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Drexel and University City Science Center Select Four Startups for Inaugural Raynier Seed Fund Cohort

Startups with an eye on supporting service organizations and improving equity and access to resources for mental health, technology and homeownership are among the first cohort that will receive funding from Drexel University and the University City Science Center’s Raynier Seed Fund for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs. The fund, which was created last year thanks to a gift from the Seattle-based Raynier Institute and Foundation as a means of addressing disparities in startup funding, will provide the awardees with a $25,000 investment along with mentorship and entrepreneurial services support.

“The final four recipients represent the exemplary talent and acumen of minority owned new ventures. Drexel’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship is committed to the power of entrepreneurship education to spur innovation, create jobs and ignite change for the social good. We are delighted to be part of this initiative,” said Donna M. De Carolis, dean of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, who is a co-administrator of the Seed Fund.

The inaugural Raynier Seed Fund cohort consists of four startups:

  • Vital Start Health, founded by Kirthika Parmeswaran, is a developer of a maternal mental health platform designed for equitable, personalized, clinically guided care for mothers across the maternity continuum.
  • Tribaja, founded by Shannon Morales, is a digital talent marketplace and community for underrepresented tech and startup enthusiasts.
  • Knowledge to Own, founded by Alberto Estrello, is an online marketplace connecting homebuyers and the real estate community with homeownership tools to empower access and savings.
  • TDR Ideas, founded by Kaleb Banks, helps service organizations improve efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability through evaluation and planning tools.

A group of community partners, consisting of local and regional civic service, economic development and venture development organizations, including those who focus on serving underserved groups, helped to identify candidate startups from the Greater Philadelphia region and to select the finalists. The finalists live-pitched their ventures to a judging panel from Drexel and the Science Center.

"From a highly competitive field of applicants, the Science Center is thrilled to support the investment of Vital Start Health, Tribaja, TDR Ideas, and Knowledge to Own because they are tremendous ambassadors of the promise and excitement of minority-founded early-stage companies in our region," said Science Center President & CEO Tiffany Wilson. "We are eager to continue amplifying, supporting, and scaling minority business owners here in Philly."

The community partners group, along with Drexel and the Science Center, will provide mentorship and post-investment support to the four startups. They will also receive a membership at ic@3401, a startup incubator co-managed by Drexel and the Science Center.

“Drexel University is committed to being the nation’s most civically engaged university. As outlined in the Drexel University strategic plan ‘Drexel 2030 Designing the Future’, one of Drexel’s goals is to foster and strengthen an inclusive and equity driven culture in our communities. We are very excited about this opportunity to work more with our region’s talented entrepreneurs,” said Aleister Saunders, PhD, Drexel’s executive vice provost for Research and Innovation.

Drexel and the Science Center launched the Raynier Seed Fund in 2021 to advance equity in the Greater Philadelphia region through pre-seed investment and post-investment support for scalable startups founded by founders from the region’s underserved populations. Powered by a $500,000 gift from the Raynier Institute and Foundation, the Raynier Seed Fund is open to all founders from underserved populations in the region.

The second cohort of the Raynier Seed Fund will open in the fall of 2022. Early stage, minority-owned businesses can learn more about how to apply by visiting  

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Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing