Why These Five Startups Are Staying in Philly

What brain drain?

Rawpixel/Shutterstock

Rawpixel/Shutterstock

May used to be Philadelphia’s traditional month of congratulations and goodbyes. University grads accepted their diplomas, packed up, and left the cradle of liberty in search of their next adventure. But there’s a disruptive development stirring in our city, and not a moment too soon.

In fact, 60 percent of regional college students stay in the Philadelphia area after they graduate, more than even the great college town of Boston, according to Campus Philly research.

We at Start.Stay.Grow. are focused on retaining college startup founders who launched their companies out of Philly-area dorm rooms. Just imagine if we had retained home-grown Philly start-ups like Warby Parker (a prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses maker) or Dagne Dover (a handbag retailer).

Philadelphia is on a roll — but we’ve got to keep more of these engaged student founders. We have already created an environment that’s student friendly and start-up friendly. Plus, it’s a great town for young singles and young families.

Below, you’ll meet five student founders who are staying in Philly. Check them out and introduce yourself if you think you can be helpful in any way. As you’ll see, being a student founder is no small task, and these folks deserve a huge round of applause.


1. Daniel Fine, Glass-U

A Penn student majoring in global change and innovation.

Your pitch? 

Glass-U makes fully folding sunglasses, licensed to hundreds of universities and nearly every Greek organization in the United States. The company has been featured at events ranging from Lollapalloza to The Rose Bowl and was an official licensee of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Additionally, the company is expanding product and reach, with a sport and collegiate focused retail play in the coming year.

Why have you chosen to stay in Philadelphia?

I’ve chosen to stay in Philly for a few reasons, all of which revolve around my business. For starters, our roots are here along with most of our employees and team. Secondly, it’s a much more affordable place to build a company. And lastly, I’m incredibly passionate about enabling students with interest in startups to gain experience and be a part of something and continuing that with my relationship to Penn and our many student interns is very important to me.

What’s the next year looking like for you? 

Focus focus focus. For the first time, I’ll be putting all of my time towards building the dream.

What’s the hardest part of being a student founder and what will be your biggest relief? 

Time management and balance were unquestionably my largest challenges with being a student founder, specifically in regards to balancing work and social. When friends are constantly on group chats and list serves talking about fun activities that I’d like to partake in and can’t, it’s a huge distraction that takes away from the business, even if I chose to continue working. With my direct peers also starting full time jobs, that’s out of the picture and will be a huge relief.

How can Philly Startup Leaders and the broader Philly startup community support you? 

We’re looking for top talent with passion and grit to help us build and grow across many different areas. Would love to be able to meet some people that could fill these opportunities and see what we may be able to do together!


2. Michelle Silberman, ChocAmo

A Drexel student majoring in entrepreneurship and marketing.

Your pitch? 

ChocAmo is an artisan dessert company that specializes in delicious Cookie Cups. They pair perfectly with milk, espresso, ice cream and liquor.

Why have you chosen to stay in Philadelphia?

Truthfully, I was planning to move to New York as soon as graduation passed, but over the past year I fell in love with Philly. The support and guidance that has been provided to me by mentors has helped transition the concept of ChocAmo into a business. Furthermore, the entrepreneurship ecosystem has been expanding rapidly. This year Travel and Leisure named Philadelphia, “America’s Next Great Food City!” Right now Philly is the best place for me to run with ChocAmo full time!

What’s the next year looking like for you? 

I’m very excited to jump into ChocAmo on a full-time basis. Our short-term goal is to approach coffee shops, cafes, caterers and event planners to expand our sales distribution throughout the Greater Philadelphia region and tri-state area as a whole. We are currently focusing on implementing a production strategy that will allow us to take on larger orders on a consistent basis. Once production is set and our sales begin to increase, we will expand the sales and customer relationship management team. Within the next year, we aim to collaborate with other food startups in the area.

What’s the hardest part of being a student founder and what will be your biggest relief? 

The hardest part of being a student founder is having to deal with scheduling limitations. Education has always been a priority in my family, but there were times that I had to miss class in order to grow ChocAmo. Simultaneously, being a student was a true blessing because it gave me a head start to creating my post-graduation plan. Also, there were many people that I met along the way who were extremely encouraging and provided golden advice. The biggest relief is having the flexibility to schedule completely on my terms, knowing that I still have the support of Drexel and the entrepreneur community at the Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship.

