Philly EnterpriseTech Highlights November 23-24

Philly EnterpriseTech Weekend Highlights: Malone on Cable Vertical Integration; The spectacular financial failures of Fisker Automobiles




Philly EnterpriseTech Highlights November 18-19

Customers Bancorp readies spinoff of its BankMobile subsidiary

Tom Paine

West Reading-based Customers Bancorp plans to spin off its BankMobile technology business, which will merge with a SPAC and become a publicly listed company. Its BankMobile subsidiary, offering services to college students and thru T-Mobile and other white label accounts, has been a pioneer in the emerging mobile banking business. It attacks the traditional branch economics of most banks. Customers is spinning off the technology business behind BankMobile, not the mobile bank itself.

BankMobile was developed internally by Customers and launched in 2015.  in late 2015, it acquired Higher One, a student loan disbursement company and a partner of Customers.

The spinoff is expected to be completed by year-end. Customers says BankMobile has 2 million customer accounts. Its shares are expected to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol BMTX.

Customers seriously considered a similar proposal in 2018, but that deal fell through because of regulatory issues.

The merger transaction is valued at $140 million. Megalith Financial Acquisition Corp (MFAC), the SPAC vehicle, is the merger partner. Customers will still own 46.7% of the new company, to be known as BM Technologies when listed. That way, Customers would still participate in BM Technologies’ potential upside, while avoiding regulatory hurdles that would hinder the venture if it stayed under its full ownership.

Jay Sidhu, Customers’ CEO, built it from a tiny bank to one with $12 billion in assets as of March 2020.

Luvleen Sidhu, his daughter,  is the Co-Founder, CEO and Chief Strategy Officer at BankMobile. She got her BA from Harvard, according to her LinkedIn Profile, and also attended executive programs at Harvard and Stanford Business Schools.

BankMobile reported its first quarterly profit last year: $890,000 in the third quarter on revenue of $24 million, Customers said.

Just yesterday, BankMobile announced a new partnership with Prudential Financial.

Also, BankMobile has been named 1 off 11 partners of the revised Google Pay, which was unveiled today.

Philly resident Stessa Cohen, a veteran Gartner banking analyst, set off a year ago as a Strategic technology advisor and analyst, under her own shingle (Pivotassets). She started off in banking with the former Philly bank CoreStates. She’s followed bankMobile since its beginnings. I spoke with Stessa by phone.

Cohen saw bankMobile as unique “challenger” bank, though now there’s more competition in the mobile space. But she doesn’t see mobile being a standalone solution in most cases. Rather, she emphasizes it as being part of strategy of reimagining and extending the branch. Most people still needs branches, she believes, but they are going to be different than before.

Going public will give BM Technologies more freedom to keep up with best-of-breed technologies. Its probably been constrained as part of Customers. It will have more financial flexibility.

One thing Cohen doesn’t feel she knows enough about is the quality of its technology stack. It hasn’t been a huge investment by Customers, and things have advanced in the five years since its founding. Has BankMobile kept up? (Note: BankMobile just hired a new Chief Digital Officer.)

Lastly, she wanted to mention that she thinks Philly has the potential. to be a leader in FinTech.

Philly EnterpriseTech Highlights 11/17: Martino sees Philly becoming Sports Betting Capital of the US ; Amazon opens online pharmacy

Ben Franklin (NE) TechVentures’ annual Venture Idol competition is tomorrow night; Virtual and free this year

Tom Paine

Bethlehem isn’t that far away, but its the headquarters for a different Ben Franklin Region – Northeast Pennsylvania. It does some things differently from the way Ben Franklin Technology Partners Southeastern PA does: I like both models and if you’re active in the Philly Tech Scene its worth it to familiarize yourself with our northern neighbors.

A good way to do that is to “attend” tomorrow night’s free and virtual – this year – Ben Franklin TechVentures’ Venture Idol competition. It opens with a panel discussion among 4 area venture capitalists, including Bullpen Capital’s Paul Martino, on current venture market conditions.

Following that will be the venture competition between 3 startuups who have already survived a rigorous selection process. Ben Franklin describes it as a cross between Shark Tank and American Idol. A total of $15,000 will be invested among the three startups according to how the audience votes, which can include you.

The event starts at 6PM tomorrow, November 17. Registration and more information is available here.


Philly EnterpriseTech Weekend Highlights 11/13 – 11/15

Comcast after Trump

Tom Paine

You’d think Comcast would be happy to see Donald Trump (eventually) depart the White House. Back in February of this year, Trump said in a speech:

“NBC, I think, is worse than CNN,” Trump said. “And Comcast, a company that spends millions and millions of dollars on their image — I’ll do everything possible to destroy their image because they are terrible.”

Whether that attitude stemmed from something dating back to his time with his NBC show “The Apprentice”, the apparent leaking of his raunchy conversation with Billy Bush, or NBC News’ and MSNBC’s typically harsh coverage of his candidacy and presidency, Trump is certainly known for carrying a grudge, repeatedly threatening to break up Comcast on antitrust grounds though there was no legal basis for that. He repeatedly referred to Comcast as “Concast ” on the campaign trail this year.

