A seventh grader sewing since she was 6. Recent college graduates helping to make youth sports more accessible. Software developers with a system that predicts individuals' health needs and steers them to the best-fitting insurance plan.
They are among the winners in the second annual Stellar StartUps competition hosted by Philadelphia Media Network, parent company of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.
From 86 total applicants, a panel of five judges with expertise in small-business development selected 26 finalists, before deciding on winners in each of eight categories. They were announced Tuesday night at an awards program at the Fels Planetarium at the Franklin Institute, and sponsored by MassMutual Greater Philadelphia and Drexel University's Close School of Entrepreneurship. While there are no cash awards to winners, past recipients have described the exposure as invaluable in propelling their companies forward.
The categories and winners are:
StratIS, a Philadelphia developer of wireless smart access, energy, and automation management and control systems for multifamily and student housing.
Mavuno Harvest, a Philadelphia company that works with small African farming cooperatives to create supply chains to bring organic dried fruit from rural sub-Saharan Africa to American consumers.
Picwell, Philadelphia developers of a software system using machine-learning analytics to predict individuals' future health-care needs and matches them to the most appropriate health plan.
Gossamer Games LLC, Philadelphia developers of aesthetic-driven video games meant not only as entertainment but as an empathetic and expressive art form.
The GREEN Program, a Philadelphia business that designs and operates short-term, accredited, experiential education programs abroad focused on pressing issues in sustainable development.
LeagueSide Inc., Philadelphia developers of a platform to match youth sports leagues with regional and national sponsors.
Boost Linguistics, Philadelphia-based platform developers using artificial intelligence to help marketers more effectively communicate with their target audience by analyzing text for emotion and suggesting changes.
littlebags, BIGIMPACT, a Wynnewood business founded by 12-year-old Anna Welsh that turns fabric scraps into fashionable clutches, with a portion of the proceeds donated to Tree House Books, a giving library and literacy center in North Philadelphia.
Asset-Map, a Philadelphia creator of visual maps to sketch out clients' life insurance, retirement accounts, and other assets.
A cowinner in the Students category, Anna Welsh said: "I'm clearly thrilled to be a winner. I definitely want to see where I can take this." The seventh grader at Welsh Valley Middle School in Narbeth sells bags from $8 to $40 on www.littlebagsbigimpact.com. She said business has been so brisk she's added two part-time employees.
Technology-category winner Adam Holt, founder and CEO of Asset-Map, said: "It's always about questioning, wondering how other people see how this can work. A lot of people tell you no. This is a validation that others see the vision in what you're doing."
Paul Martino, general partner at Bullpen Capital, started as an entrepreneur at age 14 in Lansdale. As one of the ceremony's speakers, he told the audience: "Without you, the entrepreneurs, there's no one to invest in. Philadelphia has a tremendous talent pool coming out of the universities. I think Philadelphia should be a rising star for the next generation of bio[tech]."
"But Negadelphia has got to get over the risk of loss aversion, because we've got all the raw materials."
PMN added two new categories in this year's contest, in part as recognition of the region's growing start-up sector — food/restaurant and alumni. Drawing the most applicants was technology, with 21. Minority/female entrepreneurs was a close second with 18.
"There's incredible vitality in the Philly region's start-ups," said Karl Stark, business & economy editor. "We felt compelled to increase the number of finalists from 19 to 26 to reflect that."