Entrepreneur

Meet the ‘tech for good’ startups at Y Combinator’s demo day

Y Combinator welcomed its first non-profit a little over year ago, and now, with its Winter 2014 batch, it has a whole handful of companies looking to use tech to do good.

“I think YC is recognizing the trend of nonprofits acting a bit more like companies by investing in a handful of nonprofits,” said Rey Faustino, chief executive of One Degree, a nonprofit that made it into this most recent batch.

“The partners are seeing a way to make a commensurate impact in the nonprofit world as it has on the for-profit world.”

Many of these nonprofits and social enterprises are drawing existing technologies and ideas from the usual roster of consumer, medical, and even enterprise applications. Text messaging and chat have now expanded to health applications, peer-to-peer interactions online can result in crowdfunding in Africa, and Yelp-like search engines are being developed to help people find basic social services.

Over a handful of companies presented today that aim to make money and do good. But Y Combinator attendees, including investors and business execs, helped us narrow it down to five stand-out “tech for good” companies:

CareMessage

CareMessage‘s co-founder benefited from Stanford Medical Center-level patient care, including resources and help in between doctor’s visits. But many low-income patients do not — 30 million of them, to be exact.  MessageCare wants to enable medical providers to connect with those patients through their cell phones and send them precious resources such as appointment reminders, personalized information about their health problems, reminders to check their glucose levels, and much more.

One Degree

Say what you will about Yelp, but it’s handy when you’re searching for a restaurant in town. That’s exactly what One Degree wants to do for social services. Sadly, there are 1.3 million people living in poverty in the Bay Area alone — and over 46 million in the U.S. This non-profit is serving up resources and personalization for people living under the poverty line and helping them locate much-needed social services. It has already partnered up with non-profits and other organizations to deliver the best possible resources to people in need, and has expanded into other categories such as tax experts and children’s summer camps.

Zidisha

Zidisha calls itself the “Kiva for now.” Zidisha’s Julia Kurnia explained on stage at YC that while Kiva launched the idea of “peer-to-peer” lending to entrepreneurs in developing countries, it still goes through intermediary banks that charge high interest rates. Zidisha is cutting out the middlemen to enable direct lending to the entrepreneurs. Kurnia calls it “true peer-to-peer lending.” So far, the company has processed $1.8 million in loans to 5,000 entrepreneurs in Africa and Asia, and only needs 10 percent in fees to cover its cost (that’s versus the 30-80 percent Kiva requires).

Noora Health

Much like MessageCare above, Noora Health is focused on what happens to patients outside the doctor’s office. The company provides in person, video-based training resources for families of high-risk patients to effectively take care of them once they’ve left the hospital or clinic. Oftentimes, families are overwhelmed by the complex care-taking instructions they receive from doctors and nurses, making it difficult for them to execute them. But Noora Health has already trained over 7,000 families through its partnership with a low-cost hospital chain in India, and has reduced complication risks by 36 percent and readmissions by 23 percent. It’s now moving into the American market (already counting 9 partner hospitals) because it found that even American hospitals want this for their patients.

BellaBeat

Bellabeat is the only for-profit on this list, but we think it provides an invaluable health service that expecting parents would be willing to pay for. The company offers a portable device and accompanying smartphone app for expecting moms to listen, record and share their baby’s heart rate, kicks and movements. It’s part of the “quantified self” trend that is on par with what trendy health startups like Scanadu are doing. People can track their own health vital signs, and with Bellabeat, they can make more informed decisions about their (and their baby’s) health. “It’s also a platform though which women connect,” co-founder Urska Srsen added during her presentation.


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