problem-solving products, and sketching out websites on napkins at coffee shops. Our research turned up more than 100 start-ups (whittled down here to the 20 coolest) that are happening right now. And while those companies may be small, what they’re part of is something huge: They’re changing the way business and culture look in Philadelphia. They’re ushering in an era in which our city is suddenly smarter, hipper, younger, more communal, more energetic and more creative than ever before. And this is just the beginning.
Lifestyle | Paoli
The pitch: Creating a safe digital place for families to share information.
Joanne Lang’s lightbulb-over-the-head moment came in the wake of an unfortunate situation—as her asthmatic son was rushed to the hospital, she was asked for his medical information and couldn’t remember a thing. “I knew all the information was filed away, but I couldn’t click on anything to give the paramedic what he needed,” says Lang, 43. “It was traumatizing.” (Her son is okay.) As a developer for SAP, she had the background knowledge in secure cloud technology to be able to turn her filing cabinet into a digital platform. The result: AboutOne, a secure family-planner app that aggregates items and info like health records, education forms, important contacts, numbers and dates for parents and caretakers. Since its introduction three years ago, it’s garnered press from the New York Times, USA Today and the Today Show.
Make or Break: AboutOne has raised $4 million in venture capital, and a new user platform is in the works. An official launch in January will be Lang’s first glimpse of revenue projections—users who want more than 1GB of cloud space will have to pay for a premium subscription. Long-term, Lang hopes to repurpose the platform into a tool that’s useful for corporate executives.
Business | Center City
The Pitch: Harnessing the power of pictures.
It seems like a runaway success—revenue has increased seven times compared to last year—but Curalate, the company started by Apu Gupta and Nick Shiftan, was initially something else entirely. Recognizing that it wasn’t working, Gupta, 38, and Shiftan, 32, instead came up with Curalate: a visual marketing analytics company that tracks the impact of images using sophisticated picture-scanning technology—an invaluable tool to better understand photo-driven sites like Instagram and Pinterest. Big-league clients include Gap, Neiman Marcus, Urban Outfitters, Under Armour and Swarovski.
What’s Next: Curalate has received a total of $4 million in VC money and continues to add more services, like Fanreel, a tool that allows clients to reuse user-uploaded, hashtagged images on their own e-commerce sites.
Tech | Paoli
The Pitch: Online search without the creepy spying.
The search-engine world might be dominated by one untouchable, but 34-year-old Gabriel Weinberg is banking on a novel concept: privacy. In 2008 he launched DuckDuckGo, a search engine that eschews the personal data collected by sites like Google and Bing—data that can not only tarnish accurate ad results but is seen as increasingly invasive. He’s on to something: Last summer’s Snowden NSA scandal helped grow DDG to more than 100 million searches a month.
Make or Break: DDG brings in revenue through a single ad banner and an affiliate program with Amazon and eBay through which DDG gets a percentage of transactions that start from the site.
Business | Northern Liberties
The Pitch: The smartest SEO.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the foundation on which Wil Reynolds, 37, built SEER. He hired his first employee in 2005 and his 70th in the fall. Crayola, Wine Enthusiast, a Fortune 50 bank and BHLDN have all hired SEER to get them more online visibility by analyzing the way they interact with search engines like Google and Bing, then implementing adjustments to their standards and websites. Finding and retaining talent is key, and to help, Reynolds has created a Silicon Valley-esque culture: His headquarters (nicknamed the “Search Church”) are in a rehabbed house of worship, and he takes the gang on field trips to Six Flags and hosts yoga classes for his crew.
What’s Next: Most of SEER’s success has been recent—the company has grown 35 to 55 percent over the past few years. Reynolds is committed to Philadelphia: Last year he relocated about 40 percent of hires to our region.
Retail | Center City
The Pitch: Coupon-clipping goes digital.
Penny-pinchers, rejoice! SnipSnap’s technology lets users snap photos of coupons, upload them, share them with friends and scan them at checkout—entirely through an app. When the idea hit, 36-year-old Ted Mann left his job and joined local accelerator program DreamIt Ventures (a company that awards seed money and mentorship to great ideas) to work on it. Thanks to front-page placement in the iTunes App Store, SnipSnap secured 200,000 downloads in its first two weeks.
What’s Next: Mann recently scored impressive retail partnerships with Toys “R” Us and Bed Bath & Beyond, which will publish coupons directly to the app. SnipSnap will take $1 every time one of those coupons is redeemed.