We Told You to Watch These 10 Philly Startups—Here’s Where They Are Now
As 2017 comes to an end, here's an update on the year's innovation watchlist.
Back in January, we polled the tech community to determine Philly’s top ten startups to watch for 2017. As we enter the final months of the year, we’ve checked back in with the ten companies to highlight their developments and challenges and to find out what’s next. While some of the companies continue to grow at a mind-blowing rate, one startup on the list completely ceased operations this year (and tells us why they should’ve failed faster). Read on to learn who Joe Biden has his eyes on and which company got acquired.
Known as the “Yelp of politics,” Jefferson’s List provides new, aspiring politicians a platform to research and find people to run their campaigns. Founders TJ Hurst and Dan Seigel launched the startup this year because the political industry is all about “I know a guy,” they say, which only helps staffers of incumbent candidates get their footing.
This year the company raised $380,000 in seed investment, hired a few full-time employees, and launched their product in beta mode. The company is eyeing an official January 2018 launch in time for next year’s election. Until then, the company will continue to develop features and add users to the product’s listings. After this year’s challenges with hiring staff, raising money and developing the platform, founder Hurst says, “At the end of the day, we are proud to have a thing. This site was an idea two years ago and now it’s a reality, and that thing is now the single largest database of campaign expenditures.”
Skyless Game Studios
Three Drexel alums, Chris Bennett, Arad Malhotra, and Oleks Levtchenko, co-founded Skyless Game Studios in 2012 to empower social causes with video games. The team partners with experts in a cause to create related training and awareness games. Skyless is already known for ones like “Follow the Money” and “AssembleIt,”and the team took things up a few notches this year by releasing two new games. They also expect to release three more by year’s end.
One of the newly released games is “Political Rush,” described as a lighthearted approach to politics through puzzles. The other is an updated version of “Puzzable,” a photo-sharing Jigsaw game they worked with 417 App Studios to create. And the soon-to-be released games will focus on cultural exchange. The startup also launched a few partnerships. It began working with researchers at Texas Tech University and Montclair State University to create a rehabilitation game for those formerly in the corrections system. The team is most proud of its work on Puzzable this year. “Despite being an updated version, we built it from the ground up,” Bennett told Philadelphia magazine. This took around four months, making it our fastest development cycle so far.”
Co-founders David Lindsay and Chris Berlind are building software to help oncologists design better treatment plans for cancer patients. This year, the company moved into a new office space, hired more team members and completed a $2.5 million round of funding with investors like BioAdvance and iSeed Ventures. The startup’s big breakthrough this year, though, came in April when it formed an alliance with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, an institution at the forefront of cancer research. Oncora has installed its platform at the medical center to help local radiation oncologists develop personalized treatment plans based on outcome predictions.
The company plans to continue expanding its engineering and product teams to build out its analytics platform. “As we close out 2017, we are focusing on improving our product based on physician feedback,” Lindsay told Philadelphia magazine. “We’ll continue to perform research with partner institutions to demonstrate the quality of our predictive models and install our product at additional customer sites.”
More and more companies are migrating to the cloud, and Cloudamize supports enterprises as they take that big step. The startup specializes in managing cloud infrastructure for clients as big as ESPN and Office Max. Founder and chairperson Khushboo Shah and CEO Bob Moul have raised at least $2.2 million since 2012 and the number grew this year after Cloudamize finalized its Blackstone-backed merger with London-based Cloudreach. The merger has been praised as a big win for the city—the growing company will bring a significant number of tech jobs to Philly over the next three to five years.
Moul told Philadelphia magazine that the merger hasn’t been without its challenges. It’s taken most of the year to be completed, for example, but the company has still managed to show growth during the process. “Since January of this year, we tripled the number of new partners we signed and achieved a 130 percent increase in partner channel revenue compared to the same period last year,” Moul said. “Further, the Cloudamize platform was used to support 775 cloud migration assessments so far this year, a 57 percent increase since this time last year.” And Moul remains optimistic going forward into 2018: “This was Khushboo and Stephan’s first startup and to achieve an exit of this magnitude the first time out of the gate is truly impressive. The future is very bright for Cloudamize as it continues its journey right here in Philly.”
Women looking for more privacy and an eco-friendly way to take a pregnancy test could be in luck. LIA Diagnostics is creating a disposable, biodegradable pregnancy test that arrives in an envelope and looks nothing like the traditional product. Co-founders Bethany Edwards and Anna Couturier are Temple alumnae who wanted to create change in an industry that has seen very little in the past few decades. The idea was born at Penn’s Integrated Design Program and later developed at DreamIt Ventures’ three-month startup incubator program.
The product isn’t available for sale in the U.S. yet as the team seeks various FDA approvals. This year LIA closed a follow-on round of funding, in which women’s health care advocate and entrepreneur Cindy Whitehead made an investment. LIA was also accepted into the Science Center’s 12-month Digital Health Accelerator. The team will receive $50,000 to move from research to production. As we close out the year, Edwards tells us, “December should be a big month for us, so stay tuned. Among other things, we’ll be launching a new website.”
Jeremy Rogoff, Vicky Kinzing, and Eric Krupski moved their edtech startup to Philly in 2016. The data platform helps schools and school districts measure and improve teaching practices and teacher education. At the beginning of the year, the company said their goal was to expand their client portfolio. This year they managed to grow their number of school district partners to about 50 and that portfolio now includes Baltimore County Public Schools, the Houston Independent School District, and Alexandria Public Schools.
On the product side, KickUp launched the beta of a brand new event management tool that’s now integrated on the platform. School districts can use the tool to manage their teachers’ professional learning sessions, and teachers can use the same interface to provide feedback on the trainings. Reflecting on 2017, founder Rogoff says, “We’ve more than doubled in client growth, team growth and revenue growth, so we’re pretty excited about that.” He added: “At the end of the day, we’re a group of educators who believe in the power of professional development.” One client told KickUp that is has changed the way they make decisions. “Hearing from big districts like Baltimore County and Alexandria that we’re helping them make a difference in their classrooms makes that growth meaningful,” Rogoff said.
Jake Stein, cofounder of data analytics startup RJMetrics, has pushed forward as CEO of Stitch, a startup that spun out from the now acquired RJMetrics. With its data infrastructure and consolidation services, Stitch this year tripled its customer count and even launched an open source project called Singer to power their community of integrations. The tool allows developers to extract, transform and load data from sources to various targets.
In addition to breakthroughs with open source, Stein says he’s most proud of the progress the company has made on its diversity and inclusion efforts. “We completely revamped our recruiting and interview process to reduce unconscious bias, be more welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds, and help determine if there is a mutual fit between the candidate and role as objectively as possible,” Stein told Philadelphia magazine. “We still have lots of work to do on this front, and I’m excited to make more progress in 2018. Beyond being the right thing to do, this is a key part of why we will succeed as a business.” The startup was also named “Best Tech Startup in Philadelphia,” at Tech in Motion’s Timmy Awards.
The One Health Company
The One Health Company wants to help professionals find cures for some of the biggest diseases that ail both animals and people, and its groundbreaking clinical trial system is giving medical professionals a new promising pathway. The system connects specialty veterinary hospitals with people’s sick pets that can be used as realistic models for testing new drugs. This year the company closed contracts with big pharmaceutical companies to run oncology clinical trials on pet dogs with cancer. The company also brought medical doctors onto its team and engineers to manage its growing cache of medical records.
The startup’s biggest challenge this year? “Mindset,” spokeswoman Monica Kelly Lopes told Philadelphia magazine. ”There is a radical shift happening in the world and sadly health care lags behind. And as a comparison, look at the transportation industry and its advancements with autonomous cars, from Tesla to Chevrolet,” she said. “This impacts all of us as patients and as taxpayers. One Health says its biggest pinch me moment this year was getting recognized on the global stage. The team brought its mission to the World Economic Forum in Davos and met Joe Biden at SXSW. The former vice president told One Health it’s the company he’s most excited about.
Blackfynn has had a busy year. The startup bills itself as the leading data platform for neurosciences and neurology and recently announced that it landed a five-year award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award will be disbursed over the years as Blackfynn works to support the NIH’s Data and Resource Center. The first year’s disbursement will be $2.3 million and the company is tasked with helping the organization “map the nerves that innervate the body’s organs.” They’ll also support researchers using mathematical models to simulate the effects of nerve activity on the body’s organs. Blackfynn says the five-year program will help it rapidly advance its platform and grow its team.
The company is also doubling down on existing partnerships and launching new ones. Blackfynn has already worked with CHOP on pediatric cancer research, and now they’re extending the deal to give the hospital access to Blackfynn’s platform. The startup is also teaming up with medical device firm Moberg ICU Solutions to develop and commercialize applications of Blackfynn’s data platform. Baylor College of Medicine is slated to use Blackfynn’s platform in a clinical trial for treating mental disorders connected to diseases of the nervous system. And lastly, the team plans to launch Blackfynn for academic research. This move makes total sense as four University of Pennsylvania professors — Amanda Christini, Joost Wagenaar, Zack Ives, Brian Litt — founded Blackfynn after all.
The indoor hydroponics startup that won Philadelphia magazine’s inaugural Pitch competition shut its doors this summer after what co-founder Parth Chauhan says ways a series of hiccups when it came to hiring, scaling, and financing. The startup hit hiring stumbles early on when its very first employee walked away from the venture. “Our expectations for our first employee should’ve been clearer from the beginning,” Chauhan told us.
And on top of that, while the team was confident it had a great idea, it failed to scale fast enough. “Competition in the indoor farming space was real and it hit us fast,” Chauhan explained. Though the founders and former executive team members have moved on to medical school, consulting and into IT, Chauhan says they’re all looking to recoup to follow through on some other ideas. “We did the opposite of fail fast,” he said. “We hit our heads against the wall for six months longer than we should. We plan to use the mistake of Homegrown in a new learning opportunity.”
Additional reporting by Jared Peterman.