Entrepreneurs Developing Meaningful Technologies to Solve Our Toughest Local Challenges
Jase Wilson, Neighbor.ly
“You know, we’re making a lot of money. And yes, we’re disrupting digital media. But most importantly we’re making the world a better place. Through constructing elegant hierarchies for maximum code reuse and extensibility.” – HBO’s startup comedy Silicon Valley
From Google bus protests to socioeconomically insensitive comments, technology startups have faced some significant PR struggles. Even HBO’s satire Silicon Valley spoofs startups as building products that are out of touch with broader community problems. In this landscape, it’s easy to overlook the startups that are finding scalable, high-growth models for solving our communities’ toughest challenges.
That’s where urban innovation comes in. At Tumml, we fund and support early stage urban impact entrepreneurs – startups building consumer and business- facing products and services that tackle some of our most intractable urban challenges. These urban impact entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the “tech for good” movement.
One company that’s leading this charge is HandUp, a mobile donation platform for the homeless. HandUp allows regular citizens to support their needy neighbors by crowdfunding towards useful items, such as eyeglasses, wheelchairs, dentures, etc. The platform provides transparency and accountability to empower individuals to help cities’ most vulnerable residents. HandUp recently raised an $850,000 seed round and was named Fast Company’s Most Innovative Company of the Day.
Another great company driving capital to the underfunded is Neighbor.ly. Neighbor.ly is a toolkit to help people, brands, and foundations invest in the places and projects they care about. Having raised $1.7+ million in community donations on its platform to support civic projects, the company is now looking to expand to crowdinvest municipal bonds.
An additional “tech for good” area ripe for innovation is job placement for the underserved and underemployed. Akimbo is a career development platform that re-imagines the hiring process while working to build a more inclusive workforce. Akimbo works with nonprofits like Henry Street Settlement to provide individuals with digital portfolios to best showcase their talents and boost professional exposure by giving employers direct access to the userbases of job training organizations.
Big companies are getting in the game, too. Companies like Esri are rolling out new tools and competitions to support early stage entrepreneurs solving serious community challenges. Take the Esri Global Disaster Resilience App Challenge. “We wanted to find a way to support innovators addressing the causes and impacts of natural disasters,” says Christopher Thomas, the Director of Government Markets at Esri. “Which is why we hit upon the app challenge format – we wanted to push out resources as quickly as possible to people building tools that are useful to everyday citizens in times of need.”
The field of tech for good is still wide open. And it doesn’t fit into the media narrative of startups trying to make it rich by creating the latest dating app for the top one percent. But we’re encouraged to see a new generation of urban impact entrepreneurs developing meaningful technologies to solve our toughest local challenges. Who knows, maybe the next Silicon Valley episode will feature a startup that’s “transforming the world as we know it” by actually making a meaningful impact in our cities.
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From the Editor
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