DreamIt Ventures gets ready to restart business boot camp

Businesses generally aren’t clamoring to set up shop in Philadelphia.

But more than 300 start-ups from all over the country were ready, willing and eager to spend this summer in West Philadelphia to be part of a “business accelerator” program.

DreamIt Ventures held its inaugural “boot camp” for entrepreneurs last year. It was three months of intense work for 11 companies that holed up in donated space at the University City Science Center.

Each was matched with a mentor, received lots of professional advice, and was egged on to turn their great ideas into what DreamIt hopes will be great companies one day.

Of those 11, four have raised outside funding, including Vuzit, a Philadelphia company that has an online-document viewing technology. DreamIt co-founder Michael Levinson said that two companies are now dormant. The others are still plugging away and trying to raise capital.

DreamIt itself is a start-up, and one that has attracted a fair amount of buzz from technologensia such as the TechCrunch blog. Levinson said the firm received more than double the applications for the summer boot camp than it did last year. The quality of applicants was much higher, he said, and that made picking the final 11 that much harder.

One of them is an Arizona start-up called Notehall. It started an online service where University of Arizona students can buy and sell classroom notes and study guides.

Notehall founder Sean Conway, who graduated from Arizona in 2007, said the site has been operational for seven months and has 10,000 users. (Notehall tells those users that the service is “not a substitute for missing class.”)

Conway and his team want to take the concept nationwide. So trading the arid Tucson desert for humid West Philadelphia for a few months looks to him like a good way to validate their business model.

The structure of the program remains the same, and DreamIt will own a small piece of these companies, having invested $15,000 to $30,000 in each.

Levinson said the speakers they’ve lined up will be less theoretical, more practical. For example, DreamIt companies will be hearing from experts from Microsoft, Google and Amazon.com about tools they could use to build their businesses.

Also new is Steve Barsh, who joined as a managing partner of DreamIt after serving as a mentor last year. He’d started and sold a software company to MCI Communications and now teaches at the Wharton School. His enthusiasm when he talks about entrepreneurship is infectious.

Looking around the room at the April 17 event kicking off this year’s DreamIt program, Barsh said it was hard to tell we’re in a recession. The place was filled with young entrepreneurs “raring to go to build their companies,” he said.

Already, one of the 11 has attracted some notoriety. Environmental Conscious Organization Inc. , of New York, has created a pizza box that it calls environmentally friendly. The “Green Box” converts into four plates and a storage box for the refrigerator. The notoriety comes courtesy of avid Twitterer Ashton Kutcher, who “tweeted” about ECO’s YouTube video last week.

All I can say is 10 tech companies and a pizza box designer in the new space at the Science Center for 3 months? Sounds like entrepreneurial utopia.

Back as Boss

Rutgers School of Business-Camden has announced the keynote speaker for its commencement ceremony on May 21: Joseph Rigby, president and CEO of Pepco Holdings Inc.

Rigby became CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based electric and gas utility March 1, succeeding Dennis R. Wraase.

Rigby’s also a 1978 graduate of the Rutgers-Camden B-school. He joined Atlantic City Electric, a subsidiary of Pepco, in 1979.

On the Spot

William Poole, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, will give the keynote address for the 27th annual Monetary and Trade Conference at Drexel University Thursday at 11:15 a.m.

His topic will be “Saying Good-bye to Too Big to Fail,” referring to the phrase we’ve all heard far too often over the last year.

The conference, which is jointly sponsored by the Global Interdependence Center and Drexel’s LeBow College of Business, will present several other speeches with suitably gloomy titles, such as “Searching for a Bottom” and “Creative Destruction in the Banking Industry: What’s Left and What’s Next.”

But Bob Eisenbeis, chief monetary economist for Vineland-based Cumberland Advisors, looks to fire a contrarian salvo with his speech, “Are Things Really That Bad?”

To register for the conference, contact the nonprofit Global Interdependence Center at 215-898-9453 or online at www.interdependence.org. Cost is $50 for members and $70 for non-members.


Today: Universal Health Services;

Tuesday: Alliance Bancorp, Bryn Mawr Bank, Carpenter Technology, Central European Distribution, Environmental Tectonics, Kulicke & Soffa Industries, Quaker Chemical, Sun Bancorp, Teleflex, Unisys, Vishay Intertechnology;

Wednesday: Adolor, Brandywine Realty Trust, Dollar Financial, Endo Pharmaceuticals, GSI Commerce, Innovative Solutions & Support, National Penn Bancshares, NutriSystem, SAP, Sunoco Logistics, ViroPharma;

Thursday: Abington Bancorp, Advanta, Amerigas Partners, CDI, Cigna, Comcast, eResearchTechnology, ICT Group, Nobel Learning Communities, PMA Capital, Parke Bancorp, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, TF Financial, Triumph Group, UGI, West Pharmaceutical Services;

Friday: Dorman Products, Harleysville National, PPL, Sterling Banks.