Comcast Corp. was already mulling the future of work before the coronavirus drove millions of people to work from home.
When accepting applications in January for this year’s LIFT Labs Accelerator — Comcast’s start-up mentorship program — the Philadelphia media giant said it sought start-up companies working on connectivity breakthroughs. Specifically, Comcast said the program would focus in part on the future of work, as well as innovative technologies.
Eight months later, that topic is especially relevant as the 11 firms Comcast chose started the 13-week program on Tuesday. The cohort includes companies working on virtual events, virtual team building, and telehealth. This year’s accelerator will be done virtually, allowing the start-ups to test technologies and get quick feedback, said Danielle Cohn, who leads the LIFT Labs team as vice president of startup engagement.
“It’s in a way like we’re helping to create what the future of work looks like in real time, while actually helping founders build companies,” Cohn said.
The program, run in partnership with accelerator firm Techstars, gives start-ups investments and education on fund-raising, working with corporations, and communicating through the media, Cohn said. At the end, the companies pitch investors and business executives during a “Demo Day” in December.
One of the participating start-ups is Philadelphia-based Seshie, which focuses on live and virtual team-building experiences for organizations to boost employee morale and build company culture.
“That is something that companies of all sizes, as well as schools, if you think about it, are trying to find: ways to build community,” Cohn said.
While the start-ups are the direct beneficiaries, Comcast has said another goal is luring tech firms to the city. The start-ups usually work out of the Comcast Technology Center during the three-month period. Last year, the start-up firm Nickl decided to move from Brooklyn to Philly after participating in the program. In all, eight companies that have completed the program, now in its third year, have a Philadelphia presence, according to Comcast.
COVID-19 has forced LIFT Labs virtual this year, though each company will have the chance to work at Comcast’s headquarters next year for additional mentorship and business development opportunities.
“We see ourselves as a part of the growth of the tech ecosystem in the city,” Cohn said.
Three of the start-ups in this year’s class are from Philadelphia. In addition to Seshie, the Philly firms are Kidas, an artificial intelligence, or AI, service that aims to protect children from cyberbullying and online predators by alerting parents to potentially dangerous digital activity, and Percepta, which uses AI to alert employees of shoplifting.
Other firms come from across the globe, including New York City, San Francisco, Washington, Dallas, and London. More than half of the 11 companies have a founder from a demographic group traditionally underrepresented in tech, while almost half have a female founder, according to Comcast. The start-ups were chosen from hundreds of applicants from more than 40 countries.