July 17, 2024

Innovation is happening all around Greater Philadelphia. While that’s easy enough to see, what’s even more impressive are the young people behind some of the projects.
Students, recent graduates and young professionals are taking their ideas and transforming them into something impactful.
Whether that’s by way of a startup, product innovation, or reinventing old processes, the region’s young entrepreneurs and businesspeople are making waves within the ecosystem.
Now in its second year, Inno Under 25 seeks to highlight such individuals.
To determine this year’s honorees, the Philadelphia Business Journal and PHL Inno considered nominations from the public as well as candidates identified from previous reporting. Honorees’ companies have to be located within the region and all individuals must be 25 years of age or younger.
This year’s Inno Under 25 class represents various sectors, including venture capital, cybersecurity, apparel and biotechnology. Others have cultivated concepts focused on education, prosthetics, and sustainability.
They hail from across the region and represent different universities and industries, but all share a commonality of being disruptors and innovators.
In the profiles that follow, get to know these 14 individuals from nine different companies.
Sarah Beth Gleeson, 22, Shoshana Weintraub, 23, Julia Yan, 22
Co-founders, Baleena
Company location: Philadelphia
Industry: environmental solutions
Microplastics are entering waterways at an alarming rate, contributing to pollution. Tiny bits of plastic that come from larger objects, many such particles are shed from clothes during the washing process. In an effort to combat microplastic pollution, three University of Pennsylvania graduates started Baleena in June. Its product is a circular device that, when placed in a washing machine, helps trap microplastics and keep them from entering waterways. The concept was created by Chief Technology Officer Sarah Beth Gleeson, Chief Operating Officer Shoshana Weintraub and CEO Julia Yan. The founders studied materials science and engineering, graduating from Penn in May. In April, they and their company, then known as Ecospin, were recipients of the Class of 2022 President’s Engagement, Innovation, and Sustainability Prize. Since its inception, Baleena has raised $257,000 and its founders are now looking at raising a seed round. Baleena currently operates out of entrepreneurial co-working space at the Pennovation Center, located near Penn’s campus. Already the young firm has secured partnerships with several brands and agencies including Patagonia, Ocean Wise, 5 Gyres, Ocean Doctor, and the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Kayvon Jahanbakhsh, 25
Co-founder, Halfday Tonics
Company location: Blackwood, New Jersey
Industry: beverages
After suffering from the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis, Kayvon Jahanbakhsh, a 2019 graduate of Rowan University, set out to find a drink that tastes great but didn’t have the excess sugar common in many sips. Sugar is believed to aggravate the gut in those with ulcerative colitis. Instead, he launched his own beverage brand last year along with business partner Mike Lombardo. Based in Blackwood, New Jersey, Halfday Tonics is taking the beverage industry by storm. Its iced teas, which are available in green tea, lemon and peach flavors, will be available in over 2,000 stores across the East Coast by the end of the year, including at Publix, Target, Thrive Market, and Whole Foods. Halfday Tonics is also available through Amazon.com. The founders differentiate their tea by not only having less sugar, but also by including ingredients said to be beneficial to digestive health such as prebiotic fiber. Halfday Tonics has raised $1.7 million in funding, and the founders are looking to raise a $2.5 million seed round in the near future.
Andrew Goren, 23
Founder and CEO, Harmony Helper
Company location: Mount Laurel, New Jersey
Industry: music technology
When Andrew Goren had trouble harmonizing his vocals before his first performance a number of years ago, it planted the seeds of a business idea for the young thespian. That idea took root and after a year at Drexel University where he studied a customized major focusing on business, entrepreneurship, technology and theater, Goren decided to take time off to fully pursue the idea. The result is Harmony Helper, an app that gives musical performers a personal rehearsing experience. Founded in 2016, the music technology startup is headquartered in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. App users of any skill level can upload a photo of sheet music to begin rehearsing. Other features include recording and playback. Users can add songs, map vocal parts and receive personalized real-time feedback from music professionals. Goren prides his app on the ability to better democratize access to musical education and instruction. To that end, during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic Goren made several Harmony Helper services free to schools, musical groups and community theaters. Harmony Helper is available to both Apple and Android users. The company uses a subscription model, with individual subscriptions going for $4.99 per month or $49 per year. Director subscriptions are priced at $5.99 per month or $59 per year.
Nick Swink, 23
Cybersecurity consultant, Layer 8 Security
Company location: Malvern
Industry: cybersecurity
The need for cybersecurity has grown exponentially in recent years as cases of hacking and other bad actors abound across the globe. In Nick Swink’s short tenure as a cybersecurity consultant at Layer 8 Security, he’s wasted no time coming up with his own solutions. After graduating from Temple University in 2021, Swink took his skills in management information systems to the Malvern cybersecurity company, which offers its more than 200 clients in the construction, finance, health care, life sciences, and manufacturing sectors risk advisory and technical security services. Swink works primarily on Layer 8’s offensive security team, which is tasked with conducting simulated cyberattacks used to better assess security needs for mid- to large-sized companies. To that end, Swink created SilentHound, an easy-to-use internal educational tool that allows authorized administrators acting as hackers to find a list of users, domain administrators and other groups. His code is also featured on the company’s profile on Github, an online information technology services company.
James Calcagni, 24
Founder and CEO, Liquid Limbs
Company location: Yardley and Philadelphia
Industry: prosthetics
After dealing with the effects of tick-borne Lyme disease for years, Bucks County native James Calcagni was inspired to help others battling their own health struggles. In February, the Temple University grad founded Liquid Limbs, a prosthetic device company designed to improve mobility for those with lower leg amputations. Dubbed the “Navigator,” Liquid Limbs’ patent-pending prototype consists of a nonslip foot, side handle and shin plate. The goal of the product is to offer stability for people walking or showering without their everyday prosthetic, which often cannot get wet because of the metal materials in them. So far Liquid Limbs has secured $21,000 in winnings from pitch competitions, including a second-place finish in Temple’s Be Your Own Boss Bowl in April. The CEO of the early stage startup is now looking to secure additional funding to help with the manufacturing and launch costs of the company’s flagship product.
Ty Jackson, 24
Head of business development, SeventySix Capital
Company location: Conshohocken
Industry: venture capital
As head of business development at Conshohocken-based SeventySix Capital, Ty Jackson conducts due diligence and evaluates deals surrounding the firm’s potential investment decisions. SeventySix Capital invests in esports, sports betting and technology companies. Recent exits included DraftKings, fuboTV and VSiN. Since Jackson joined SeventySix Capital, the Montgomery County venture capital firm has invested in 10 sports tech startups that it deems industry disruptors. In addition, Jackson handles strategy operations and marketing. He has also been tapped to manage a weekly newsletter that reaches more than 30,000 subscribers, and has produced more than 50 episodes of the SeventySix Capital Sports Leadership Show podcast. Several athletes, entrepreneurs, experts, and other industry executives such as Morgan Stanley Managing Director Thomas Allen and CNBC Correspondent Contessa Brewer have been among the show’s guests. A London native, Jackson graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 2020.
Trey Brown, 16
Founder and CEO, Spergo
Company location: Philadelphia
Industry: apparel
Trey Brown may only be a junior at the 21st Century Cyber Charter School in West Chester, but he’s already been the CEO and founder of his own apparel company for four years. Founded in 2018, Spergo sells T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, sweatpants, socks and hats. The company has two brick-and-mortar locations, one in King of Prussia and another in Arlington, Virginia. It also operates as an e-commerce business. Brown’s success at an early age, paired with his mission to inspire youth and discourage violence, landed the young entrepreneur and his mom, Sherell Peterson, an appearance on hit ABC show “Shark Tank” last November. There, they struck a deal with Daymond John, the CEO of hip-hop apparel brand FUBU. The deal earned them $300,000 in exchange for a 20% stake in the company. In the first five days after the episode aired, Brown said he received around 1,000 orders. Nearly a year after “Shark Tank,” Brown and Peterson are focusing on branding and product development to continue scaling the business.
Andrew Diep-Tran, 19, Udit Garg, 19, Aravind Krishnan, 19, Aarush Sahni, 19
Co-founders, ToxiSense
Company location: Philadelphia
Industry: biotechnology
The over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs is becoming something of an environmental concern. Used for bait and also harvested for their blood, horseshoe crabs’ blood is being used in tests for endotoxins in both water and biopharmaceutical products. The crabs are returned back to the ocean, but roughly 15% die. The four University of Pennsylvania sophomores behind ToxiSense want to change that. CEO Aravind Krishnan, Chief Business Officer Andrew Diep-Tran, Chief Operating Officer Udit Garg, and Chief Scientific Officer Aarush Sahni founded the startup in 2021. Rather than horseshoe crab blood, ToxiSense is creating a genetically engineered plant for testing water and biopharmaceuticals. Earlier this year the company won the Perlman Grand Prize as part of Penn’s Venture Lab Startup Challenge, where it was awarded $85,000. ToxiSense has brought in around $110,000 in total funding so far. As the founders look ahead, they’re hoping to secure additional funds and conduct further research and development to perfect the endotoxin testing procedure. Their goal is to launch in the market in 2023.
Maddie Vassallo, 22
Chief Operating Officer, Tuck-ins
Company location: Philadelphia
Industry: food
Tuck-ins Chief Operating Officer Maddie Vassallo has big plans for the Philadelphia-based food business. Founded in 2017, the inside-out s’more on a stick reinvents a childhood favorite by placing the chocolate and graham cracker inside the marshmallow to decrease mess. Vassallo was instrumental in switching up the startup’s business model to focus more on e-commerce and wholesale during the Covid-19 pandemic, after previously focusing on in-person sales. In her role as chief operating officer, Vassallo is responsible for Tuck-ins’ daily operations, marketing and business development. Through its online marketplace, products are sold in all 50 states. A 2022 graduate of Drexel University, Vassallo is now undertaking an MBA program, also at Drexel. Her goals for Tuck-ins include updating the production process and packaging, as well as scaling the business. Since its inception, the company has quadrupled revenue and is projecting nearly $1 million in sales this year. At present, Tuck-ins operates in three locations: a co-working space in University City, a community kitchen in West Philadelphia and a shipping facility in Havertown. Tuck-ins has raised $150,000 in funding by way of a convertible note, Vassallo said, and is now eyeing additional investments.
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