Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania seeds and grows advanced technology enterprises and partnerships across the region. These partnerships include leading roles in two southeastern PA-based enterprise accelerators that are making headlines, DreamIt Ventures and Project Liberty Digital Incubator.
Dreaming big Dreams
DreamIt Ventures is a startup accelerator for IT enterprises. It’s goal — help great people, with great ideas, build great companies. And it has done just that since its 2007 formation, with Ben Franklin as a founding sponsor and lead institutional investor. So far, DreamIt has launched 64 companies, and it has been so successful that Forbes named it one of the 10 Hottest Startup Incubators this year.
“The startups coming out of the DreamIt program have great momentum,” said Ben Franklin President and CEO RoseAnn B. Rosenthal. “With the DreamIt model a proven success, our goal now is to retain as many of these creative entrepreneurs, who are coming here from around the world, in our region. One way to do that is to speed up the process of helping them secure, locally, the follow-on capital that helps them take their companies to the next level.”
In response to the challenge, Ben Franklin spearheaded DreamIt Plus, designed to help DreamIt graduates stay in Pennsylvania. DreamIt Plus partners Ben Franklin with angel investors to provide selected DreamIt graduates with the next round of investment capital, along with active and engaged advisors.
“If a company comes through the DreamIt program and is unable to secure an outside investor themselves, Ben Franklin and area angel investors can team up to provide a small round of capital. Ben Franklin can match angel funds of up to $25,000 through a highly accelerated process,” DreamIt managing partner Kerry Rupp said. “These aren’t massive rounds of funding, but they enable the company to get through that transitional period before they’re ready to do a substantial first round,” she added.
DreamIt was formed by veteran IT entrepreneurs, including David Bookspan, who also created Monetate, Inc. Monetate enables marketers to deliver the ultimate customer experience with unprecedented agility. Founded in 2008, Monetate is a Ben Franklin portfolio company that has raised $20M and created more than 50 jobs in Pennsylvania.
The program has already helped a number of companies – and its impact on the Commonwealth economy wouldn’t be possible without Ben Franklin.
“Ben Franklin has been a really helpful partner,” Rupp said. “They were very receptive to identifying the real challenges DreamIt companies have when they come out of the accelerator, and then created a program for that.”
In 2011, DreamIt also launched the Minority Entrepreneur Accelerator Program (MEAP) track, sponsored by Comcast. Ben Franklin is proud to support the MEAP through the Minority Angel Investor Network. Formed by Ben Franklin in 2004, the Minority Angel Investor Network is the nation’s first organized group of angel investors focused on high-growth minority companies. The Network supports DreamIt through company mentorships and potential funding opportunities.
A successful Project
The Project Liberty Digital Incubator was designed to stimulate the establishment and growth of digital media startup companies in the region. It is a joint effort of the Philadelphia Media Network (PMN), the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Ben Franklin, along with DreamIt Ventures and Drexel University.
Though it’s only six months old, Project Liberty is already paying dividends. Three DreamIt alumni companies – CloudMine, ElectNext and SnipSnap – have passed through the incubator, and now become Ben Franklin portfolio companies.
The CloudMine platform eliminates the need for mobile app developers to build custom back-end solutions. ElectNext is essentially an eHarmony for elections, enabling voters to cast an informed vote in every election, all the way down the ballot. And SnipSnap is the first mobile application to let consumers save, scan, share and redeem printed coupons on their smart phones.
Project Liberty is made possible through a $250,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to Ben Franklin, operator of the incubator. It is hosted in PMN’s headquarters, parent company of the The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia SportsWeek and Philly.com.
“This unique initiative is exceeding our expectations. The partnership of PMN, Knight Foundation, DreamIt, Drexel and Ben Franklin aligns interests, resources and efforts. Three of Project Liberty’s companies came through DreamIt’s boot camp, and have secured investment from Ben Franklin to go to the next stage,” said Rosenthal.
“Through experimenting with more than 200 news and information projects, we’ve found the most successful have benefited from the nurturing of outside advisers. We’re looking forward to seeing these companies benefit from the Project Liberty Digital Incubator, and ultimately produce models that help strengthen both community news and information here in the fourth largest media market and throughout the country,” said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, Philadelphia program director for Knight Foundation.