The stars of Stellar StartUps, the inaugural competition of the parent company of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com to highlight new businesses in this region's vast and thriving entrepreneurial economy, were revealed Thursday night.
After a sold-out cocktail reception and panel discussion at the new Pennovation Center in West Philadelphia featuring standout area entrepreneurs, the following were named the judges' winning picks in six categories:
College Students: ThirdEye Technologies, a company begun by a University of Pennsylvania student that has developed a platform providing the blind and visually impaired with auditory feedback about what they are looking at.
Health Care: Arcadian Telepsychiatry, a Fort Washington company providing video-enabled mental-health services.
Just Plain Cool Idea: Renterval, a Berwyn-based software developer whose platform enables rental businesses to accept real-time online booking of any type of equipment, from bounce houses to backhoes.
Products/Services: Tern Water, a company founded by a Drexel University student that is developing a faucet attachment that purifies water and provides various feedback, including when the filter needs to be changed.
Technology: Gridless Power, a Collingswood company that has developed portable battery packs powered by solar and virtually every other energy source for a range of uses, including in war zones and during disaster response and street fairs.
Women/Minority Entrepreneurs: The Grayson School in Broomall, Pennsylvania's only independent, nonprofit day school and weekend enrichment program designed for gifted learners.
Citing Philadelphia Media Network's journalistic coverage of the winners and the region's start-ups and issues relating to them, publisher and chief executive Terrance C.Z. Egger said it "seemed a natural progression to create an event where we recognize and celebrate some of the community's most successful members, as well as provide opportunities for networking and collaboration."
PMN board chairman Josh Kopelman, himself an accomplished serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist, addressed the 150-plus attending the event for about 20 minutes.
They were there, he said, to celebrate amazing companies."
"There has never been a better time to start a company or be an entrepreneur," Kopelman said. "The cost of starting an operating technology company is dropping. The Philadelphia community has embraced entrepreneurship. And our start-up community has never been more vibrant or active as it is today."
Following Kopelman's remarks was a panel discussion on start-up successes and challenges, and Philadelphia's strengths and weaknesses as an incubator for emerging businesses.
Participating on the panel were: Jess Edelstein, a founder of PiperWai Natural Deodorant; Aaron Krause, CEO of Scrub Daddy Inc.; and "docpreneur" Keith Leaphart, physician and owner of Replica Creative, a design and print firm based in Philadelphia, who also is a member of PMN's board of directors.
Edelstein said she and her partner ignored the naysayers who said they should not start a company, and just dived in.
"We learned early on one of the best ways to learn how to run a business was to run a business - on the fly, unabashedly learning as you go," she said.
In June, nearly 100 early-stage companies responded to PMN's call for applicants for the Stellar StartUps contest. A panel of five judges with extensive backgrounds in entrepreneurship and small-business development selected 20 finalists through a scoring process based on three criteria: overall concept, economic impact, and profitability/revenue potential.
Winners in the competition, also sponsored by Comcast Business, were the top scorers in each of the six categories.
The judges were: Leslie Benoliel, president and CEO of Entrepreneur Works and the Entrepreneur Works Fund; Jeffrey Bodle, a lawyer and partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; Tami Fratis, CEO of IPR International LLC; Omar Mencin, director of investments in information technology at Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania; and Sylvester Mobley, executive director of Coded by Kids.
Given the interest in the first Stellar StartUps competition, PMN's Egger said, "we hope to expand on the concept in the future."