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University City's fast-growing Leadnomics offers hiring bonuses for developers, media buyers

Philadelphia based Leadnomics is growing so fast that it's hard to project how big the lead generator will get this year. Since its inception in 2007, the company has grown 3,932%, according to Inc Magazine, which in 2011 ranked Leadnomics No. 48 in advertising and marketing companies nationwide. 
Stephen Gill, Leadnomics CEO, says projections for 2012 are difficult due to rapid growth, but notes that there are now over 25 full time employees at the lead generation company. "The conversion process is an art and a science," explains Gill, who works with a vast national network of hundreds of lead buyers. "There are a lot of companies in marketing, but we are a marketing and technology company," says Gill. "Our model is like Lending Tree or Service Magic." Customers are captured via search marketing and are led to a Leadnomics powered page. "All of our customers are delivered in real time."
Leadnomics, with $5.8 million in reported annual revenue in 2010, works with nationally scalable companies in insurance, financial services, education and brand partnerships, reaching tens of thousands of potential customers a day, according to Gill, who plans to move into mortgages, senior care and home services in the coming months.
Gill has been working in the interactive world since 2003, starting his first business, which provided online tech support, while still in high school. At Rowan University, Gill says he stumbled into marketing. "I started doing paid search marketing for clients in dating and eCommerce." He met Leadnomics co-founder Zach Robbins at Rowan, and the duo moved from New Jersey to Philadelphia in 2009.
Today's expansive offices in the Cira Center are a vast improvement over previous incarnations, which included a home based office as well as workspace leased from a law firm. The 10,000 square foot space allows for company growth. "I hope we will have enough room here," says Gill. "We try to scale the business. People are not proportional to revenue." Nonetheless, Leadnomics is offering hiring bonuses for developers and online media buyers, which it is actively recruiting.
Gill attributes the company's success to the combination of proprietary technology and a marketing background. "Conversion is key," he says of leads. "Consumers want to get to a site that's trusted and safe. They are searching for a solution to a problem. The customer first sees you, and you bring them down a funnel. You get them comfortable talking to you before you ask for a lot of personal information."
Gill also looks forward to expanding the company's presence in New York City, where he plans on expanding the satellite sales office to accommodate a greater number of New York based clients.

Source: Stephen Gill, Leadnomics
Writer: Sue Spolan

TEDxPHILLY CATCH-UP: Jen Pahlka and the Code for America crew see great things for tech in city

This is the first installment of an ongoing series that catches up with last November’s TEDxPhilly speakers.

For more videos of last year's TEDxPhilly talks, visit the event's YouTube channel.


Jennifer Pahlka has made cities her life work. She considers herself a product of American cities, from New York, where she grew up, to Oakland and San Francisco more recently, and now Philadelphia, where she’s visited close to a dozen times in the last year or so. She refered to Philly as a “city of love” in her TEDxPhilly talk last November at Temple University.

As founder and executive director of Code for America, she helps match web professionals with cities to create efficiency and promote accessibility among municipal offices by sorting databases, building apps, and freeing up data. Philadelphia is one of only two programs to be a part of CfA for two consecutive years, and this year’s edition recently welcomed CfA fellows Alex Yule, Elizabeth Hunt, and Michelle Lee.

Flying Kite talked to Pahlka and the three new fellows to catch up on their work in Philly and how CfA has grown into a game-changing experience for cities across the country.

Flying Kite (FK): How has your project in Philadelphia advanced since TEDxPhilly?
Jennifer Pahlka (JP): The big news is that our 2012 fellows just started their work in Philadelphia on Monday (Jan. 30). Michelle Lee, Alex Yule, and Liz Hunt are the new team, and they are accomplished, talented, and passionate about making the City of Philadelphia work better for all its residents. They're starting five weeks of meeting with everyone they can and figuring out how they can make a bit impact there this year.

Part of their work will be carrying on Change by Us in Philly, which currently hosts 418 ideas and 50 active projects, in which citizens are helping to make their neighborhoods better.