How can PSL and the broader Philly startup community support you? 

Younger companies would benefit from meeting Philadelphia founders and having the ability to cross pollenate and problem solve together. Also, providing a list of trusted resources would help save a lot of research time. It would be wonderful to have one website with a list of all meetups, networking events and competitions sorted by date. Philadelphia has so much to offer student startups; it’s imperative that we help one another by spreading the word and finding ways to work collaboratively!


3. Andrew Nakkache, Habitat Student Marketplace

A Temple student majoring in economics.

Your pitch?

Habitat is a social commerce platform that allows students to sell amongst each other safely and locally. Habitat looks like Instagram, acts like Craigslist, but is only available to college students and local businesses.

Why have you chosen to stay in Philadelphia?

We all came to Philly for school. We truly believe that Philadelphia has the right student and business landscape to allow our platform to thrive. The startup community in Philadelphia has shown us a ton of love, and we don’t plan to leave anytime soon.

What’s the hardest part of being a student founder and what will be your biggest relief?

The next year we are on a mission to put our footprint on the city of Philadelphia. If things go swell, we may also expand to Boston.

What’s the hardest part of being a student founder and what will be your biggest relief?

The hardest part about being a student founder is the fact that I’m still in school. I’ve had to sacrifice my entire social life in order to keep the business alive and get through school at the same time. It’s tough to start a tech company and bootstrap at the level we have. Our biggest relief will be when we raise a seed round, and can stay alive for a couple years as we navigate our way to success.

How can PSL and the broader Philly startup community support you?

The No. 1 thing that would help us is if professionals in various fields — technology, investment, sales, HR, accounting, legal — all held office hours. It would be super valuable to have access to the minds that could help guide us in the right direction. Also it would be great to see a stronger bridge form between startups and the investors that can help make entrepreneur’s dreams a reality.


4. Tom Austin and Zack Stiefler, Bungalow Insurance

Wharton students majoring in entrepreneurship.

Your pitch? 

Bungalow is using data and design to simplify insurance.

Why have you chosen to stay in Philadelphia?

We started Bungalow during school and have put a great deal of time and effort into building our local networks here. We feel like we know most of the investors and entrepreneurs in the city at this point so there would be a huge cost to moving elsewhere. Overall Philadelphia has provided everything we’ve needed to start our business. From capital to office space to design and development talent, we haven’t lacked for anything so it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to leave at this point.

What’s the next year looking like for you? 

We are focused on growing from a three-person company to a 10+ person company over the next 12 months. To do that we’ll need to hit a lot of our goals on the sales and product front, but we feel confident that we can get there.

What’s the hardest part of being a student founder and what will be your biggest relief? 

Managing your time can definitely be a big challenge so it will be a relief to “only” have one job now. That said, people are always willing to help students so being a student founder can have some great benefits.

How can PSL and the broader Philly startup community support you? 

The more that we can get the word out about Bungalow, the better chance we’ll have at succeeding. Any help we can get from the community in that regard will definitely go a long way!


5. Priyanka Aggarwal, Behrad Javed of From:Earth

Students at the Wharton School of Business.

Your Pitch?

From:Earth brings you a 100 percent natural toothbrush with plant fiber bristles, a replaceable head, wooden handle and a subscription service with a new toothbrush head at your doorstep every three months.

Why have you chosen to stay in Philadelphia?

Support from the Wharton School with respect to office space and funding. Network of entrepreneurs and investors. Accessibility to resources at Penn.

What’s the next year looking like for you? 

Small batch manufacturing for Kickstarter and a pilot launch. Marketing campaign targeted at New York, San Francisco and Austin.

What’s the hardest part of being a student founder and what will be your biggest relief? 

Creating your own path is the most exciting and challenging path.

How can PSL and the broader Philly startup community support you? 

Advice and support — keeping our momentum high. Access and introduction to partners, investors and other entrepreneurs.

Yuval Yarden is a master-connector and Philly startup enthusiast who is helping to launch Start.Stay.Grow., a collaborative aimed at fostering relationships between local students & PHL’s startup community. Connect with her on Twitter at @yyarden03 or @StartStayGrow.


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