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The process of innovation: Sixers' Camden incubator opens doors with first four tech startup companies

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The Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex in Camden. The Sixers Innovation Lab is on the first floor.
The Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex in Camden. The Sixers Innovation Lab is on the first floor. - ()

Perhaps it was only fitting that, when a professional sports team decided to create an incubator and innovator space, it would scan the college circuit for some of the top prospects in the entrepreneurial game.

At least, that’s the way it turned out when the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and San Francisco-based StubHub realized their vision of bringing tech startups to southern New Jersey during the official ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball.

The 8,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Camden opened its doors last week with four tech companies that are still in their infancy stages.

Of the four companies selected, one is led by two recent graduates of Cornell University, while another is led by someone who put off finalizing his degree to start his company.

Seth Berger, the lab’s managing director and the founder and former CEO of startup sneaker and sports apparel company AND1, essentially said talent is talent — and that’s what the center was looking for when choosing its initial group of companies.

“Since the announcement of the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball, we’ve seen hundreds of applications from ambitious startups around the world interested in joining our lab team here,” Berger said in a written statement.

“The four companies we welcome into our lab today are entrepreneurs who have demonstrated the most innovative thinking, strategic planning, vision and, most importantly, heart. Our goal is to improve the noise that drowns so many startups, and give them the resources to focus on what they do best, innovating and thinking consumer first.”

The four startup companies:

• Monster Roster, a daily fantasy sports lineup recommender that uses a proprietary algorithm aimed at helping fantasy sports players build their rosters. The company was founded by Dylan Elder, who postponed a degree from Georgetown University in 2015 to start the business.

• U GIT GUD, an esports training platform designed to help gamers by providing videos, analytics and advice from some of the top esports players in the world. The company was created by Cornell graduates Shinggo Lu and Alan Liang in 2013.

• Live Life Nice, a digital media company founded in 2014 by Voorhees native Christian Crosby, the former in-arena game day host for the 76ers. The company seeks to inspire people with the phrase, “Be Nice, Do Nice,” and provides video content of stories promoting compassion and niceness in society.

• Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co., an award-winning pet company that sells patented mice-shaped, movable feeders that encourage domesticated cats to hunt for their food rather than eat it from bowls. The company was founded in 2014 by veterinarian Elizabeth Bales.

The design for the lab began last year as part of the 125,000-square-foot practice facility that was created for the 76ers last September.

StubHub and the 76ers began planning the Innovation Lab in May 2016 with a vision to create an incubator space for startup consumer tech companies and to help further develop the southern New Jersey region.

They are hopeful both visions will come true with the new facility.

Officials said the Innovation Lab will provide the startups with office space furnished by Kimball Office; housing and meals in the Camden area from Morgan Properties; legal advice from law firm Pepper Hamilton; and creative services from Maven Creative.

In addition to receiving coaching and guidance from StubHub and Berger, the startups will be advised by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, DraftKings, Rothman Institute, First Round Capital and NovaCare Rehabilitation.

They will also have the opportunities to pitch venture capital and private equity firms to assist in growth, officials said.

But, even with all the assistance going to the companies, 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said the companies themselves may be able to teach others.

“These entrepreneurs are different,” he said during the opening ceremony. “Sports teams can use a dose of what they have. And we, as executives and citizens in Camden and in the Philadelphia area, could use a dose of what they have.

“They are different. They have courage and strength and conviction. They’re OK falling and making a mistake, because they’ll keep getting back up.”

The Innovation Lab will set a precedent for growth and innovation in the Camden area, and will be critical to its future development. So said Camden Mayor Dana Redd, who attended the ceremony.

“Many thanks to the 76ers for the spark that you created when you decided to call Camden home,” Redd, who is set to step down next year after two terms, said. “Not only did you demonstrate your aspiration to create a world-class training facility in Camden, you also indicated your commitment to help the Camden community.

“We know that new ideas and creativity will come from the Innovation Lab that will affect not just Camden, but this entire region, for years to come.”

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