FK: Any changes to report? New partners, funding, accolades or other growth?
JP: At the end of last year, Code for America received a $1.5M grant from Google to start two new programs, including what we call the CfA Brigade, which will help civic developers and others anywhere in the country to stand up civic apps for their communities, and a start up accelerator for civic businesses.  We're hoping to have a big Philly presence when we get it up and running.

FK: What is one thing you've learned since TEDxPhilly about cities or Philadelphia?
JP: Sixty percent of the world will be living in cities by 2020!

FK: What's the next milestone for your work and why is it important?
JP: Our call for applications for our 2013 cities program closes on April 1. We hope that more and more cities around the country want to be a part of this movement, so that more cities can work openly, efficiently, and be deeply engaged with their citizens.

FK: What are your specific tasks while in Philadelphia?
Elizabeth Hunt (EH): As part of our year-long fellowship with Code for America, we’re spending 5 weeks in discovery mode in Philadelphia: understanding how the city serves its citizens, what Philadelphians want and need from their city, and how technology might help make local government more open, efficient, and engaging.

Alex Yule (AY): To that end, we’re meeting with citizens, officials across city government, as well as members of the tech and civic communities. We are also searching for champions – strong local partners who can help us build solutions, and maintain them once we’re gone. We want the tools and solutions we build to live on!

FK: What do you think of Philly's potential as a tech hub/leader?
Michelle Lee (ML): At Code for America, our past successes can be attributed to great partners at every level of city government and community. They help us make sure any technology we build is relevant to the real, existing, and complex urban challenges that cities face today.

Similarly, Drexel University’s ExCITE (Expressive and Creative Interactive Technologies) program is bridging technology with the arts. Philadelphia is an established national leader in healthcare and education, and has recently won major awards for sustainability and the arts. There’s a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of our sustainability, education, and especially our healthcare strengths in the same way.

FK: What are Philly's most pressing tech challenges?
AY: It seems to me that Philadelphia’s most pressing challenge is that people outside Philadelphia don’t seem to know there’s a vibrant tech scene here. So it may be difficult for companies here to attract more tech talent.

FK: What has impressed you about technology in Philadelphia?
ML: You could argue that the relative scarcity of technology investment capital here so far has actually had a silver lining. Philadelphia’s tech community has created sustainable businesses, very much in touch with their users and customers. I don’t believe you’d see a dot-com bust here.

AY: Philly has a strong core of companies who live in Philly because they truly love and believe in their city. Some other cities are full of companies who are there because “they’re supposed to be.” You get a very clear sense of that traveling around the city and chatting with people -- there are no opportunists or fair-weather friends here. People are in it for the long haul, they’re dedicated to building this city up as an even greater place to live and work.

Is there a difference between your initial perception of the city and the way you feel after being here for a bit?
AY: I’d heard about Azavea’s great mapping work while I was still back in school -- but I had no idea the scene was so vibrant! The city really is a bit of a hidden gem.

EH: I’m from San Francisco. I’d never really thought about it as a place with a tech scene. Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned there are thriving tech, civic, and arts communities. Some of the initiatives we’ve learned about -- the Urban Apps and Maps program at Temple and the new ExCITE program at Drexel for example -- are strong indicators that Philadelphia is a city on the verge of becoming an exciting hub of opportunity, whether you’re a tech person, an artist, or civic leader. Now is the time to move to Philly!

SUE SPOLAN is Innovation & Jobs News editor for Flying Kite. Send feedback here.

JOE PETRUCCI is managing editor for Flying Kite. Send feedback here.

From left, Liz Hunt, Alex Yule, Michelle Lee, Mayor Michael Nutter, Manager of Civic Innovation and Participation Jeff Friedman, and Director Of Communications And Strategic Partnerships Desiree Peterkin Bell,

Sumo Heavy puts it to brick and mortar on South St., hiring programmers, project managers

Sumo moves. Last time we checked in, Sumo Heavy Industries was operating as a virtual company. The eCommerce design, development and consulting firm takes that whole location, location, location thing very seriously and is now at Fourth and South.
"It's very grown up," says Bart Mroz, who leads a tour of the multilevel space. "Altogether we are now 25 people," says Mroz, who began the company with partner Bob Brodie in 2010. He says the fifth floor suite at 525 South 4th Street can hold around 10 people, with five now working in the space. 
Sumo's windows overlook the TLA. Inside, Mroz and team handle the online retail needs of clients including Eternal, Bonobos and Listrak. "We're planning on hiring," says Mroz, who is looking to woo developers and project managers. "We buy lunch every day." 
Sumo is on a two week billing cycle. "Everything we do is based on two weeks. Our structure, our billing, and our jobs. We break out projects in two week sprints, and our clients and contractors get paid every two weeks," say Mroz.
"We went from four clients to six or seven clients in the last year," says Mroz, who attributes growth to word of mouth. "Most of our clients are long term engagements."

And as far as Sumo Heavy taking on South Street?

"We don't need much. Give us Internet access and we're good to go."

Source: Bart Mroz, Sumo Heavy
Writer: Sue Spolan

Live in 3, 2, 1: Countdown to PhillyCAM grand opening tomorrow

"There's nothing like going live," says Deborah Rudman, Programming Director for Philadelphia Community Access Media (PhillyCAM), which celebrates the grand opening of official headquarters this Wednesday.
Mayor Michael Nutter will be in attendance for the big reveal at 699 Ranstead Street in downtown Philadelphia. The fight for public access began 27 years ago, and the formal creation of PhillyCAM finally happened in 2009. The mayor will provide the countdown to live programming, a first for the public access channel. Gretjen Clausing, Executive Director, says "It is a moment that I have pictured since 1997 when I started working on the fight to get public access.  Just thinking of the countdown before we start sending out a live signal just gives me goosebumps."
Of the brightly colored HQ, Clausing says, " It's fantastic. Flexible. Welcoming. And it still has that new car smell. We  are only just beginning to understand the possibilities of the space and all the equipment that we have installed." 
The organization began life in temporary quarters at the Painted Bride Art Center, and while concurrently building membership and programming, PhillyCAM found a permanent home. With the assistance of Metcalfe Architecture and Design, a former photographer's studio has been transformed into a multilevel suite of studios, a media lab, community space, classrooms and offices. An Express Studio faces directly onto 7th street.
Rudman describes the new space simply as "fabulous, even better real than imagined," with people stopping by on lunch break to use the commons, or dropping in to use the media lab before going to see a movie at the nearby Ritz Theater.
Rudman looks forward to new studio production classes, more programs produced by PhillyCAM members, regular live shows,and connections between people who might not have met otherwise.
The grand opening takes place at 2 pm tomorrow, followed in the evening by a reception at 6 that will lead up to a live show, produced right in the midst of the party, at 7, featuring interviews with staff, some pre-produced drop-ins and perhaps a few unexpected moments. The public is welcome to both the 2 pm and 6 pm events..

Source: Gretjen Clausing, Deborah Rudman, PhillyCAM
Writer: Sue Spolan

Philly retail rewards startup Lokalty gains traction, triples participating merchants

The pleasant sound of a Lokalty chime will soon be audible all over University City. Philly start up Lokalty, which rewards frequent local shoppers and cross promotes merchants, is now expanding westward from Center City. Over a dozen UC merchants have signed on since the company crossed the banks of the Schuylkill about a week ago. 
Launched in October 2011 by Penn grads Balu Chandrasekaran, Philip Tribe and Bipen Sasi, the name Lokalty is derived from Local plus Loyalty. "These days, business names are influenced by a domain name search," says Chandrasekaran, who changed the C to a K. But the uniqueness of the name is actually a good thing, adds Tribe, who comes from a product design background. "Lokal business means it's in our network," he says. The company tagline, "Keep it Lokal," has become a bit of a marketing boost.
Lokalty membership is not tied to a credit card, unlike LevelUp, which isn't a direct competitor except in the area of retail counter real estate. Both companies use a dedicated smartphone built into a plastic box to read customer QR or bar codes. 
Lokalty is a cloud supported consolidated version of all the separate customer loyalty tags people carry in wallets and on keychains. The idea is that when you earn points for shopping at one Lokalty business, you can reap rewards at any business in the Lokalty network. Buy enough coffee at Elixr and get free food at Manakeesh.
Growing the company has been tricky, says Chandrasekaran, who says he and his partners have taken on a difficult task, marketing to businesses and consumers at the same time. "It's the classic chicken and egg problem." While Lokalty means marketing for retailers, "most small business owners would rather hear sales pitches that address the cost side instead of the revenue side."
The business benefits of Lokalty participation may take time, but Chandrasekaran cites the example of newcomer Spread Bagelry, which saw several dozen new customers directly related to Lokalty participation. The participating merchant is privy to valuable metrics, and can get to know customers on a first name basis. Lokalty, says Chandrasekaran, is a year round marketing program, as opposed to less frequent offers like discount coupons and seasonal sales.
The fully bootstrapped Lokalty is set to release a new version of its smartphone app within the next few weeks, according to Tribe, and the company, which launched with 7 merchants and is now up to 29, hopes to achieve critical mass via placement in dozens more businesses around Philadelphia and the Main Line. 

Source: Balu Chandrasekaran, Philip Tribe, Lokalty
Writer: Sue Spolan

Got entrepreneurial pain? Wharton provides soothing relief at upcoming conference

There are a couple of phrases that accompany just about every entrepreneurial gathering, and "pain point" is a biggie. On February 17, The Wharton School will host the all day conference, Turning Pain Points into Opportunity. Miriam Raisner, conference VP and a Wharton MBA candidate herself, says the gathering is meant to broaden the idea of entrepreneurship. 
It's not all about the app. While most people these days equate start ups with high tech, Raisner says brick and mortar is still an avenue for entrepreneurs, and she cites recent efforts in the world of fashion (like Kembrel, created by Wharton students), as well as in health and wellness. Each of those topics will have its own panel of experts at the conference, and Veeral Rathod, co-founder and president of men's apparel company J. Hilburn will be one of the keynote speakers.
Raisner is also excited by a panel that teaches people to monetize their expertise, either as a speaker, a consultant, or by creating a business. "It's really helpful for people to have a frame of reference as to how different types of businesses grow," says Raisner, who says participants in the conference's shark tank will get critical feedback from venture capitalists, and possibly even get funding. There's also a startup fair, with fifty companies signed up so far.
Raisner expects around 400 attendees to the 16th annual conference which will be held in Center City at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, with reduced rates for members of the Entrepreneurship Club, students and Penn alumni.

Source: Miriam Raisner, Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania
Writer: Sue Spolan

New Moore College of Art & Design students to receive iPads in the fall

Incoming students get a lot of stuff when they report to campus at the beginning of each semester. At Moore College of Art & Design, new BFA students will get an iPad2 when they come to school in the fall.

The iPads will come pre-loaded with apps chosen to support visual art and design education at Moore, which is the first art and design college to partner with Apple to provide students with iPads in this manner, according to a school-issued news release.

"The iPad2 will be a pivotal learning tool in the new Foundation curriculum where the integration of digital media and tools will be taught and used in tandem with traditional drawing and design media," says academic dean Dona Lantz.

Source: Moore College
Writer: Joe Petrucci

SeedPhilly aims to connect startups with investors: "Don't find us, we'll find you"

Brad Denenberg knows how to generate buzz, and the local entrepreneur has been cultivating a high level of interest for months before SeedPhilly officially opens at 1650 Arch St. in Center City.

Part tech incubator, part shared workspace, and part online resource, Denenberg sees SeedPhilly at its most basic level as a place for entrepreneurs to connect with investors. 
Back in August of 2011, Denenberg met with me at the newly opened Milkboy Philly to talk about SeedPhilly, but more important, to talk about how I was not allowed to write about it yet. In the middle of our conversation, the entire place started to rumble, and then slowly undulate. Some kind of mover and shaker. Philadelphia's great earthquake of 2011 rolled straight through that first meeting.
Now, finally, the story can be told. In the process of meeting dozens of area entrepreneurs, investors and members of the press, Denenberg managed to make an indelible impression and create a hunger for the moment when the story was allowed to go public.
Denenberg, working with Yuriy Porytko, who is doing community outreach, has taken over space vacated by the defunct law firm Wolf Block, and is now in the process of outfitting the expanse with room for up to 50 people, half in an open area, and half in window offices flanking the bullpen.
SeedPhilly, which has applied for non-profit status, differentiates itself from other incubators and co-working spaces because, says Denenberg, the companies will be curated. "I co-founded Philly Startup Leaders," says Denenberg of the local group that runs a very popular listserv. "The same questions were being asked over and over."

It was the need for a central database of local information that planted the seed for the SeedPhilly database, which is one of the three components of Denenberg's plan, along with the coworking space and a plan to bring investors and entrepreneurs together. 
"Entrepreneurs were saying, find them an investor, and investors were saying, find them an entrepreneur," recalls Denenberg, who feels that while there is no shortage of either startups or seed money in the Delaware Valley, until now, there's been no centralized spot for meeting up.
Denenberg, using personal funds to outfit and run the SeedPhilly office, will soon be bringing on participants, who will be expected to remain for no more than 18 months. SeedPhilly will not take an equity share; rather, it will generate revenue by charging a monthly fee of $325 per desk and $700-1,200 per office, which can fit up to four people.
SeedPhilly plans to hold regular classes, the first of which is a four week Microsoft Windows Phone development course. And he plans to schedule a steady stream of investors who will give talks, take meetings, or just drop in for a casual cup of coffee and a chat.
As far as the application process? Denenberg replies, "Don't find us. We'll find you."

Source: Brad Denenberg, SeedPhilly
Writer: Sue Spolan

Collegeville's GigiK helps beat the system with KOP-based Free Court Dockets

He has a big, long, hard to pronounce name, so Gigi Kizhakkechethipuzha generally goes by the moniker Gigi K in Philadelphia entrepreneurial circles. Kizhakkechethipuzha's website Free Court Dockets is, he says, the only place online to get a federal case docket for free. The site, with a brand new design, will relaunch on or before February 14.

Otherwise, attorneys and legal researchers must use the Public Access to Court Records (PACER) Case Records locator system, which is about to raise prices 25 percent, from $.08 to .10 per page, starting in April 2012.
Kizhakkechethipuzha explains that while researchers have been charged per page for US District Civil or Criminal, US Bankruptcy, US Appellate, US Federal Claims, or US International Trade records since 2005, 14 universities were exempt until 2009, when even that avenue was closed.

According to an article in Ars Technica, "PACER locks public documents behind a paywall, lacks a reasonable search engine, and has an interface that's inscrutable to non-lawyers."
While activist Carl Malamud and Senator Joe Lieberman fought for the public's right to access to the documents, the paywall remains, and the search function remains a hurdle for lay audiences. Two large firms, LexisNexis and Westlaw, offer a more user friendly interface, but that ease comes at a premium price.

The King of Prussia startup Free Court Dockets has a different pricing structure, explains Kizhakkechethipuzha. The cost of obtaining the records will be covered by advertising revenue on the site and user donations.
Kizhakkechethipuzha, who lives in Collegeville, originally got into legal information services via inspiration delivered nearly to his front door. His neighbor, an attorney, was explaining how court scheduling orders often got mixed up, and a lawsuit could result from a missed court date. Kizhakkechethipuzha developed Docket Digest, which was an automated system to download and extract court dates to keep attorney calendars straight. While Docket Digest is no longer in existence, Free Court Dockets grew out of it.

Kizhakkechethipuzha, whose office is in King of Prussia, also operates several other startups, including Courtport, for legal research, Gami LLC, which offers outsourced business processes and applications (Kizhakkechethipuzha works with developers based in India), and Talentoid, an online job recruitment resource.

