Seattle-based Raynier Institute and Foundation is making its mark in the Philly area through a seed fund for underserved entrepreneurs.
The nonprofit, which funds projects or programs that work toward the “betterment of humanity” partnered with Drexel University and the University City Science Center to identify startups with an eye on supporting service organizations and improving equity.
Four startups were chosen for the first cohort of the Raynier Seed Fund for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs, which was first established with the Science Center and Drexel back in 2021 with a $500,000 grant to help address startup funding disparities within minority owned businesses. Each of the selected startups for this first cohort will receive a $25,000 investment, mentorship and entrepreneurial services support.
The four companies chosen are:
- Vital Start Health,founded by Kirthika Parmeswaran: a platform focused on maternal well-being and mental health
- Tribaja, founded by Shannon Morales: an online community for underrepresented people in the tech industry looking for jobs and a network
- Knowledge to Own, founded by Alberto Estrello: helps homebuyers and provides “personalized match to home loan programs”
- TDR Ideas, founded by Kaleb Banksassists: service organizations through strategic planning, data analysis, program evaluation and more
According to Shintaro Kaido, Drexel’s vice provost for innovation and a co-administrator of the Raynier Seed Fund, community partners including those in “local and regional civic service, economic development and venture capital organizations.” They ID’d these companies as good opportunities to support underrepresented entrepreneurs, he said.
“The finalists stood out as the top candidates after live-pitching their ventures to a panel of judges from Drexel and the University City Science Center,” he said. “They are tremendous ambassadors of the promise and excitement of minority-founded, early stage companies in our region.”
Morales told Technical.ly in an email that she was encouraged to apply to show other founders like her that it is possible to find supporters to invest in them.
“Tribaja has made a lot of impact in Philadelphia during its short time in business and this investment will allow us to continue our work to diversify tech space in Philadelphia and beyond,” Morales said.
Along with capital, each startup will also receive mentorship and support from Drexel and the Science Center, as well as a membership at ic@3401, a startup incubator co-managed by Drexel and UCSC.
“We will be closely following the journeys of our entrepreneurs so that we can provide support along the way,” Shintaro said. “We hope to make an impact on our entrepreneurs and their ventures.”
According to Shintaro, the Science Center and Drexel wanted to partner with the Raynier Institute and Foundation because their mission aligns with Drexel’s mission to remain civically engaged and support underserved local entrepreneurs.
“We are hoping that this fund becomes an asset to Philadelphia as the city strives to increase the diversity of its innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem,” he said. “Inequity around access to capital is well-documented, this seed fund is intended to help address it.”
The fund already has plans to open applications for a second cohort in the fall of 2022, and hopes to have two to three cohorts per year. The fund is open to all founders from underserved populations in the region. More information can be found here.
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-