Seeking an Uber in Philly, Comcast will boost tech start-ups with 'accelerator' in new tower

Seeking to boost tech in Philadelphia, Comcast Corp. plans an "accelerator" program for start-ups and entrepreneurs on the fourth floor of its new tower in Center City, the company said Monday.

It's the latest project for Comcast that faces huge hiring needs as the company prepares for the opening of  its new $1.5 billion tower in early 2018. Comcast has said it needs a vibrant, tech-skilled labor force. 

As part of that effort, Comcast has launched a summer-intern program for college students and now will open up a floor of the new tower for interaction with small tech companies.

An outside group, Techstars, will manage LIFT Labs for Entrepreneurs and select start-up companies to participate in the 14-week program at the 60-story tower. The group will choose applicants for the program from Philadelphia and globally, Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer at Comcast's cable division, said last week. (LIFT stands for Leveraging Innovation for Tomorrow.)

If selected from outside the region, the start-ups would relocate to the city to participate in the program, Schwartz added. About a dozen start-ups will be selected initially, and the media- and technology-themed program will be a collaboration between Comcast-owned NBCUniversal and Comcast itself.

Even though the start-ups will participate in the formal program for 14 weeks, the accelerator will be open all year with seminars and other activities to boost local tech companies, Schwartz said.

"We are excited to work alongside and learn from some of the best entrepreneurs while offering access to our experienced innovators to help them grow their businesses and take them to the next level," Schwartz said in a statement.

Comcast believes that the accelerator will be "one of the best in the nation," Schwartz said. Disney, Samsung, and other companies operate similar accelerators to help the companies interact with young companies.

A second accelerator is scheduled to open later in 2018 in Atlanta, Comcast said. No more details were available on the Atlanta project.

Applications for the accelerator will be available in January 2018, with a preliminary deadline for applying on April 8, 2018. The accelerator also will host other programs, including seminars and interactions between Comcast experts and local tech companies, Schwartz said.

Danielle Cohn, the executive director of entrepreneurial engagement, will run the fourth-floor accelerator. 

In addition to these plans, Comcast has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into a venture fund that seeds start-up companies, with offices in Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, and New York. The company also has investments totaling almost $1 billion in digital media companies or social media platforms, including its recent $500 million stake in Snap.