North Hollywood based startup, U-Nest, the first-of-its-kind mobile app that makes it easier for families to save for college and other educational expenses, today announces that it has closed a $2 million seed round. Along with investors The Artemis Fund and Draper Dragon, participation included funding from Unlock Ventures, Vested Ventures, and additional Los Angeles-based venture funds, Band of Angels, and other individual angel investors.
“Most families are struggling to meet the demands of the growing cost of education and we aim to help them achieve their goals,” said Ksenia Yudina, CEO, and founder of U-Nest. “With this initial funding, we will expand our offering to more people that are looking for answers to this common problem. For many, U-Nest is not just the first step to college savings, but also a path to greater financial responsibility and security.”
According to the latest data from the Federal Reserve, about 44.7 million Americans owe about $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. The College Board revealed that over the past three decades, average tuition and fees tripled at public four-year institutions and more than doubled at public two-year and private nonprofit four-year institutions. This has led to the development of more savings vehicles, such as tax-efficient 529 accounts.
Since the launch of its pilot program in October 2018, the U-Nest app has significantly improved the 529 process. Rather than spending hours researching and completing application forms, parents can start using a plan in five minutes through U-Nest. The app helps parents build a tax-advantaged and affordable savings plan that aligns precisely with the age of their child. U-Nest also provides parents with full pricing transparency and low minimum investments, breaking down the barriers that have hindered broadscale adoption of 529 plans. Parents avoid expensive front loads and broker commissions, and only pay a flat fee of $3 per month.
“U-Nest fits closely with our investment criteria – a breakthrough solution in a market with massive pent-up demand, supported by an accomplished, focused and motivated team,” said Andy Tang, managing director at Draper Dragon. “Given the initial success of the product, we believe that U-Nest is on its way to establishing a leadership position in the US and international markets that have been waiting for a solution exactly like this.”
The capital raised by U-Nest will be used to scale outreach across the country and collaborate extensively with partner organizations. It is already backed by a team of financial industry veterans, which includes Ksenia Yudina, who was previously vice president at Capital Group/American Funds, the largest 529 provider in the country, and is a CFA. Additional team members include CMO Peter Mansfield who played an instrumental role as the early stage marketing lead at Marqeta, and COO Mike Van Kempen who previously headed up growth acquisition for Acorns.
“As a firm focused exclusively on women entrepreneurs, it was critical that our first investment went to an exceptional entrepreneur with a brilliant product,” said Leslie Goldman, managing director, and co-founder at The Artemis Fund. “U-Nest’s CEO Ksenia Yudina fits the bill precisely. Her background as a senior-level executive at the parent company of the country’s largest 529 provider combined with her drive and desire to disrupt under-resourced markets made this a great alignment for our fund.”
Prior to the closing of seed round Frank Mastrangelo joined U-Nest’s Board of Directors. He was previously CEO of The Bancorp, and COO of Green Dot Bank, and is recognized as a pioneer and visionary in financial services. UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator provided further support including access to senior-level experts across business areas.
U-Nest’s iOS app is available for download here.