When New York City teacher Charles Best started DonorsChoose — a nonprofit that lets teachers crowdfund projects and supplies for their classrooms — in 2000, philanthropy was still done the old-fashioned way: Wealthy folks went to charity galas, local organizations held food drives in parking lots, and technology like websites, smartphones, and online payments had no presence.
But on Wednesday night, as I sat in a large room on the sixth floor of Google’s San Francisco office (behind a Larry Page look-alike and in front of a row of senior Apple employees), five nonprofit tech startups presented to a room of investors and technoscenti. Instead of venture capital, they sought donations. And along with growth and market-size charts, they also spotlighted the impact various dollar amounts could have on the people they help.
Founded by Shannon Farley and Kevin Barenblat, Fast Forward is an accelerator specifically catering to tech-based nonprofit startups, providing them with resources and guidance to handle the particular kinds of challenges only they face.
“DonorsChoose is a terrible name,” said Best in his speech before the startups took the stage. Best wishes accelerators like Fast Forward had been around back then to help him not only navigate the non-profit world, but also teach him about being a tech company — and choosing a better name.
The thing is, even prestigious accelerators like Y Combinator can’t fully help these startups. Two from this group have previously participated in Y Combinator, and both admitted that while the experience was absolutely valuable when it came to building their products, they lacked the help needed to understand the nonprofit side of their identity. The legal frameworks nonprofits operate under or how to rake in donation checks, for example, are areas only mentors with deep nonprofit experience can help with.
Luckily, Google.org, Google’s non-profit arm, has partnered with Fast Forward. Along with providing space for its demo day, the organization also announced on Wednesday night that it was donating $20,000 to each startup and matching the night’s donations up to $100,000. Each participating company also received $20,000 from Fast Forward, which raised a fund of about $500,000 from donors. By the end of the night, Fast Forward raised a total of $250,000 in donations, half from donors and half from Google.org.
Fast Forward also pulled together a roster of advisors and mentors that’s sure to make any tech startup envious, including venture capitalist, folks from Google, Apple, Facebook, Adobe, and many more.
Farley and Barenblat plan on holding another session next summer and possibly a smaller version on the East Coast.
Meanwhile, here’s a look at the first class of startups:
One Degree bills itself as a “Yelp for social services.” Its site is a directory of local nonprofits and social services that residents can learn about. They can even click through to the services they need.
Although our communities could always provide more and better resources, an even bigger problem is that people who qualify and would benefit from the existing resources often don’t know what’s available and where to find it. Many don’t even know what they qualify for.
Currently, One Degree, which started in San Francisco, is focused on the Bay Area and has recently expanded into Alameda County. According to One Degree, there are 1.3 million people living in poverty in the Bay Area alone, and 106 million living in poverty in the U.S.
One Degree has recently hired a new community manager to handle the outreach and relationships with the different organizations and services and is planning to move its operations to Alameda County in the near future. One Degree, which was founded in 2011 by Rey Faustino and Eric Lukoff, participated in Y Combinator’s Winter 2014 program.
Sirum is one part sustainability, one part heath care, and one part philanthropy. Clinics and hospitals constantly dispose of unused medications their patients didn’t take or need, sending them off to medical waste incinerators. Sirum’s team thought, “Why not collect these medications and donate them to clinics with patients who need them but can’t afford them?”
With Sirum’s app, nurses in donor clinics can upload tallies of their leftover and untampered medications, creating a manifest of their available inventory. Sirum then finds recipient clinics in need of them. The startup often describes itself as a “Match.com for medicine.”
Sirum was founded in 2009 by Kiah Williams, Adam Kircher, and George Wang. Sirum is primarily working in California but is working to expand soon.
With mobile and web technology becoming more and more accessible in developing countries, Medic Mobile is building tools that enable community health workers to better care for others.
Through parallel SIM cards, little microcontrollers that slide under the SIM card and run apps, Medic Mobile’s apps enable community health workers to register pregnancies with a local hospital, coordinate urgent care, alert clinics that their community is experiencing an outbreak, and so on. Local clinics and hospitals install Medic Mobile’s dispatch software and can keep track of these incidents.
Since Medic Mobile works through the text messaging protocol, it doesn’t require an Internet connection. The software is now available as a one-click download, taking away virtually all tech barriers, and can even be uploaded from a USB stick if connectivity is unavailable.
Medic Mobile also runs its HopePhones program, which recycles old phones and uses the proceeds to give health workers the tools they need.
Medic Mobile was founded in 2009 by Josh Nesbit and Isaac Holeman.
Noora Health focuses on what happens to patients once they leave the hospital. Oftentimes, family members are overwhelmed and don’t have the basic skills to help their loved ones with aftercare, such as changing bandages properly and frequently, checking vital signs, or providing care that’s specific to a patient’s situation.
Noora Health takes waiting rooms and turns them into classrooms, as co-founder Katy Ashe said on Wednesday. Noora Health trains hospital and clinic employees to teach family members how to take care of patients once they go home. The health workers also teach and keep in contact with the families and patients through video-chat, since hospitals are sometimes far from where they live.
So far, Noora Health is operating in ten hospitals in India, with an eleventh one opening soon, and is working on new partnerships with hospitals in the U.S. as well. Noora Health has found that its services have decreased surgical complications by 36 percent because of the better care at home, plus has decreased hospital readmissions by 23 percent.
Noora Health was founded in 2012 by Jessie Liu, Shahed Alam, Edith Elliott, and Katy Ashe. The startup was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2014 batch but only recently received its legal nonprofit status.
Although health and related needs are crucial, Moneythink is taking on a different kind of challenge: financial decision-making. Unfortunately for many teens and young adults, their frivolous and impulsive financial choices often have huge repercussions on their lives later on. In fact, the fastest growing group filing for bankruptcy are 18-to-25 year olds, and 2 million youths in the U.S. enter adulthood every year. That’s a lot of people at risk.
Moneythink, created by University of Chicago alumni, started out as a year-long, in-class program for high school students in at-risk communities. Moneythink volunteers spend time every week teaching the students about money management and ways to be responsible with their finances.
But Moneythink’s team soon realized that the classroom is not where these teens are making their financial decisions — most of that takes place when they’re not in class. So the startup recently released a photo-sharing app, described as a “gamified Instagram for finances” by students, which helps them share their good decisions with their classmates. For example, a student can post a picture of a meal they cooked at home instead of spending money at a restaurant. They receive positive reinforcement from their peers in the form of “likes” and comments. It’s group support in an app, really.
Moneythink was founded in 2009 by Ted Gonder, Shashin Chokshi, and Greg Nance. It’s also a White House-recognized nonprofit.