Rick Nucci, chair of the nonprofit Philly Startup Leaders and CEO of Philadelphia tech firm Guru, said he believed the startup scene is improving and the “brain drain” of young graduates leaving Philadelphia has eased. He thinks the accelerator will showcase Philadelphia as a place where cool things are developed, particularly with Techstars running it.
“I see this as a normal outgrowth of (Comcast’s) being more open,” said Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, which has called for a stronger white-collar economy in Center City. “They need lots of ideas, and they need lots of talent.”
The accelerator was supposed to be housed at the new $1.5 billion Comcast Technology Center. But construction delays pushed back the building’s opening, perhaps to later this summer. Instead, the accelerator got off the ground Monday on a floor decorated with local artwork and conference rooms named after Philadelphia neighborhoods. The program is officially called the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator.
While evaluating firms for the program, Comcast looked for those developing products on the connected life, streaming entertainment, next-generation marketing, the internet of things, and digital wellness.
One participating firm is Polycade, which was founded by Tyler Bushnell, son of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese creator Nolan Bushnell. Polycade has developed a wall-mounted gaming console for people to play old and new video games. “It’s an arcade for the modern age,” said Bushnell, 37, dressed in cream-colored sweats and a baseball cap.
The sole participating Philadelphia firm is Orai, founded by Drexel University alums Danish Dhamani and Paritosh Gupta. They attended Toastmasters meetings to learn public speaking and then converted the experience into an app. So far the app — which is a free download but includes a $10-a-month subscription for more learning — has been downloaded about 100,000 times.
Gupta, 22, an Orai co-founder, said he lives in the Drexel area and will walk to the program at 1717 Arch.
Helping manage and coordinate the project are Danielle Cohn, the executive director of entrepreneurial engagement at Comcast, and Maya Baratz Jordan, a Techstars managing director.
Comcast and Techstars received several hundred applications from startups in 38 countries, the company said. “We cast the net pretty far and we did a lot of PR to get the word out,” said Sam Schwartz, Comcast’s chief business development officer and the accelerator’s advocate at the company’s headquarters.
Jordan said that the 13-week program is designed to advance startup development by 18 to 24 months.
The startup workers here are expected to find their own housing. Most said they were within walking distance of the Comcast campus. They are paid for by a stipend for the program. Neither Comcast nor Techstars would say how much. “The program is 13 weeks, but we will not kick everyone out on the last day,” Schwartz said.
Other startups in the program are: