The most promising Philly tech companies in this new decade: RealLIST Startups 2020

The startups chosen for this year’s roundup vary in product and in mission, but represent innovative approaches and solutions across rising industries in Philadelphia and beyond.

 By Paige Gross / STAFF

Every year since 2017, we here at have combed through our archives, listened to our communities and relied on our own reporter gut instincts to name 10 startups we deem to be extremely “real.”

These folks are the movers and shakers of the startup tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem here in Philadelphia, and from where we stand, they are well shaped to do big things in 2020 and beyond.

Most have given us evidence — through doubling down on hiring, fundraising or launching new products — that they’re setting up to make the Philly startup scene better than it was before they arrived.

From where I stand, as a reporter fairly new to Philly’s tech scene but with a deep understanding of Philadelphia’s strengths and weaknesses, these startups make the cut. They are varied in product and in mission, but represent innovative approaches and solutions across rising industries in this city and beyond.

As always, the companies chosen fit these criteria:

  • Have been founded no earlier than 2017, a rule cofounder Christopher Wink established in his 2012 definition of a startup. (The sunset period, unfortunately, leaves out some very real contenders that graced our list last year such as NeuroFlow and Lilu which have made significant strides, deals and growth this year.)
  • Make the lion’s share of their revenue from a specific product offering. That means agencies were not in the game.
  • Have not been through a significant exit event like mergers or acquisitions.

P.S. If you don’t see your startup on this list, don’t worry — that doesn’t mean the work you are doing is “unreal.” This annual list is just a peek into some startups we think will make some major strides, though we will be following as many as possible throughout the year.

Let’s jump in.

10. FORT Robotics

The one-year-old company is a spinout of Humanistic Robotics, which was founded in 2004 and created devices to keep humans safe from landmines which were deployed in areas such as Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. In about a year, FORT, which has a mission to create a secure, end-to-end wireless platform that ensures human safety around dangerous machines, has grown from its original team of 10 to about 25 employees and raised $4 million in seed funding.

“The industry has been there, and the tech is finally there, but there’s not yet a safety platform of record,” CEO Samuel Reeves told during a visit to its Curtis Center office. In 2020, FORT will likely raise a Series A round and continue to grow, Reeves said.

9. Simply Good Jars

Former professional chef Jared Cannon launched this line of jarred, ready-to-go meals stored in connected smart fridges at the end of 2017, and has seen slow but steady success with the venture since. Cannon was chosen for New York-based Food-X, an accelerator program for food-related startups, in 2019, where he claimed to tap a handful of Fortune 500 companies as customers.

“We are on the cusp of some really exciting stuff,” Cannon told “We’ve partnered with Byte Technologies along with other regional brands to commercialize our offering and help even more people have a better for all food option available steps away from where they’re already living life,” i.e. offices and other facilities such as hospitals.

In September 2019, Cannon pitched Simply Good Jars to a handful of investors at a live pitch event, and raised $325,ooo — part of a $1.6 million seed round he said was underway.

8. GoCoach

This job training and reskilling company was started in NYC, but its founder, Pennsylvania native Kristy McCann Flynn, told last year that she was coming home to run the business from Philly. McCann Flynn launched the company in 2018 to offer a SaaS and customer-facing solution to the professional development market.

The app relies on a network of customers and career coaches who work together to bring folks up to speed on current workforce trends and skills. It tracks KPIs, has behavioral assessments and brings in a range of “coaches” for various industries. The company is remote friendly, and has a handful of employees in Philly, New York, California, Washington and North Carolina.

“We will be honing in on Philly hires for sales and support and West Coast for tech,” McCann Flynn said.

7. Avisi Technologies

This Pennovation Center-based medtech startup was founded by University of Pennsylvania grad Rui Jing Jiang in 2017 while she was at The Wharton School. The company’s product, VisiPlate, aims to treat open-angle glaucoma with an ocular implant that’s designed to remove excess fluid from inside the eye. The device releases pressures that damage the optic nerve.

In 2019, the company said it was funded via non-dilutive grants and awards including a $225,000 federal government grant from the National Science Foundation and additional funding from Penn, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, VentureWell E-Teams, among others. Last year, Avisi went through the MedTech Innovator Accelerator based in San Francisco.

6. QuotaPath

QuotaPath made the 2019 RealLIST for reasons that remain true in 2020: It raised a $1.5 million seed round led by Austin-based ATX Seed Ventures and angel investors, and the company’s profile is raised with cofounder AJ Bruno. His first company, TrendKite, was acquired last year in a nine-digit deal.

In 2019, the team launched its flagship product, a platform designed to help salespeople calculate and track their commission-based earnings and quota attainment. The company also raised $3.5 million, doubled its employee headcount and had a company kickoff in Philadelphia where it flew its Austin employees up for a hackathon and a day of strategic sessions.

5. Gettacar

The Northeast Philly startup is run by two childhood friends, Yossi Levi and Jake Levin, with years of experience in traditional auto sales and a stint at goPuff for Levin, who helped launch the local delivery service company that got a $750 million investment in 2019. The thought process was this: Why can’t cars be sold and delivered the same way you can get a six-pack of beer sent to your house?

The pair launched the showroom-less auto seller in 2018, essentially an online platform where folks could shop for a used, reasonably priced car and get it delivered the next day. The company raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding in 2018 which included San Francisco-based e.venturesThe Philadelphia Inquirer reported. A Gettacar spokesperson told in December that it employed 100 people locally and operates a 25,000-square-foot reconditioning center in Northeast Philly.


This news subscription startup was born in Brooklyn, but lured to the City of Brotherly Love for the 2019 LIFT Labs accelerator class — and has since decided to make Philly its home. NICKL, and its product NICKLpass, found success in the idea of bundling and selling news outlet subscriptions to groups, namely companies. It was a need the three-person company heard from Comcast during the accelerator.

Nickl has secured discounts as high as 70%, CEO Sumorwuo Zaza said, in deals that give news outlets more subscribers and Nickl a share of revenue from the sales, he told the Inquirer. One of NICKL’s only confirmed clients is the Los Angeles Times, which told the Inquirer it has “seen some encouraging results” since trying Nickl’s corporate account bundling service. The company will continue to work out of LIFT Labs until the 2020 accelerator class moves in, and then the company will get an office nearby, Zaza said.

3. Crossbeam

Three-time founder Bob Moore jumped into his latest project, “LinkedIn for data” startup Crossbeam, in 2018 with cofounder Buck Ryan. The duo raised a $3.3 million seed round in early 2019, then a $12.5 million Series A in August led by FirstMark Capital with participation from existing investors First Round CapitalUncork Capital and Slack Fund.

In 2019, Crossbeam’s platform went live and onboarded more than 100 companies (including some local ones); released products; been featured on the “How I Raised It” podcast; and won first prize at PACT’s Phorum demo pit. In early 2020, the startup has reached about 20 full-time employees, including senior product manager Lindsey O’Niell (one of our inaugural RealLIST Engineers), who moved to Philly to join the team.

2. Penji

The on-demand graphic design startup, founded in 2017, is becoming a go-to for companies looking for design services and has some mass appeal from its unique subscription model: unlimited design services managed through proprietary software for a flat rate of $369 a month. It’s been heralded for extending those services to Camden nonprofits that couldn’t afford them for a single dollar. It earned enough clout to land on the Inc. 5000 list last year at number 1,006.

Penji set up shop in Camden near the waterfront two years ago, but its significant staff growth — up to about 60, now, cofounder and CEO Khai Tran said —was cause for the startup to move operations over the Ben Franklin Bridge to Philly in fall 2019. Tran told at the time: “The mission didn’t change. Just the location did.”

1. Astarte Medical

This precision medicine company is run by two former venture capital investors, Tracy Warren and Tammi Jantzen, who have since taken their savvy in raising money for others to their own startup. The team had an especially banner year — raising a $5 million Series A round in May 2019 and an additional $3.5 million in November — and seems it will have an even more impressive 2020.

The funding will go toward the commercialization and adoption of its NICUtrition, a suite of digital tools and diagnostics that supports feeding protocols, practice and decision-making in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) for premature babies. The company will use the additional funds to accelerate hiring and ramp its sales and marketing efforts for its first two solutions, NICUtrition Analytics and NICUtrition Guidance.

“Astarte Medical plans to grow its team by 300% in 2020, adding in-house sales and marketing staff, as well as client support functions to assist early adopters,” it said in November. “In addition, the company also plans to expand its in-house engineering and data science teams to support continued product development.”

The duo also gets props for rapid fundraising and hiring in Yardley, a ‘burb not really known for attracting tech talent.

Finally, a few honorable mentions (in no particular order):

  • EmployeeCycle
  • Swirl
  • VyB
  • TrekIT Health
  • Kumba Africa
  • This Apps Saves Lives
  • Leadovate
  • Hopskip
  • MD Ally
  • NaturAll Club, a location data analytics startup, raises $12 million Series A

Catherine Shu@catherineshu / 7:00 am CST • January 22, 2020, a startup that analyzes location and foot traffic analytics for retailers and other businesses, announced today that it has closed a $12 million Series A. The round was led by JBV Capital, with participation from investors including Aleph, Reciprocal Ventures and OCA Ventures.

The funding will be used on research and development of new features and to expand’s operation in the United States.

Launched in 2016,’s SaaS platform gives its clients real-time data that helps them make decisions like where to rent or buy properties, when to hold sales and promotions and how to manage assets. analyzes foot traffic and also creates consumer profiles to help clients make marketing and ad spending decisions. It does this by collecting geolocation and proximity data from devices that are enabled to share that information.’s co-founder and CEO Noam Ben-Zvi says the company protects privacy and follows regulation by displaying aggregated, anonymous data and does not collect personally identifiable data. It also does not sell advertising or raw data.

The company currently serves clients in the retail (including large shopping centers), commercial real estate and hospitality verticals, including JLL, Regency, SRS, Brixmor, Verizon* and Caesars Entertainment.

“Up until now, we’ve been heavily focused on the commercial real estate sector, but this has very organically led us into retail, hospitality, municipalities and even [consumer packaged goods],” Ben-Zvi told TechCrunch in an email. “This presents us with a massive market, so we’re just focused on building out the types of features that will directly address the different needs of our core audience.”

He adds that lack of data has hurt retail businesses with major offline operations, but that “by effectively addressing this gap, we’re helping drive more sustainable growth or larger players or minimizing the risk for smaller companies to drive expansion plans that are strategically aggressive.”

Others startups in the same space include Dor, Aislelabs, RetailNext, ShopperTrak and Density. Ben-Zvi says wants to differentiate by providing more types of real-time data analysis.

“While there are a lot of companies touching the location analytics space, we’re in a unique situation as the only company providing these deep and actionable insights for any location in the country in a real-time platform with a wide array of functionality,” he said.

*Disclosure: Verizon Media is the parent company of TechCrunch.

The story of two women who’ve raised more than $6 million to start their own ‘fem tech’ company for women and children’s health

Collin West and Nihar Neelakanti, Kauffman Fellows Fund Oct 4, 2019, 10:29 AM

  • Tammi Jantzen is the cofounder of Astarte Medical, a precision medicine company that utilizes software and predictive analytics to improve health outcomes during the first 1,000 days of life.
  • Jantzen prides herself on being part of a female-led cofounding team and has become very acutely aware of the specific challenges involved in fundraising for female founders.
  • She shared her experience transitioning from CFO in venture capital to entrepreneur, as well as pitching investors on “fem tech.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Tammi Jantzen grew up in a small Wisconsin college town and started her professional life as an accountant working for a publishing company, which was later acquired by McGraw Hill. After the acquisition, McGraw Hill let go of all the accountants and offered Jantzen a job in New York City. 

A year after the move, Jantzen realized her passions were leading her elsewhere. She fell into venture capital around 1998 after a VC client of her husband’s, a residential contractor, talked about how their fund was looking for a CFO. Soon enough, the fund offered Jantzen the job, and the rest is history. 

With nearly two decades of experience in venture, Jantzen made the bold transition to entrepreneur and cofounded Astarte Medical, a precision medicine company that utilizes software and predictive analytics to improve health outcomes during the first 1,000 days of life, with an initial focus on preterm infants. 

Jantzen prides herself on being part of a female-led cofounding team for Astarte Medical and has become very acutely aware of the specific challenges involved in fundraising for female founders. 

She joined us to speak about her fundraising experience as a cofounder of a startup, combining her former experience and perspective as GP of a fund tackling a complex, significant problem from two different angles. 

Learning by doing

There are few industries in which learning is so closely tied to “figuring it out along the way” than venture capital. Having an intimate understanding of the financial mechanics behind investment transactions is often the only prerequisite to becoming a successful venture capitalist — the rest must be learned through a wide variety of good and bad deals. 

“Prior to becoming immersed in the VC world, I had only heard about venture capital,” noted Jantzen. “I didn’t know much about it, and I learned from just doing.” 

The fund Jantzen joined was a $45 million regional fund and had already made a couple of investments. As the fund was preparing to raise a second fund, one of their LP’s presented an opportunity to join him in a $150 million fund called Battelle Ventures. Jantzen was a founding member of Battelle Ventures in 2003 as CFO and saw the fund grow to $250 million under management. Battelle Ventures was an early-stage fund focused largely on healthcare, energy, and homeland security. 

“Battelle Ventures only had a single LP, so there were unique aspects to our mandate and operations as a result,” commented Jantzen. 

During her time at the first fund, Jantzen met Tracy Warren. After Battelle Ventures chose not to pursue a second venture fund, Jantzen and Warren joined to start their own fund, Astarte Ventures. It was the first fund focused exclusively on women’s and children’s health. 

“Fem tech wasn’t coined yet,” said Jantzen. “We saw an enormous opportunity to add value to an underserved market. Prospective fund investors told us to go out and prove the market actually exists. We took a bet and it paid off. We helped validate the space and proved that our small fund would actually make money.” 

Jantzen and Warren put their own money to work, investing under Astarte Ventures. In the course of their work, they spent a lot of time visiting women’s and children’s hospitals around the country. That’s where they met Katherine Gregory, RN, PhD at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Jantzen and Warren were intrigued by Gregory and her research. 

“Kate Gregory was clearly a rockstar,” said Jantzen. “She was working on some phenomenal research on preterm infant microbiome and gut health. She had a unique background having hands-on clinical experience as a nurse alongside stellar academic and research credentials. At the time, we didn’t know what the product would be, but we knew it was worth the time and energy to figure it out. This initial meeting with her prompted our entrepreneurial shift and led to the founding of Astarte Medical in 2016.” 

Starting to fundraise

Astarte Medical has raised over $6 million, with $1.4 million coming from Jantzen and Warren personally. Astarte Ventures funded the initial seed round, which funded the BabyBiome Study in Gregory’s lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The company also received seed capital from Ben Franklin Technology Partners, who invested alongside the founders’ capital based on the strength of the team while the concept was still forming a business. In October 2017, having formulated a solid plan and developed an initial product, Astarte Medical went out to officially raise its Series A. However, fundraising for these experienced investors-turned-entrepreneurs was not without its challenges.

“Having spent so much time in early-stage investing, we went into this thinking we knew exactly what we needed to do to win over investors. The process of raising capital took longer than we ever thought,” said Jantzen. “It was actually really frustrating. VCs and even many of the angel groups said two things: ‘It’s really interesting what you are doing, but you are a little too early, so come back to us when you have revenue.'”

She added: “One of the most frustrating lessons of fundraising was spending too much time entertaining the wrong investors. We spent an incredible amount of time in diligence with some, who when asking about exit strategy and corporate development specifically asked if our female-led team could handle it. One group even asked if we had any men on the team. There we were with a life-changing company, a functional business model, and an experienced team, and we’re being asked if we had male supervision.”

Despite vexations, the pieces started to come together in early 2018. Keiretsu Forum MidAtlantic would become the lead investor, and the term sheet was executed in February 2018. Astarte Medical got its final commitments in December, a full 10 months after the execution of the term sheet.  

“We now realize that we set very unrealistic expectations on how much time and energy would be expended to raise this round of funding. We spent 80% of the time on 20% of the commitments,” said Jantzen. “We spent too much time chasing small checks. In the final three months, the bulk of the money came in triggered by some uncommon avenues.”

Astarte Medical participated in accelerators XLerateHealth and Illumina Accelerator. 

“Every accelerator helped add another critical piece to the puzzle,” commented Jantzen. “XLerateHealth helped refine the pitch, and much to our surprise, $1 million of the $5 million came as a direct result of our participation in XLerateHealth. The Illumina Accelerator enabled us to sequence an unprecedented amount of data at a fraction of the cost, and provided dollar for dollar match funding. The match funding provided $2 million of the $5 million Series A round, which was a tremendous catalyst, enabling us to close our round slightly oversubscribed.” 

“This has been the hardest I’ve ever worked but, hands down, the most fun I’ve ever had,” added Jantzen. “I think the coolest thing for me is that we are making a difference in the lives of infants and families, helping babies thrive. What better mission could there be? But it’s not all about impact; we’re building a solid, highly investable business. Closing our Series A was validation of our vision and opportunity, as well as our team.” 

Takeaways as a GP and entrepreneur

As a general partner at a venture capital fund and a cofounder of a startup, Jantzen has a unique point of view of fundraising. 

Sitting on the other side of the table as entrepreneurs, they gained an appreciation for all the founders that had come before them as investors for over 15 years.  

“Looking back, 2018 was a challenging year while we were fundraising.  With little gas in the tank, no one took a salary and the founders personally invested to bridge the company to closing,” said Jantzen. “From a personal standpoint, it was a difficult year, but we wholeheartedly believed in our vision and knew we would persevere. Having a cofounder to lean on throughout the process was critical to our success. I couldn’t imagine going through it as a lone founder.”

“We were surprised that we didn’t get more traction from female-founder-friendly investment groups that we thought would be excited about the opportunity,” added Jantzen. “We were fortunate to have Astia Angels and NextAct Fund invest, but most early-stage VCs and many angel groups are very risk-averse. We found ourselves spending a lot of time entertaining potential investors that we shouldn’t have given their biases and tire-kicking. There was one angel group we spent over a year in diligence with only to find that they couldn’t pull an investment together.  In retrospect, it turned out to be a blessing as not all money is good money. We are fortunate to have a syndicate of committed investors who share our vision and respect the experience and potential of this team.” 

The process of pitching a startup to dozens or even hundreds of investors is more of an artform that requires discipline and due diligence. 

“We had over two hundred iterations of the pitch deck. We treated every investor pitch as a unique opportunity,” she said. 

Jantzen’s largest frustrations were not knowing who was really serious and able to invest, investor indecisiveness, and lack of leadership within angel groups. 

“If I had to boil the entire ten months of fundraising to three takeaways, I would say: focus initially only on folks that can lead the deal; your relationship with your investors is much like a marriage, so be selective with who you choose; and above all, be persistent. Stay focused on the business and the opportunity, continue to share your passion and vision, and the right investors will ultimately buy in,” she said. 

Through Astarte Medical’s vision of improving outcomes in the first 1,000 days of life, Jantzen and team will have a meaningful and measurable impact on hundreds of thousands of infants and their families. Astarte Medical has already built the largest and most comprehensive dataset of preterm infant microbiome profiles and corresponding clinical data about both mom and baby. 

“We started the company based on Kate’s idea of using a ‘calculator’ that looks at microbial health risk factors of baby — gestational age at birth, how they are born, antibiotics administered, mom’s health, how they are fed, and so on — and marries those factors with microbiome sequence data and outcomes,” said Jantzen. “If we can connect all those factors together and identify which variables influence the establishment of the microbiome and how it changes during the course of the infant’s stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, we can build predictive algorithms to risk stratify infants and provide predictive models on growth that can help clinicians make better-informed care decisions around nutrition, feeding, and the use of antibiotics and probiotics. With our dataset, we’re developing MAGI, the Microbiome And Growth Indicator — a gut health profile.” 

Astarte Medical has also built NICUtrition, a feeding dashboard that simplifies the processes of documenting and logging feeding for preemies in the hospital. The more data it collects, the more powerful of an impact the data will be able to make in the future of personalized medicine. 

“Zeroing in on the best way to feed every baby is going to be huge for ensuring health in the first 1,000 days of life starting from conception through age two,” said Jantzen.

Jantzen is optimistic about the future, and as cofounder of a startup tackling major issues head-on and transitioning from GP of a fund aligned with her passions, Jantzen is thrilled to be in the space.

Nihar Neelakanti is an investor at Kauffman Fellows Fund, produces The Arena Podcast, and writes the Journal Newsletter by Kauffman Fellows. The firm’s investments include Zoom, Carta, Tally, Groww, One Concern, and Catalog DNA. Previously, he was an analyst at Correlation Ventures, a venture firm out of San Francisco that has invested in notable consumer companies such as Casper, Cotopaxi, and Imperfect Produce. He also cofounded Vendima Bags, a direct-to-consumer luxury bag startup.

Collin West is cofounding partner of Kauffman Fellows Fund and a Kauffman fellow from class ’17. He’s also founder and head of research of Kauffman Fellows Research Center. Previously, he was a principal at Correlation Ventures. He’s a 2x founder. He’s also pictured in the Guinness World Records for leading the first team to row a boat across the Arctic Ocean over 41 days and 1,000 miles non-stop and unsupported. 

Progentec Raises $5M in Series A Funding Led by Plains Venture Partners

– Commercializing aiSLE DX Flare Prediction Test, a new blood-based biomarker laboratory test for the prediction of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) flares

– Launching new research into digital biomarkers and the remote delivery of therapeutic programs

– Releasing aiSLE DX Lupus Classification/Diagnosis Test by mid-2020

NEWS PROVIDED BY Progentec Diagnostics, Inc. 

Jan 08, 2020, 11:49 ET

OKLAHOMA CITY, Jan. 8, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Progentec, a leader in the development of nextgen diagnostics and digital therapeutics for the management of autoimmune diseases, announced today that it has completed a $5 million Series A funding round led by Plains Venture Partners, the Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund and the Oklahoma Angel Capital Fund II, managed by i2E Management Company (Oklahoma City), with participation from NMC Health (Abu Dhabi), OCA Ventures (Chicago), Stanford University (Stanford), the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (Oklahoma City), Mayo Clinic, and Burns & Stowers Investments LLC (Norman, OK).  The funding round provides go-to-market capital for Progentec’s CLIA laboratory and digital technologies for the management of lupus.

“With these funds we will be able to realize our vision of providing a comprehensive solution for management of lupus patients that combines proprietary blood biomarkers with high levels of sensitivity and specificity with continuous remote digital monitoring to benefit millions of lupus patients world-wide,” said Progentec’s CEO, Mohan Purushothaman. “In early 2020, Progentec will launch the aiSLE DX biomarker assay for early prediction of lupus flares.  Later this year, Progentec will launch an enhanced lupus disease diagnosis assay to correctly diagnose/classify lupus patients. These tests will support rheumatologists in making proactive treatment decisions to ensure better outcomes while reducing costs.”

The technology that powers the aiSLE DX test for Flare Prediction was featured at the 2019 ACR/ARP Annual Meeting during the ACR 19 Spotlight Slide Deck program. Progentec’s Dr. Melissa Munroe presented the research.

“Nextgen diagnostics are changing the world of healthcare by pairing unique blood-based biomarkers with digital biomarkers to improve patient outcomes while lowering the cost of disease management,” said Scott Meacham, the President and CEO of i2E Management Company, the fund manager for Plains Venture Partners, the Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund, and the Oklahoma Angel Capital Fund II. “Progentec’s aiSLE DX and other diagnostic tools paired with digital technologies will help patients, clinicians, and payors identify individualized treatment plans that can have significant and meaningful impact both on quality of life and cost of care.”

This funding will also support new research into digital biomarkers and remote delivery of digital therapeutic programs. “The cyclical nature of lupus isn’t just hard for doctors to manage. It’s hard on patients,” said Arif Sorathia, Progentec’s Director of Digital Products. “We are finding digital signals that help Lupus Warriors understand their individual patient journey.”

About Progentec Diagnostics, Inc.
Progentec is committed to improving access and health outcomes for patients in therapeutic areas with a high level of unmet need by combining clinically-validated diagnostic interventions with state-of-the-art digital technologies. Through collaborations with research institutions and health practitioners around the world, Progentec is working to reduce mortality and morbidity while improving care management and service delivery for chronic health conditions.

Mohan Purushothaman
(973) 885-5242