Philly: Students Launch Startups at The Radian Apartments

The Radian Apartments span 39th and Walnut streets.

Students at the helm of three startups passed on office space in favor of working from home this past year in The Radian Apartments at 39th and Walnut streets. Their motivation, they said, was the close proximity to other young entrepreneurs.

Escalate: What started in 2011 as an online magazine run by three then-high schoolers is evolving into a long-form blogging platform. The yet-to-be launched website utilizes a democratic style to posting content, where anyone can publish their work but user recommendations determine what gets featured.

Although Escalate is meant to be a podium for students and professionals to show off their talent, co-founder Benton Turner said it also emphasizes collaborative editing.

“We think there’s value in traditional media, but there is a need for a blogging platform that’s oriented around feedback, for the student community in particular,” Turner, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

Escalate co-founders Diana Liao (L), Benton Turner (M) and Jonathan Sun huddled by the computer to program their startup.

The group’s efforts with Escalate are fueled by their passion for writing but, co-founder Jonathan Sun said, the publication omitted an integral part of the art form: the editing process.

“What we noticed with the magazine was that people got excited when they had a piece published but at the same time they wanted to improve their writing,” Sun said. “I didn’t think we were making people feel like they’d become better writers, so we needed to do something different.”

Sun, Turner and fellow co-founder Diana Liao plan to spend the summer developing their startup in The Radian. Sharing an apartment is especially convenient, Liao said, because the three typically work remotely; while she attends Princeton University, Turner lives in Philadelphia and Sun is a student at Kenyon College in Ohio.

Turner and Sun SUPN14FAIRMOUNT
Jonathan Sun (L) and Benton Turner (R) brainstormed ideas for Escalate in their apartment.

Working remotely is a model more small businesses adopt each year – the number of employees who work from home at for-profit companies has increased by 30 percent since 2007.

The startup will launch publicly in October.

“Part of the challenge in writing is that you’re participating in an intimate process,” Sun said. “You have to open up, and that can be painful but we hope to help.”

StudyUp: Initially called Noteriety, StudyUp is a website that allows students to buy and sell class notes, hire an on-demand tutor or access an online library.

“StudyUp happened because of our own needs – we’ve all shared notes and asked friends for help when we missed class, and we quickly realized this could be done on a bigger scale,” said co-founder Arjun Jain.

Arjun Jain (L) and Adam Elkassas (R) work on StudyUp from a study space in The Radian.

“It takes tutoring, human resources and physical resources and puts it all in one package,” added his business partner, Adam Elkassas.

Both participate in all aspects of furthering StudyUp, from planning and coding to marketing.

Since its launch late last year, the business has gotten roughly 2,000 users at Penn and 200 library subscribers. Elkassas and Jain are putting school aside for the upcoming year to concentrate on expanding StudyUp’s reach to at least 100 colleges.

The two co-founders work and hold meetings out of their apartments or in one of the building’s study spaces. Another perk of working from home, they said, is that other student entrepreneurs are around to exchange ideas with.]

Prayas Analytics: Two seniors at Penn spent the past school year working from home to grow their retail analytics company. The software they’ve developed re-purposes security footage to quantify how many visitors a store has, waiting patterns at checkout lines and how quickly customers are processed by cashiers. These numbers, co-founder Yash Kothari said, can help store owners run their businesses more efficiently.

“That information is really powerful,” Kothari said. “Offline retailers have access to so much data, so by providing this information, we can quantify the customer experience.”

Kothari and business partner Pranshu Maheshwari began seriously focusing on Prayas Analytics in September. Growing their company near a college campus has been advantageous, they said, because of the year-round abundance of student talent.

“Over the summer, there are still a bunch of students sticking around, so it’s much easier to recruit people and dig into our own network,” Kothari said.

Maheshwari leads the technical development of the software, while Kothari deals with marketing and clients. The business’ current clientèle include three early-stage companies and a retailer with more than 1,000 store locations.

While Prayas Analytics isn’t based in The Radian this summer, Kothari likened the building to entrepreneurial co-working spaces like City CoHo and First Round Capital, as well as the city itself.

“We talk to a lot of people at startups in Philly and ask them for advice,” he said. “There’s a bit of a community here, where people are always willing to help each other out.”

– Text, video and images by Beth Boyle and Cheyenne Shaffer.

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