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PHILADELPHIA— Three start-up companies will be the first to receive investment from the Fund for Health, a joint partnership between Penn Medicine and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School that seeks to invest in early-stage businesses striving to strengthen the social determinants of health of economically disadvantaged Philadelphians. The Fund for Health plans to invest a total of $5 million over the next three years to push for measurable progress in socio-economic factors that can have lifelong effects.

The three companies receiving a total of $750,000 in the first round of funding are:

  • Kinvolved, a leader in developing communications software to reduce absenteeism in underserved school districts.
  • Uptrust, a customer relationship management tool that helps keep people out of the criminal justice system by avoiding unnecessary technical violations, like missing court dates or probation appointments
  • RecoveryLink, a telehealth and electronic recovery records platform that improves the availability and delivery of recovery support services to people experiencing substance use and mental health disorders.

“The path to health equity needs unconventional and transformative approaches. Penn Medicine and Wharton joined forces to create the Fund for Health because we believe we have a responsibility not just to our patients but also the broader communities we serve,” said Kevin B. Mahoney, chief executive officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “Investing and supporting innovative, forward-thinking ventures has great potential to make a meaningful impact on our city’s health while helping to build sustainable and profitable companies for the region that provide paths to jobs and economic opportunities for more city residents.”

For the initiative, a diverse investment team of students from Wharton and Penn Medicine are tasked with identifying and conducting due diligence on early stage, for-profit companies set out to strengthen social determinants of health.

Social determinants of health are conditions – such as food insecurity or equitable care or housing access – that are common in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. These drivers can explain why some populations often suffer from poorer health compared to others who do not contend with the same adverse conditions. Philadelphia County is hit particularly hard by these issues, with more than 25 percent living in poverty, 20 percent living with food insecurity, and nearly 15 percent without health insurance, according to Penn Medicine’s 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment report.

“The Fund for Health not only has the potential to improve the city’s health and economic vitality, it also is an important experience for students hoping to make a difference,” noted Katherine Klein, Wharton’s Vice Dean for Social Impact. “The program brings together students of business, medicine, and the social sciences from all across Penn and charges them with finding the most promising high-impact start-up companies that might merit a Penn investment.” 

              Each year, the initiative’s student investment team will identify the most promising companies for a potential investment, then the Fund for Health’s investment committee will choose which companies receive $100,000 to $250,000 in seed capital. Comprised of professionals from Penn and the local community who are experts in medicine, health, entrepreneurship, and venture capital, the committee bases its decisions on assessments of each company’s potential health impact and financial performance. Companies may be Philadelphia-based or located outside the region, but they all must offer products, services, or operations that positively impact the residents of Philadelphia. Penn will retain a minority stake in the companies chosen to receive awards.

“Health starts within our communities, schools, and individual homes. Increasing resources and opportunities that address social determinants have a major impact on health outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable,” said Brandon Grant, a strategic support manager in the office of Penn Medicine’s CEO, who co-directs the Fund for Health with Rajith Sebastian of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. 

Sebastian also chairs the Investment Committee of the Fund for Health.

“We are excited to create an investment vehicle that showcases how investing in mission-driven companies can meaningfully improve the health of our communities,” Sebastian said.

Miriam Altman, the CEO and co-founder of Kinvolved, explained that this type of investment from community leaders like Penn Medicine and the Wharton School is invaluable to broadening impact.

This investment will help Kinvolved continue to meet the growing demands of school systems, in the Philadelphia area and nationally, that are increasingly in need of support to engage and also re-engage students in class and families in school,” she said.

Jacob Sills, CEO and co-founder of Uptrust, agreed.

“This is critical to achieving our mission of keeping people out of jail who don't need to be there,” he said. “Through the Fund for Health, Uptrust is gaining a long-term partner to help connect millions of justice system-involved individuals to critical services such as healthcare, employment, and housing that they currently struggle to obtain."

Support from the program will also bring the opportunity for consultation with Penn faculty and staff and opportunities to leverage insights from both Penn Medicine and Wharton’s own work.

“Access to subject matter experts, ground-breaking research in addiction and mental health, as well as business operations will allow us to accelerate the business in ways that means more people served faster,” said Robert D. Ashford, PhD, MSW, the founder and CEO of RecoveryLink.

The Fund for Health is expected to invest in up to 10 companies a year and will be funded by Penn Medicine. Penn students will also work alongside the companies with support and guidance from faculty and external advisors, creating opportunities for learning and leadership related to impact investing and social determinants of health.

Learn more about the Fund for Health.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.

The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.

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