The ESG Initiative at the Wharton School
Meet Tyler Jonas: Making a Difference at Wharton and Beyond
Tyler Jonas took her last stroll along Locust Walk before graduating from Wharton in early May. Her favorite place on Penn’s campus is traversed each day by thousands of students just like her, who are forging their own path to success.
Even at a business school filled with the best and the brightest, Jonas stands out for her role in helping grow two experiential learning programs that began about the same time she was a freshman: Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA) and the Penn Medicine – Wharton Fund for Health (Fund for Health). WIVA sources early-stage companies with a compelling social-impact model and connects the founders to crowdsourcing platforms. The Fund for Health invests in early-stage companies that want to improve the social determinants of health for low-income Philadelphia residents. Both programs fall under the ESG Initiative at the Wharton School.
In 2018, Jonas wrote an impassioned plea to join WIVA in her application letter to Penn. That caught the attention of Rajith Sebastian, who is head of Impact Investments for the ESG Initiative. He recruited her to the program, which is extremely competitive with a 10% acceptance rate, and quickly realized she was different from many of her peers. As an 18-year-old freshman amid more experienced seniors and graduate students, she fearlessly pitched deals, cold-called founders, and carefully vetted businesses to bring into the program. By the time she was a junior, Jonas emerged as a leader who helped Sebastian launch the Fund for Health in 2021.
Tyler Jonas, W’ 23
The Wharton School
Finance and Entrepreneurship
New York, New York
“To my core, I want to give back and make a difference, and if there is a way to do that through business, I want to do it.”
– Tyler Jonas, W’23
Jonas said her interest in social impact was sparked in her early teens when she learned about the microfinancing model that earned Bangladeshi economist Muhammed Yunus a Nobel Peace Prize. She and her brother, Wharton rising senior Ryan Jonas, founded a nonprofit together as teenagers called Bronx Built, an initiative to teach under-resourced Bronx residents how to make and sell hats, offering a safe space to learn a skill and earn income. In high school, she also started a podcast to talk to entrepreneurs about their experiences. She didn’t know most of them; she would find their email addresses and invite them to the show, saying she wanted to learn from them.
When she learned about the ESG Initiative at Wharton, she felt it was a perfect fit.
“I’d been immersed in entrepreneurship in high school and knew that Wharton would be the place for me to continue to pursue that passion,” Jonas said. “To my core, I want to give back and make a difference, and if there is a way to do that through business, I want to do it.”
Jonas, 22, graduated May 13 with a bachelor’s degree in economics with concentrations in finance and entrepreneurship. She’s moving back to her hometown of New York City to work as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs.
Putting in the Hard Work
Jonas said her parents heavily influenced her academic and professional pursuits. “I’m very close with my family,” she said. “We always talked about doing the right thing and giving back, it was part of my values growing up.”
Jonas brought those clear-eyed intentions to Wharton, jumping right into her work with WIVA. One of the first enterprises she worked on for the program was Melanence, an online professional network for communities of color. Others followed as she helped WIVA and the Fund for Health expand across the university.
The programs are unique in that they are modeled to resemble actual venture capital funds, with the student teams pitching early-stage companies to each other every week. To date, WIVA has sourced 1,500 social impact companies and spurred more than $2 million in investments. Now in its third year, the Fund for Health has made $1.6 million in investments.
Jonas sourced two of the seven enterprises at the Fund for Health, including Fabric Health, a company that works through laundromats in West Philadelphia to enroll people for health screenings, and Twentyeight Health, a telemedicine platform to expand reproductive health care access for women in Philadelphia’s underserved communities. Jonas’ work is notable because only around 1% of companies sourced by students results in an investment.
Jonas said she’s particularly proud of her work with Fabric Health because of founder Courtney Bragg’s innovative approach to meeting her target audience in laundromats.
“They are helping people use the idle time in laundromats to have health care screenings, understand their benefits, enroll in health insurance, and access preventative care,” she said. “I really look at this company as a model for how to help communities where they are and try to integrate health care into their schedules.”
Not every pitch was a winner. Sebastian said Jonas sourced her fair share of deals that didn’t work – like one for a healthy food distribution service to underserved communities that didn’t quite have its financials in order. But she made failure part of her learning process and often continued working with founders who didn’t make the cut to help them refine their ideas.
“What set her apart was that she’s brave, she has grit, and she has tenacity.”
– Rajith Sebastian, head of Impact Investments at the ESG Initiative at the Wharton School
“She would get feedback and go back and improve and just get better. Her rate of growth was inspiring,” Sebastian said. “Most Wharton students have the smarts, but what set her apart was that she’s brave, she has grit, and she has tenacity.”
Jonas’ hard work was rewarded with leadership positions in the programs, and she stayed with the ESG Initiative for all four years of her degree. While at Penn, Tyler, along with six other students, also started the Wharton Founders and Funders Association to build the next generation of female founders and investors.
Sebastian said Jonas was always generous with her thoughts as well as her time, sharing with him what she learned in her classes and in her experiences with founders. The depth of her empathy and understanding for people who struggle came as a surprise to Sebastian, who grew up in impoverished regions of Kenya and South Africa.
“When she came into the program, I thought she was the opposite of everything I have experienced in my life,” he said. “But the one thing we share is having capital and investing be a part of the solution to social and environmental issues. We’re different races, different religions, and we grew up differently, but impact investing is something we are both extremely passionate about.”
Jonas said she will miss many things about her time at Penn, especially strolling down Locust Walk. She loved bumping into professors, chatting with other students, and meeting people.
“I was that person who would go to every speaker event on campus because I wanted to learn everything,” she said. “I’m going to miss that hustle and bustle at Penn and all the people there that I’ve been lucky to surround myself with and learn from.”
When asked what advice she would offer incoming freshmen, she encouraged them to be fearless.
“If you have that eagerness and that desire to start something, don’t be afraid to do so,” Jonas said. “Seek those opportunities and surround yourself with other people who can support you along the way.”
By Angie Basiouny
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