DailyWorth, 14 other firms pitch 'impact' investors

Even if just for a few hours, it was nice to be in a darkened room surrounded by people trying to tackle problems bigger than Europe’s sovereign-debt soap opera.

We’re talking reducing energy use, speeding up water-quality testing, and closing the funding gap for promising college students.

No economists or policymakers took the stage with prescriptions for debt swaps or austerity measures at the Investors’ Circle Fall Venture Fair at World Cafe Live in West Philadelphia on Thursday morning. Just entrepreneurs who mind their P’s -- people, planet, and profit -- while trying to build their businesses.

In all, 15 firms from across the country ran through their spiels and slides before an audience made up of wealthy individuals who practice “triple bottom-line” investing.

One was the homegrown DailyWorth.com Inc., launched by CEO Amanda Steinberg in January 2009. I wrote about her free daily financial newsletter for women in a March column, when it had a subscriber base of 55,000 and had just raised its first round of funding -- $850,000.

Today, DailyWorth has 150,000 subscribers. After Steinberg walked to the podium to the sounds of Beyoncé’s “Run The World (Girls),” the Mount Airy resident made the case for why her company could use $2 million to expand and help more women run their financial lives better.

Targeted at women between 25 to 45 years old, DailyWorth added a twice-weekly investor edition of the e-mail in April, for those who already “know the difference between an IRA and 401(k),” Steinberg said in an interview. It plans to launch an entrepreneur’s edition in January.

To do so, the company will need to double its current workforce of six by February, she said, because the goal for subscriber growth now is 500,000 by the end of 2012.

Steinberg said raising a second round of funding has been much easier than enduring the “pit of fiery darkness” that was the dozens of meetings required to land that initial nut. In fact, 75 percent of that $2 million will be coming from current investors.

Of the 15 presenters, the most intriguing to me was Chicago’s eSpark Inc., which CEO David Vinca called “Pandora for educators,” referring to the personalized Internet radio service.

ESpark sifts through and selects the best of the 27,000 educational apps available for the iPad. In addition, it “diagnoses” students’ learning levels, providing its service through teachers and schools that use iPads in the classroom.

So eSpark would continue the “gamification” of learning. But then, there’s a lot of money to be made in trying to improve children’s learning in the digital age.

Two weeks ago, New York-based Knewton raised $33 million to expand its own platform, which personalizes third-party educational content for college students to a new market -- kindergarten through 12th grade.