Entrepreneur

10 startups put ‘civic lens’ on tech to drive change in communities

Points of Light has selected the second class of startups for its civic accelerator program. The program is entirely focused on ‘civic ventures’ and entrepreneurs working to strengthen communities.

Points of Light is a large international nonprofit organization that mobilizes people to do volunteer work. Last year, it set up a civic accelerator program to  encourage and support entrepreneurs to tackle social issues.

“Our communities face increasingly complex social and economic problems,” said program director Ayesha Khana in an email to VentureBeat. “To truly solve these issues, we need breakthrough ideas that engage people in new and different ways and can succeed at scale. We enlist entrepreneurs and support them as they tap into the world’s largest renewable resource – people and their desire to effect change.”

The recession was a challenge for many non-profits and charitable organizations who struggled to stay afloat. At the same time, consumers are expressing a greater interest in the social and environmental impact of their actions and social entrepreneurship is on the rise. The idea that for-profit companies can positively and powerfully affect change is gaining momentum,

Just over a month ago, Google and ‘Peace Corps for Geeks’ organization Code for America formed an incubator program and two MIT grads founded Tumml, an ‘urban ventures’ accelerator program. Furthermore, the legendary Ron Conway said the tech community has a responsibility to “affect positive change in our communities (so it must be true.)

Points of Light wants to build an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, investors, and stakeholders dedicated to driving social, as well as technological advancement.

“For the greater tech community/country, we are hoping to create a ‘civic venture’ lens,” Khana said. “We are looking to prove that organizations aspiring to make a social or environmental impact must leverage people (their time, talent, voice and/or money) as a core part of the business model if they want to truly move the needle against the most intractable issues of our time.”

Points of Light partnered with Village Capital, which has launched 17 accelerator programs in the U.S. and emerging markets. Over 300 entrepreneurs have participated in its programs and its companies have collectively raised more than $30 million in capital. Village Capital cites its mission as ‘democratizing entrepreneurship’ by connecting participants with mentors and training, as well as intensive peer review. At the end of the program, the entrepreneurs select which companies will receive investment.

Points of Light will also apply this peer-based learning and investment model. Every startup is offered $10,000 in investment and ultimately peer-selected companies in the group will receive $50,000. The 12-week program kicks off in Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the curriculum is presented virtually so entrepreneurs don’t have to take time off or leave during a critical period of company development. Every month, the entrepreneurs all come together in a different location for hands-on sessions.

The Starbucks Foundation and PricewaterhouseCoopers Charitable Foundation invested in the accelerator.

The ten companies in the second class are :

EPIC: Engaging Philanthropy, Inspiring Creatives (Chicago)

EPIC empowers creative professionals to make social change happen.

GenX & Associates (Chicago)

GenX & Associates helps communities dashboard their social, economic, and environmental data online for local decision-making.

Graph Alchemist (Portland, OR)

GraphAlchemist offers Graph as a Service (GaaS) to provide data driven solutions to complex problems

Ioby (Brooklyn, NY)

Ioby builds stronger, more sustainable neighborhoods using a cutting edge crowd-resourcing platform for leaders and innovators

Neighbor.ly (Kansas City, MO)

Neighbor.ly is the funding platform for civic projects

Practice Makes Perfect (Astoria, NY)

Practice Makes Perfect works to narrow the achievement gap in low income U.S. neighborhoods through summer enrichment programs.

Public Lab (Cambridge, MA)

Public Lab is a community that develops and applies affordable, open-source environmental monitoring tools to empower citizen scientists.

The GREEN Program

The GREEN Program transforms experiential education around the world, and empowers leaders to break into and disrupt the hottest industries of our time.

Jubilee Project (New York)

Jubilee Project makes videos for a good cause that empower, enable, and inspire the next generation of changemakers

Village Defense (Atlanta, GA)

Village Defense provides neighborhoods with a real-time communications system to keep neighbors safe and connected.


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