DrayNow, a Conshohocken firm whose freight-booking and tracking software connects shippers to truckers, says it has raised $5 million in a first-round (Series A) of venture capital fund-raising from Comcast Ventures and Osage Partners, Philadelphia.

The company has built a software platform, DrayNowMarketplace, linking intermodal (freight container) shipping brokers, logistics, and marketing firms, to small trucking companies, through a desktop interface and a mobile app for drivers — so they can shop for available loads, compare rates, and "get paid faster," says cofounder and chief executive Mike Albert.

DrayNow employs 19, and plans to staff up to at least 130 people by 2020, adding customer-service professionals. "Our technology is homebuilt. It is an enabler. But we are operations people — that's the heart of who we are," Albert said. "So we will be here to help customers and truckers when they pick up the phone." He says more than 20 of the 60 load brokers who dominate U.S. container shipping have used the system.

While big national firms such as Cherry Hill-based NFI or West Chester-based Duie Pyle have sophisticated load-tracking and pricing technology, hundreds of thousands of small haulers are struggling to make a profit. Albert says his goal is to level the playing field so independent haulers can survive and compete.

"Most of the truckers are small. They have trouble finding freight in their local markets, they don't have the financial capability to invest in [expensive enterprise software]. There's fewer truckers every year. They can't be forgotten anymore," said Albert. "But unless we can give them the tools to help their business, we will continue this downward spiral. If truckers can find local freight at their fingertips, they can get paid, and they can be home every night." He says his system offers "transparency and status updates" on cargo availability on standard smartphones.

Albert, a Wyomissing-area native, says he's expecting to look for larger offices close to DrayNow's current location near the Spring Mill train station on Septa's Norristown-Philadelphia line, convenient to both city and suburban workers.

A father of six, Albert worked for Penske Logistics, mostly in Michigan, in the 1990s and later for the RoadLink Transportation and Kane Is Able trucking lines before starting a trucking company, TransNoble Logistics, in 2015 with ex-colleagues from RoadLink and Penske.

Shipping and logistics (planning and tracking cargoes) "are an incredibly vital and growing part of our economy. Yet, the intermodal sector of the industry has seen very little technology enabling the matchmaking and operational efficiency it needs," Sam Landman, managing director of Comcast Ventures, said in a statement. "We invested in DrayNow because the team and the technology establishes a much more efficient method for moving freight."

Last year, DrayNow raised about $170,000 from early-stage investment firm Genacast Ventures, another Comcast affiliate. "We met with others in New York and D.C. and a few in California. But I really wanted to have local investment," with funders nearby, said Albert.

He met Genacast's Gil Beyda through consultant Joel Ginsparg. "Gil had to learn a lot about intermodal. He really trusted us as the founders. He was as much about the founding team, as investing in the idea," Albert said. From Beyda, the Comcast Ventures investment and Osage's participation followed.