But for Comcast’s NBC, the bitter relationship may have been a positive, especially in a city like Philadelphia where many held Trump in low esteem.

Trump appeared in an NBC Town Hall in late October, going against a Biden Town Hall appearing at the same time on another network. And NBC took a great deal of criticism for hosting that show.

Trump never shared a round of golf with Brian Roberts, to the best of my knowledge, as President Obama did. In March, Trump spoke with Roberts along with several other telecom executives on a conference call. I’m not aware of any other direct contact between the two men during Trump’s presidency.

There is talk now that Trump might become a competitor in the cable news business.

But on one point Comcast may miss Trump. FCC chairman Ajit Pai booted Net Neutrality regulations, and removed many barriers to media consolidation, among other things. Under Biden, he would lose his chairmanship as the majority reverts back to the Democrats, and is widely expected to depart the commission. The Biden administration may attempt to revive net neutrality, though Congress and the Courts could push back.

Comcast Senior Vice President David Cohen, who stepped down this year from a broad portfolio of responsibilities including Washington affairs, is still on staff as an advisor. Cohen, 65, may have less political influence in Philly now due to the rise of progressives, who are less likely to listen to a centrist like him. But. he is close to Biden, for whom he held a fundraiser at his home right after Biden declared his candidacy, and can work across the aisle with Republicans. Certainly he can be a valuable asset for Comcast given the new administration, though he seems determined to slow down a little.


Andrea Goldsmith of Princeton
Andrea Goldsmith, dean of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton | Screenshot by Esther Surden

A focus on entrepreneurship, diversity at the table and ventures that will benefit humanity

Esther Surden

Believe me. Tech hubs in New Jersey are one thing I know about. And while the energetic and enthusiastic tech community in New Jersey has been trying to create them for the longest time, their efforts haven’t exactly failed, but haven’t flowered the way we would have liked.

According to people who study these things, it takes 20 years to create a tech hub, and most of our efforts are only between seven and 10 years old, so we must give them time. So far, the most successful of these has been the work of Newark Venture Partners, which has brought many startups to Newark.

However, last week, I attended Engage 2020, a conference aimed at highlighting Princeton Innovation initiatives, and listened to the vision of three Princeton faculty members and their take on how Princeton University could be to New Jersey what Stanford is to Silicon Valley.  It’s possible that their vision, along with support from the New Jersey state government, could be one way to accelerate the development of a startup hub in the Princeton area.

Over the 10 years that I have covered Princeton University, the school went from one that operated in silos and eschewed entrepreneurship to one that has embraced entrepreneurship among its students, faculty and alumni.

However, for the most part, Princeton’s successful entrepreneurs didn’t create their great companies here in New Jersey. There are exceptions, to be sure. But many Princeton’s grads left for Silicon Valley, New York, or their home states, taking their Princeton education and entrepreneurial know-how with them.

Expanding “Entrepreneurship, the Princeton Way”

Three people on the Princeton faculty have now come together to fundamentally change that. Andrea Goldsmith became the new dean of engineering and applied science at Princeton in September, Rodney Priestley was named vice dean for innovation in July, and Naveen Verma was appointed director of the Keller Center in January.

Verma pointed out that five years ago, Princeton released a report called “Entrepreneurship, the Princeton Way,” which “launched what was then a new phase of the university’s expanding committed focus on entrepreneurship and innovation.” However,

Princeton is now committing itself even more deeply to entrepreneurship. Central to this commitment, Verma said, is Princeton’s “recognizing innovation broadly as the initiation of transformations through risk-taking actions and value-creating organizations, not only by the founding of startups, but also by creating nonprofits, joining early-stage companies, and innovating within large corporations, governments and nongovernmental organizations.” These entities are “taking actions to make significant positive changes, by way of a daily process that pushes, pivots and persists.”

Princeton “has many attributes that would make it a better place to found a company than Silicon Valley.”

Andrea Goldsmith

Goldsmith, the latest arrival, has the know-how and the experience to speed up Princeton’s role as an accelerant for tech companies. Her background includes engineering, academia and tech startups. She spent many years at Stanford University, and she is adamant that Princeton “has many attributes that would make it a better place to found a company than Silicon Valley.”

She noted that the cost of living is much more reasonable in New Jersey than in Silicon Valley, and that lots of land is available for companies to create campuses. Describing the cost of living in New Jersey as reasonable may make some of us laugh, but compared with California, we do have an advantage.

A Tech Hub Built for Diversity and Benefiting Humanity

A Princeton-seeded tech hub would look much different from one in Silicon Valley, she added. Technology created in Silicon Valley “cannot achieve its full potential because you don’t have diverse people sitting around the table,” she said. If Princeton is going to create an innovation ecosystem “in our own image, we can have an unfair advantage” in that “we are a very strong liberal arts university with a very strong set of values geared towards benefiting humanity.”

No one else has that kind of tech hub, she added, noting that it would draw companies and entrepreneurs with ventures that will make the world a better place.

