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Drexel, Science Center provide funding to four Philadelphia-area minority founders

From PHL Inno

A joint venture between the University City Science Center and Drexel University is providing its second round of funding to four minority-founded, Philadelphia-area startups ranging from fintech to healthcare.

The Raynier Seed Fund focuses its financing on up to four underrepresented entrepreneurs annually with each receiving $25,000. The startups in this year's group are Hidden Gems, Naturaz, SnapRefund and VasoWatch. Three of the four are led by female entrepreneurs.

Tiffany Wilson, the CEO of the Science Center, said the founders chosen "represent some of the most promising startups in our ecosystem."

“An investment in underrepresented founders is not just an investment in business but an investment in the inclusive growth of Philadelphia," Wilson said.

The funding is the latest secured by Hidden Gems. The Enterprise Center recently invested $250,000 into the beverage company, which is selling its product throughout Greater Philadelphia. Hidden Gems was founded by Drexel graduates Sheetal Bahirat and Zuri Masud. It's first product line, Reveal, is a drink made from upcycled avocado seeds.

Oaks-based Naturaz was founded by Mumbi Dunjwa. The infusion from the Raynier Seed Fund comes about a 18 months after the hair care startup pulled in $225,000 from five investors at the Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies’ Lion's Den program during its annual conference. Dunjwa's hair products are vegan and made without GMOs.

Northeast Philadelphia-based SnapRefund also joined the cohort. The fintech startup, founded by Cody Eddings and Anis Taylor, helps to automate and simplify insurance claims payments. SnapRefund previously raised a $100,000 seed round last July.

VasoWatch, a company out of the Penn Center for Innovation, rounds out the funding recipients from Drexel and the Science Center. The maternal health company founded by Stefanie Modri and James Weimer is creating a wearable device that monitors the risk of postpartum hemorrhages.

Funding for Black and female entrepreneurs represented a narrow slice of U.S. venture capital funding in 2022. Black founders received $2.3 billion in 2022, which is 1.1% of venture capital and a more than 50% decline from 2021, according to CrunchBase. All-women led startups, according to Pitchbook, pulled in $4.5 billion, or 1.9% of total VC allocated.

Six finalists were chosen from an applicant pool of 36 to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges before the four were chosen to receive investment. The seed fund was established in 2021 through a $500,000 grant from the Seattle-based Raynier Institute and Foundation. The foundation was established by James Widener Ray, a descendant of the Wideners, one of Philadelphia's most prominent families. From 1994 to 2022, it has provided nearly $23 million in funding for projects in Philadelphia, including with Thomas Jefferson University, the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine and the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative.

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Kristen Fitch

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