Dreamers Welcome

Maybe New York and San Francisco aren’t the only places to be. Suddenly, a new clique of startups from around the country are moving to Philly—and staying

Dreamers Welcome

Maybe New York and San Francisco aren’t the only places to be. Suddenly, a new clique of startups from around the country are moving to Philly—and staying

Candace Mitchell sauntered on to the stage at World Cafe Live and started talking about hair—specifically, the $500 billion hair care industry that she’s tapping into with her company, Myavana (“My Hair Nirvana”), an app that personalizes style and product recommendations for women of color using hair strand analysis. “Let’s talk about priorities, people—hair and beauty are at the top of the list,” Mitchell quipped. Then she ran through her business model: 57 million black women in America, each spending more than nine times the average on their hair — but who have not had a way to sift through the services and products to find what’s best for their particular needs. Until now. “Myavana is leading a technological revolution in the haircare market, meeting the needs of millions of women who have been far underserved for too long,” Mitchell said. Then she beamed, as the audience broke into applause.

Asaf Nevo, on that same stage, showed the audience a sweet photo from his recent wedding—as a prelude to demonstrating how his photo-sharing app, Pico, collates all pictures taken at an event onto one Facebook page, as it did during last year’s Philadelphia Marathon. But where Pico will really thrive, Nevo went on, is with big commercial brands. “Just in the US in the last year, brands have spent more than $5 million in engaging with fans on Facebook,” Nevo said. Then he left his audience with the real news: “I’m happy to announce that we just signed our first paying client. Feel free to get excited.”

Nine of DreamIt 2014’s 12 startups are staying in Philadelphia—the most ever. Only four of 15 from the class of 2012 decided to call Philly home.

Mitchell, an African American computer scientist—with great hair—from Atlanta, and Nevo, an Israeli, hail from different parts of the planet. Their passions—and their businesses—are worlds apart. They were brought together by DreamIt Ventures, the Philly-based startup accelerator, as part of its fall 2014 entrepreneur class. Their pitches were part of DreamIt’s Demo Day in early December—the culmination of the intense three-month boot camp, featuring a room full of investors looking for the Next Big Thing. True to DreamIt’s model, both Mitchell’s and Nevo’s ideas are disruptive in their respective fields, and have the potential to make investors whip out their checkbooks. But what makes Mitchell and Nevo unique in the annals of technology startups here is something far more unexpected: Both are staying in Philadelphia.

“This is the most supportive environment we’ve ever been in,” Nevo gushed from the stage. “Coming to Philadelphia was the smartest business decision we made.”

Including Pico and Myavana, nine of DreamIt 2014’s 12 startups are staying in Philadelphia—the first time so many companies have decided to set up shop here. Since 2008, when Philly entrepreneurs David Bookspan, Mike Levinson and Steve Welch launched DreamIt, 65 young companies have gone through the program. (DreamIt has also run accelerators out of Austin, Baltimore and New York.) Almost all have promptly packed their bags afterwards. In 2012, for example, only four of the 15 DreamIt companies remained in Philly. The difference is a snapshot of what makes Philly a burgeoning hub for tech startups.

Patrick Fitzgerald, DreamIt Philadelphia’s Managing Director, says he didn’t set out to convince the 2014 class to stay in town. “For our internal economics, it doesn’t matter where they go,” he says. “We just want them to be successful.” But he acknowledges that their program was especially geared towards highlighting local successes, and introducing them to local investors, local interns and others in the city who might pave the way forward. The Mayor’s office sent officials to speak to the entrepreneurs; Nutter himself went to their closing ceremony; Comcast hosted an event at its cafe.

“This is the most supportive environment we’ve ever been in,” Nevo gushed from the stage. “Coming to Philadelphia was the smartest business decision we made.”

Also for the first time last fall, all the companies in the program worked out of DreamIt’s new office space at 3401 Market Street, forming a clique of new Philly startups amidst a hub of entrepreneurship in University City. They were allowed to remain there until January, when a new DreamIt group moved in—and are always welcome back for advice or connections. Meanwhile, a handful of the companies—including Myavana and Pico—moved to VentureF0rth, a co-working space in Northern Liberties for tech startups. “DreamIt is in Philly,” says Nevo, “and all of our business is too. It doesn’t make sense to go back to Israel—and it doesn’t make sense to relocate to New York or San Francisco. Philly has a rising startup scene that’s coming up now.”

Mitchell left her friends, family and business partner behind in Atlanta for what she thought was a three-month stay up north. But as she neared the end of DreamIt, she realized it didn’t make sense to abandon ship and head home. During the program, Myavana’s customer base increased by 25 percent. She met investors who better understood her business model than those in Atlanta. And DreamIt exposed Mitchell to an underappreciated Philly asset: Its talent. Each company in the accelerator was matched to mentors from throughout the region, including several local tech startups that have seen national success, like DuckDuckGo, Curalate and Artisan mobile. Mitchell was especially struck by DreamIt alum SnipSnap, a coupon-clipping app that has grown tremendously over the last two years—in part because of the connections made here.

Mitchell also hired three developers in Philly—two Temple students and one who had worked at another startup. Finally, she had the team she needed to develop Myavana’s mobile app—and couldn’t leave that behind. “Building a team is one of the most important aspects of making your business a success,” Mitchell says. “I found that team here—and they are not in a position to move to New York or Atlanta.”

Mitchell and Nevo both acknowledge that proximity to New York adds to Philly’s appeal: For the sake of meetings and reaching their market, both consider themselves effectively in the “New York area.” But they have also found what so many young Philadelphians know to be true: “Philly is very welcoming, less rushed, less expensive, more cozy and homey than New York,” says Nevo. “I am really surprised by the fact that people are so surprised we decided to set up our US operations here. I fell in love with Philadelphia.”

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.