Additionally, Princeton is seriously beefing up its engineering education program, Goldsmith said, with “grand plans to grow engineering, to grow the faculty by 50 percent, and then along with it to rapidly grow the student and postdoc population. And the reason why it’s important for Princeton engineering to grow is that this is how it’s going to maximize its impact.

“Princeton is a very, very strong engineering school today, I believe, by far the strongest of all of the Ivy League schools. And I don’t intend to have Princeton engineering compete with Stanford, or MIT or Berkeley. I intend to craft a Princeton engineering school that is elite in its own image, not competing with anybody else, because I believe that having engineering grow within a liberal arts institution will allow Princeton engineering to have a broader perspective on the technology that it develops. And on the applications of that technology.”

During his introductory remarks at Engage 2020, Priestley said, “Our mission for Princeton innovation and entrepreneurship is twofold. First, we want to encourage, facilitate, and promote innovation, entrepreneurship and partnerships that will enhance the quality and impact of research and teaching at Princeton University. Secondly, we want to enhance and support humanity through a well-integrated and nurtured innovation ecosystem that serves to improve the quality of life for all.”

New Partnerships

Priestley announced three new partnerships designed to make it easier for faculty members and grad student entrepreneurs to become successful.

  • One is between Princeton and Techstars (New York), a leading startup accelerator and global innovation network. “Their network of mentors, founders, partners and investors will provide graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at Princeton with the tools and insights to push their innovations closer to commercialization,” he said. “The Techstars program will provide hands-on exploration of business strategies to develop each phase of innovation. Students will learn about customer discovery, product-market fit, strategy development, pitching to investors, presentation skills, and so much more.”
  • A second partnership is between Princeton Innovation and the Wharton Business School, of the University of Pennsylvania, which will bring “additional world-class entrepreneurship training to Princeton. This new Princeton–Wharton program will provide faculty members with customized executive education that [will help] them step into advisory roles at companies formed around innovations from their laboratories.”
  • The third partnership, between Princeton Innovation and InteliSpark (Ithaca, N.Y.), will help Princeton entrepreneurs secure non-dilutive funding for startups via Small Business Innovation Research grants, Small Business Technology Transfer grants and other government research funding programs. “As part of this partnership, InteliSpark will work to provide individualized training and support for faculty who are seeking to create new ventures with non-diluted government funding.”

There are many other elements in developing a successful tech hub, but Princeton seems to be working on them all. The university is collaborating with Rutgers, for example, to make its core assets available to entrepreneurs, so they’ll be able to find that key machine or expertise they need to propel their projects into products.

In conclusion, we’ll be cheering on Princeton’s initiatives in the entrepreneurship area and hope that the university will be an incubator for strong startups in New Jersey. The key here is execution, and we know that, once it has made up its mind, Princeton knows how to execute.

Also, while Princeton is doing its best to seed New Jersey with great companies, I’d like to see collaboration with all the other area entrepreneurship efforts, such as Einstein’s Alley, the Princeton Tech Meetup, Tigerlabs (Princeton), Startup Grind PrincetonScarlet Startups (New Brunswick), TiE New Jersey (Edison), the Princeton Growth Accelerator, and TechUnited:NJ (New Brunswick), among others. I’d like the university to remember that, while they may be pushing forward in what is a new direction for them, these other organizations have been fostering the tech community, economic development and tech and life-science startups in the area for years.

 Tags: Andrea GoldsmithentrepreneurshipsinnovationKeller CenterNaveen VermaNewark Venture PartnersPricneton EngineeringPrinceton UniversitySilicon ValleyStamfordtech hubPrevious:With Stratascale, SHI Feels it Can Capture Even More Market ShareNext:Propelify Presents “It Takes Integrity: From Entrepreneur to VC with Tech Council Ventures” Discussion

About The Author

Esther Surden

Esther is the Founder and Editor in Chief of NJ Tech Weekly


  • Avatar Terry P Del Casale says:November 10, 2020 at 8:12 pmOutstanding article on Andrea, and how Princeton is stepping up to lay the groundwork for New Jersey’s Tech Hub. Some really great work and innovation here by Andrea and the Princeton team. As a active Alumni of TCNJ’s Engineering program, I’ll be sure to forward this to the Dean, for review on potential partnership opportunities with Princeton. TCNJ has a nationally recognized STEM program, which may be an excellent fit for the Tech Incubators here in New Jersey!Reply
  • Avatar Алина says:November 11, 2020 at 11:06 pmI have always recognized how much more enjoyable my four years in the early ‘ would have been had there been thousands rather than merely hundreds of women on campus, but there weren’t. And now there are. And that’s the point — things always change, but that doesn’t detract from what I hold to be the P.U. tradition. Princeton today is not the Princeton I knew and loved, but there’s no denying that there’s something special in the air in central New Jersey. I can breathe it, smell it, feel it, even when I’m a thousand miles away.Reply


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Esther Surden@njtechwkly·

The post: OPINION: “EXCITING INITIATIVES AT PRINCETON COULD MAKE CENTRAL NEW JERSEY INTO LONG-AWAITED TECH HUB”, originally appeared in NJ Tech Weekly. It is republished here with the author’s permission.