Venture capital firm relocates near campus

First Round Venture Capital to foster entrepreneurial sprit in West Philly and Penn

· August 28, 2012, 8:08 pm

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First Round Venture Capital is giving Philly a dose of brotherly love.

The firm, which has offices in San Francisco and New York, is moving its headquarters from West Conshohocken, Pa., to Philadelphia. Founded in 2004 by 1993 Wharton graduate Josh Kopelman and former Penn professor Howard Morgan, First Round is the third-busiest venture capital firm in the nation, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The firm will relocate to 4040 Locust St., what was formerly a bowling alley, in mid-September. The University City location is expected to attract tech-minded students from Penn as well as West Philadelphia at large.

“We’ve begun to see some signs of entrepreneurship coming from the city and also from the University,” said Kopelman, who serves as the managing director. “I think University City has so many talented entrepreneurs and technologists that we’re hoping we can be sort of a resource to help other entrepreneurs get more companies started,” he added.

The firm specializes in aiding companies in the seed stage, the earliest point in a company or concept. According to Kopelman, working with entrepreneurs at this stage of development is more emotionally, and financially, rewarding.

“They have pretty fantastic resources,” said College sophomore Matt Gibstein, a member of Students for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Penn, who has closely followed First Round. “They’re very good at finding small companies that have really high potential and growing them.”

With several start-ups launched by students in the past year, it’s evident that there’s no shortage of business acumen and tech savvy at Penn.

“There’s this impending sense of entrepreneurship at school, and [First Round’s relocation is] definitely going to encourage people to follow that path,” Gibstein said.

College senior Harrison Lieberfarb, who is also familiar with First Round’s work, anticipates a significant amount of interaction between students and the firm due to the company’s close proximity to campus.

“I think University City is an amazing location for it,” Lieberfarb said. “They’re going to be more amazed than they expected by the extent that Penn students are going to want to engage them in our community.”

According to Kopelman, the nature of entrepreneurship has changed since his time at Penn. With the accessibility of resources, anyone is capable of founding a company.

“When I was a student at Wharton, there was no commercial internet. But over the last 20 years, if there’s one trend that’s been repeated, it’s the removal of barriers and gatekeepers,” Kopelman said. He added that students’ access to affordable tools, such as app development software and the internet, has leveled the playing field.

Kopelman hopes that the company’s move to Philadelphia encourages other firms to do the same.

“The region is really robust in terms of students with technical talent and I think geography matters far less than it has before,” Kopelman said.

Lieberfarb added that relocating to Philadelphia will be a signal to other companies that there is a market to be explored here. “If First Round can work in West Philly and be this successful, I think it’s a real model for other companies.”

First Round will allow other companies to occupy their new office space. There is room available for portfolio companies as well as student business owners. They will also hold “office hours” once a month to provide opportunities for the city’s entrepreneurs to connect with the company.

While it’s difficult to make predictions about the Philadelphia startup community, Gibstein believes First Round is capable of encouraging entrepreneurship in the area.

“I don’t want to make predictions about Philly’s viability, but … if any one’s going to make it happen, it’d be First Round.”

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