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Start-ups, venture capital investors flood post-pandemic Philly

There’s money to be had, and investors are hungry for the next deal. Here are some of the start-up investment roundtables coming soon.

Eagles center Jason Kelce will be speaking at this week's WhatsNext entrepreneurs roundtable.
Eagles center Jason Kelce will be speaking at this week's WhatsNext entrepreneurs roundtable.Read moreDavid Maialetti / File Photograph

A year after COVID-19 hit the U.S., Philadelphia’s start-up scene is waking up as investors begin circling entrepreneurs once again.

A slew of start-up festivals, expos, and conferences are to kick off this spring, according to Philly Startup Leaders, which hosts accelerator programs weekly (currently Founded in Philly Series I Accelerator Program).

This week, the Ballard Spahr law firm is to host WhatsNext, a “festival-style” venture capital roundtable, taking place online. It’s free and open to the public.

In addition to business entrepreneurs in suits, the lineup includes figures from sports and music. Among them are pitch judges that include Eagles player Jason Kelce, Chicago Bulls’ Thaddeus Young, soccer star Julie Foudy, and Nashville, Tenn., musician Langhorne Slim.

“We really want to democratize the VC space, and that’s why it’s open to anyone, not just the insular Silicon Valley crowd,” said Ballard Spahr attorney and partner Greg Seltzer.

A cofounder of the Philly Music Festival, Seltzer brings that sensibility to the law firm’s second-annual entrepreneur-investor meet-and-greet, which takes place Thursday. To register, visit the website:

As an attorney, Seltzer reps Philly start-ups such as Simply Good Jars, which recently won an investment on ABC’s Shark Tank. He’s invited a diverse group of speakers.

“Almost all the venture capital folks taking part this year are from outside Philly and are highly diverse from a racial and gender perspective. This may be the most national start-up and emerging conference that Philly has had,” Seltzer said. Among the VCs in attendance: Red & Blue, First Round Capital, First Mark, and NEA.

“I’m really looking forward to hearing from the entrepreneurs,” said Kelce in an e-mailed statement. “I enjoy engaging with creative people and the whole festival is just a cool concept. I’m psyched to be a very small part in helping emerging businesses.”

Wharton and Philly Startup Leaders

Wharton and University of Pennsylvania student start-up finalists will face off in a Shark Tank-style competition, on Friday, pitching for $135,000 in cash and prizes.

A list of finalists is available on Wharton’s website. Some promising entries include Altrui RX, which redistributes unused, short-dated medications.

Another participant is to be Lumify Care, a business created by a nursing student to sell a wearable LED light for frontline health-care workers, allowing them to illuminate hospital rooms while avoiding waking patients

A Little Louder Project is building a community for women of color, and products include a podcast, newsletter, and an app.

Fulton offers modernized arch support orthopedic insoles, custom-tailored to the wearer. Founded by a female MBA student, the company launched in March.

Xoma was founded by two Wharton MBA students as an agave brand supporting a farm cooperative in Mexico.

Philly Startup Leaders will host its annual Entrepreneur Expo 2021 on May 12, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The expo takes place during Philly Tech Week. To register, visit the website:

Local impact investments

Philly is host to a growing number of local impact investments, including a social justice fund, a consortium of Black-led real estate developers, as well as a crowdfunded investment for retrofitting houses with energy-efficient upgrades, according to Cory Donovan, executive director of ImpactPHL.

Philly is also home to HatchBio Fund, an early-stage venture fund partially owned by a nonprofit that invests in local life sciences companies.

And the city is also spawning socially responsible investment vehicles, such as the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, which buys real estate and creates less expensive housing for low-income families and veterans.

Crowdfunding investments are popping up via fund-raising websites such as Wefunder, Small Changes, and Honeycomb Credit, including start-ups such as Republic’s Wearwell (similar to StitchFix for women who wear sustainable fashion).

The financing environment holds promise as well. There’s now a low-interest loan fund for Black and brown janitorial businesses that can upscale services to address COVID-19 concerns, as well as promissory notes offered by Community Development Financial Institutions, such as the Reinvestment Center and Community First. These lenders finance businesses and real estate deals in communities ignored by commercial banks.

Comcast has launched a new multiyear program called Comcast RISE to help minority-owned small businesses navigate the effects of the pandemic. Qualifying businesses receive marketing consultations, media placements, creative production services, or technology services, in addition to possible grants.

The next wave of applications for Comcast RISE business and marketing services awards is open through May 7. To apply, visit the website: