Vision - and money - for a start-up ecosystem in Philly

MICHAEL HINKELMAN / DAILY NEWS STAFF David Bookspan, of Rittenhouse Square, is founding partner of DreamIt Ventures.
MICHAEL HINKELMAN / DAILY NEWS STAFF David Bookspan, of Rittenhouse Square, is founding partner of DreamIt Ventures.
Posted: February 25, 2014

OUTSIDE the Philadelphia startup world, the name David Bookspan is not one that most readers know.

But perhaps it should be.

Bookspan, 56, of Rittenhouse Square, founding partner of DreamIt Ventures, is doing as much as anyone to create a more robust startup ecosystem here.

DreamIt Ventures, a 6-year-old early-stage startup accelerator, has launched 74 companies in Philly. From 2008 to 2011, only 18 of the initial 49 remained in the city after graduating from the accelerator program.

But things are looking up. In the past two years, DreamIt Ventures launched 25 companies here, and 12 have stayed.

The question now is how to build on the momentum.

The most important thing is to do a better job of funding early-stage companies, Bookspan said.

"In order to keep companies here, it's going to require greater access to capital," he said. "We haven't had the kind of West Coast infusion of early-stage capital that is required."

Bookspan is also the founder and chairman of Monetate, a Conshohocken-based online platform that helps websites target customer preferences.

He knows that it's one thing for entrepreneurs to launch companies, but an altogether different matter to keep them around.

So, DreamIt Ventures is intensifying efforts to support its graduating companies by offering its Philly startups both capital and office space.

It's raising a $30 million investment fund focused on its alumni. Bookspan said he hopes to close on the fund by September. To date, it has raised about $10 million. (Last week, DreamIt Ventures launched a program with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to put CHOP startups into its accelerator.)

In December, DreamIt Ventures announced that it would put its headquarters in the University City Science Center, in space being developed by Drexel University and the science center. The idea is to create an "innovation hub" where capital, talent and lifestyle coalesce in one spot.

The hope, said Bookspan, is that some of these companies - if they get sufficient early-stage capital - stay here and grow, and an ecosystem takes root.

"Nothing generates success like prior success," he said.

DreamIt Ventures also has accelerators in Austin, Texas; New York; Baltimore; and Tel Aviv.

Austin is a hotbed for startups?

"Dell, HomeAway and Bazaarvoice are what's going on in Austin," Bookspan told me. "These are tech companies in various vintages that have done extremely well, that have spawned the next generation of tech companies."

In other words, they began as startups, became public companies, then grew other startups.

Unfortunately, that hasn't happened here. But at least DreamIt Ventures is thinking big.

On Twitter: @MHinkelman


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