When fledgling startups emerge from Betaspring’s 12-week accelerator program, they face a critical choice – do they leave Providence or do they stay?
For Jon Bittner, co-founder and CEO of Betaspring alumnus Splitwise, the decision hinged on access to affordable office space in the Founders League and the hidden charms of a city he calls a well-kept secret. “Providence has really low rent and really great culture,” said Bittner.
“Two years ago there weren’t nearly as many [startups] as there are now,” added Bittner. “People don’t even know how many there are, and perception can become reality.”
In an effort to alter that perception, the Founders League in December published the Providence Startup Map, a “snapshot” of the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts. Splitwise is among the companies featured on the map, demarcated by a red flag alongside 119 other startups, six universities and 20 startup-support organizations such as Betaspring and the Social Enterprise Greenhouse. Some of the companies no longer fit conventional definitions of a startup, in terms of size or age, but were included if their profile fit what Betaspring Chief of Staff Melissa Withers called “strong startup DNA.”
Ben Goldstein, program manager for the Founders League, said the map has already gained traction in the community as a visual representation of how far the Providence startup scene has come.
The Founders League is looking to establish a permanent online home for the map, which for now is displayed in a blog post on the Founders League website.
In the email release of the map, Withers wrote that Providence is “just at the beginning of our startup revolution.”
Bittner founded Splitwise in 2011 while pursuing a graduate degree in astrophysics at Harvard University. Recently, the bill-splitting app he designed earned a place on Time magazine’s list of the 50 Best iPhone Apps of 2013, but two years ago it was a simple formula called “Split the Rent,” designed as a drama-free way to split living expenses among roommates. In Cambridge, Bittner had lived 50 miles north of Providence for five years, but had no idea about the startup scene in the city until Splitwise joined Betaspring’s spring 2012 session.
Nick Kishfy, founder and CEO of Web and mobile-app developer Mojo Tech, has been around the Providence scene long enough to have watched it evolve. He started up MojoTech on his patio in Barrington in 2008, after his experience working in support roles at a number of other startups inspired him to build a company on the idea of bringing other people’s ideas to life. In 2010, MojoTech moved to Providence, joining a startup community already gaining in momentum.