Source: Gigi Kizhakkechethipuzha, Free Court Dockets
Writer: Sue Spolan

DreamIt startup accelerator in Israel to be first-of-its-kind hybrid program

It is now time to look toward the land of milk and honey for the latest in tech. "Israel is famous for its technology innovation, though many companies have difficulty expanding into the US and global markets," says Mitchell Golner, Managing Partner of DreamIt Israel, the latest expansion of the Philadelphia based startup accelerator. After adding a New York City program in 2011, DreamIt Ventures goes global in 2012.

On January 17, applications opened up for Israeli entrepreneurs. Noelle McHugh, DreamIt's office manager, says companies have already started applying, and DreamIt expects to choose five Israeli startups to accompany 10 US-based entrepreneurs this summer in Manhattan.

Golner, who has been living in Israel, says DreamIt has been interested in developing a program in the Israel market for a while. "We are focused on helping Israeli startups expand in the US and in global markets. We will consider a wide array of companies that can fit the lean startup model. Most are in the Internet and mobile space and include B2B an  B2C businesses." According to Golner, the new program is a hybrid and the first of its kind in Israel. DreamIt Israel will be based in the environs of Tel Aviv. A specific location has not yet been announced.

Companies will spend one month in Israel and then travel to the US to spend three months in New York. "After the NYC program, when the companies return to Israel, they are offered a workspace for up to 2 months," adds Golner. "The curriculum, coaching, community, and other fundamental aspects of the DreamIt program are consistent across the Israeli program and the NYC program, with specific curriculum elements for the Israeli startups in the first month."

The deadline to apply to the program is early March. The Israel program begins April 15, and participants start the New York segment on May 14, returning home in mid August.  There will be two demo days for the overseas participants: one in New York and one back home. The Israel program wraps up in October.

Source: Mitchell Golner, Noelle McHugh, DreamIt Ventures
Writer: Sue Spolan

Disaster plan: Philly startup Near-Miss Management is a guaranteed hit

It would be incredibly useful to predict disasters before they happen. That's the goal of Near-Miss Management, a new company co-founded by Ulku Oktem and Ankur Pariyani, who met at the University of Pennsylvania, where Oktem taught and Pariyani received his PhD. 
Suppose the BP Gulf oil spill could have been prevented. Or the disaster in Bhopal. Oktem and Pariyani have created the remarkable, patent pending, Dynamic Risk Predictor Suite, comprised of three software programs and four add-ons that are able to predict major problems before they happen, saving billions of dollars annually.
"It's an area I started to work on more than 10 years ago," recalls Oktem, who is a senior research fellow at the Wharton School in the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. "We started out focusing on personal near misses." For example, if a worker slips, but doesn't fall down, that's considered a near miss and an indicator of future problems. 
Oktem says the science of close calls has been gaining momentum. It was her work with the chemical industry that sparked an interest in practical applications of a problem that was previously in the realm of academic theory. "Near misses are a leading indicator of accidents," says Oktem. If you look back at unfolding events in the aftermath, adds Pariyani, there will always be several near misses leading up to any major accident.
The software suite Near-Miss Management has developed is designed initially to address issues in the chemical industry, and will easily apply to a wide range of businesses, including airlines, pharmaceuticals, energy, defense, finance and insurance.
"We expect that once our software is running in a few plants, it will catch on very fast," says Oktem, who cites an annual loss of about $10 billion in the chemical industry due to accidents and unexpected shutdowns. "People who are responsible for risk management of chemical plants are a close knit group. The key is getting the first few companies, and we expect to do that this year."
The bootstrapped Near-Miss Management, based in Center City, includes three on the management team and five programmers. Near-Miss Management will demonstrate its software tomorrow at the upcoming Philly Tech Meetup at the Quorum of the University City Science Center.

Source: Ulku Oktem, Ankur Pariyani, Near-Miss Management
Writer: Sue Spolan

Zaahah! Collaborative search launches with South Jersey angel backing

Zaahah is a new collaborative search and online desktop that combines beauty and brains. James Sisneros, who created the recently launched site under the aegis of his company startUP Productions LLC, has just raised seed funding from a group of independent angel investors from South Jersey. The undisclosed sum will carry the startup for the next six months, according to Sisneros, who begins seeking a Series A round this week. 
Sisneros came up with the idea for Zaahah while taking an executive course at Wharton. The platform takes social search one step further. First, Zaahah allows users to separate work, personal and academic profiles, rather than lump them all into one massive favorites bin.
But the real genius of Zaahah is in the networking. When search results are returned, Zaahah lets users know who else is searching on the same topic. Users can communicate in a completely firewalled manner. Each user has an anonymous Zaahah email address. This functionality will be particularly helpful for researchers at different academic institutions or companies. 
"It will eliminate redundant effort," explains Sisneros. "If we are in different offices searching on the same problem, we will see that." Students across the country will be able to connect on shared topics. Zaahah also allows users to chat in real time as well as store search criteria, annotated results and related documents in the cloud.
Sisneros has teamed up with Edventure Partners to launch Zaahah through colleges and universities nationwide. "There are classes at 12 universities who will market Zaahah for the semester. They're responsible for market research and public campaigns. A team of 300 people is doing the marketing for me." Sisneros has a four year exclusive agreement with Edventures, which will be marketing his search engine at 66 universities over the next two years. Zaahah now employs three developers and two marketing specialists, all on a full time contract basis.
Zaahah, which can also be accessed via browser plug-in, does not look like any other search engine out there. As opposed to a blank slate, the landing page is filled with attractive images that correspond to popular search terms. Ads run down the right side of the page. Sisneros also plans to create a hybrid advertising and discount program for Zaahah users, who will receive eight email offers a month for deals on products and services based on search topics.

Source: James Sisneros, Zaahah
Writer: Sue Spolan

Conshohocken's PackLate doubling staff, making global moves

You can PackLate if you want to. Steve Barsh, CEO of the Conshohocken based vacation rental company, reports explosive growth in recent months following a deal with Travel Holdings Inc., and its better known subsidiary Tourico Holidays, a worldwide distributor of vacation property rentals via massive travel sites. "If you go on the American Airlines website and book a vacation home, it’s a PackLate property," explains Barsh, as one example.  While PackLate's involvement  on these larger sites is unbranded, according to Barsh, PackLate still reaps the benefits, receiving a commission for each rental.

After raising $1 million in seed funding from colleagues in the VC world, PackLate is poised to double staff this year. With six employees now, Barsh is actively seeking developers to expand the business. He is also looking for office space in Center City, and has a very specific picture in his head: a century old, well-varnished hardwood floors, lots of light and exposed brick. PackLate, reports Barsh, is also about to enter a series A round of fundraising.

The company started for fairly personal reasons. Barsh, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who was a partner in DreamIt Ventures, owns vacation rental properties in Park City, Utah. While trying to rent the properties through popular sites like VRBO, he and his wife realized that there was a lot lacking, like real time functionality. Typically, a renter locates an owner's listing, inquires via email or phone, sends a check and waits for confirmation. The whole process from discovery to confirmation can take days.

By contrast, PackLate provides instant payment and instant confirmation. The other big difference bedsides timeliness, says Barsh, is that PackLate works solely with property managers, not individual owners, and that’s how it is able to offer real time booking capability. It’s a different psychographic from AirBnB customers, says Barsh. PackLate started as a B to C company, and Barsh describes the recent partnership with Travel Holdings as a 90 degree pivot, repositioning as a B to B company and solving a distribution problem. It is still possible, additionally, for individuals to book properties on the site directly.

The great majority of PackLate bookings are inbound US travelers, with Florida at the top of the itinerary. He notes that Orlando is the number 2 travel destination in the world, bested only by Paris. Vacation homes are hot right now, says Barsh. People the world over crave an authentic travel experience, as opposed to a hotel stay.

If you are interested in joining the PackLate team, the top job requirement is a positive attitude, says Barsh, who offers unlimited vacation time and lots of travel for interested developers.

