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The Digital Revolution began in Philadelphia with the 1946 invention of ENIAC, the first general purpose computer, at the University of Pennsylvania. Seventy years later, the city’s universities remain key engines of our thriving entrepreneurial culture. In the third quarter of 2016, the region hit an eight year high in new venture capital investment. It’s not just capital going in, either. Pitchbook named Philadelphia a top 10 US region for exits as well. The major academic research universities in the city serve as catalysts for this growth, developing business and engineering talent and incubating businesses in their earliest stages.
The University of Pennsylvania
Penn, as the University of Pennsylvania is commonly known, has built a number of programs to foster and support student entrepreneurs. The Venture Initiation Program and the Weiss Tech House both provide mentorship, office space and seed capital to a combined 25+ companies per year. Many of these companies are featured in the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge, which offers total prizes in excess of $100,000 in cash and services to accelerate the growth of top companies. With additional business plan competitions in the design school, medical school and graduate school of education as well as substantial university-wide prizes for both traditional and social entrepreneurship, the school has gone all-in on innovation. Private capital including Dorm Room Fund, Rough Draft Ventures and Red & Blue Ventures, have all moved onto campus to further support the ecosystem. This has yielded companies including Oncora Medical, Picwell and BioBots in the Philadelphia startup community.
Drexel University has gone a step further on the academic side, building the country’s first degree-granting school specific to startups, the Close School of Entrepreneurship. This program consists of both classes as well as co-ops where students are supported in launching companies, both with cash awards and coaching. The school also has a more traditional incubator program, the Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship. This program includes office space, legal and accounting resources and mentorship programs. Perhaps the best-known Philadelphia alumnus of the Baiada Institute is Shark Tank favorite Scholly.
Temple University has built programs that work not only with students, but also faculty members and alumni. The school oversees the Mid-Atlantic Diamond Ventures program, which brings together entrepreneurs with angel investors, venture capital investors and local service providers. The business school also runs the aptly named Be Your Own Boss Bowl, a university-wide business plan competition that offers both mentoring as well as substantial cash prizes. Prominent Philadelphia startup ROAR for Good is a past winner of the BYOBB competition and has gone on to complete the DreamIT Ventures accelerator program and raise more than $300,000 on Indiegogo.
While technology startups are increasingly found in urban centers, the suburban schools around Philadelphia are adding to the vibrancy of the community as well. Rowan University in New Jersey has an extensive entrepreneurial program within their Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship while Villanova University has launched the Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship Institute.
Perhaps most importantly, the schools are working together to maximize their impact on the city. In 2016, the Philadelphia Regional Entrepreneurship Education Consortium hosted College Pitch Philly, which not only awarded thousands of dollars in prize money, but also helped to break down the silos across universities and got entrepreneurs working together. Combined with citywide efforts like StartStayGrow and the city-sponsored StartupPHL, the universities in the Philadelphia region are generating new companies and training talent to join existing companies that will propel the city forward for years to come.