Source: Steve Barsh, PackLate
Writer: Sue Spolan

Science Center-housed biotech startup Ossianix a shark of innovation, hiring 10

The shark, it turns out, has an immune system worthy of human envy. Biotech startup Ossianix, located at the University City Science Center, is developing groundbreaking immune system treatments based on antibodies found specifically in the shark. "In terms of evolutionary biology, the shark has one of the the simplest immune systems. It is a much smaller antibody structure than in humans, but still very potent," says Ossianix founder and CEO Frank Walsh. "You can engineer that structure to attack a whole variety of pathologies."

Ossianix just announced a strategic investment by global pharmaceutical giant H. Lundbeck A/S in the form of a Convertible Promissory Note. While the exact dollar amount has not been disclosed, Walsh says the investment will cover the next three years in the life of his very early stage research company. Ossianix hopes to grow to 10 employees by the end of 2012. Walsh is also seeking standard funding from several pharmaceuticals.

After leaving Wyeth following its takeover by Pfizer, Walsh decided to start his own company, naming it after Ossian, a mythological Celtic figure. Says Walsh, "When you start a company, you can come up with a name aligned with the technology, or something unaligned so if you change strategic direction, you don't have to change the name."

The product Ossianix hopes to generate will be made entirely of synthetic compounds based on the naturally occurring structures in the shark. Walsh reports that while there have been a number of academic studies focusing on shark antibodies, Ossianix is the only biotech pursuing the application from a therapeutic point of view.

The shark based antibody is applicable to a variety of diseases, says Walsh, and initial research is two areas. "The first is being able to deliver antibodies to the brain in much higher concentrations than can be achieved by current technologies. There's a lot of interest in the pharmaceutical industry to attack the processes in Alzheimer's, MS and Parkinson's disease. Central nervous system disorders are a major area of focus," says Walsh. The second area is in ALS research, creating a strategy to build muscle to combat the loss of power associated with the ailment also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

As far as larger trends in pharmaceutical research, Walsh says that for the first time in decades, R&D spending at pharmaceuticals like Pfizer is on the decrease. As a result, the big players are becoming much more dependent on outside companies for early innovation. "For me, that's one of the exciting things about starting Ossianix, building a credible small company in that early space."

Source: Frank Walsh, Ossianix
Writer: Sue Spolan

West Chester's Hoopla gamifies sales, rakes in $2.3M in Series A funds

If you see your name on a game leaderboard, it's natural to want to make it to the No. 1 spot. Hoopla Software, based in West Chester, provides game dynamics to sales teams. Hoopla recently raised $2.3 million in Series A round financing, of which Safeguard Scientifics deployed $1.3 million.
When Mike Smalls, Hoopla founder and CEO, launched the company at the end of 2009, he says, "I didn't even know what gamification was." His desire to combine gaming and sales came, rather, from solving his own challenges running the sales aspect of organizations, including TurnTide, which was sold to Symantec, and Destiny Software. "It's always a challenge trying to get optimal behaviors and actions from your team." 
Smalls, looking into psychological and motivational elements, discovered game mechanics. "I didn't know it at the time, but I was stumbling across the same market as gamification of the enterprise. I was focused on the sales call center world."
The feed on Hoopla's wall mount monitor has a sports-like feel, and its graphics have been compared to ESPN. "The audience we are targeting, sales and call center folks, tend to be heavy sports fans. It works for them to have the analysis played out." He adds that sales people tend to be more competitive. "It's a little more in your face culture of competition. You wouldn't apply the same model to the Human Resources department," says Smalls.
Hoopla's initial product was a free countdown clock app for Salesforce, which generated a database of 400 customers. Smalls considers the scoreboard which followed to be Hoopla's flagship product, with "dozens and dozens" of customers already, without a lot of marketing. "Every one of our paid customers has come to us. We've built relationships with Salesforce sales reps or on the App Exchange." 
Hoopla's scoreboard technology is available on an annual subscription basis. Price points are based on the number of users, says Smalls, who estimates the cost at about a hundred dollars per user per year.

Source: Mike Smalls, Hoopla
Writer: Sue Spolan
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