In recent years, venture capitalists have treated nonprofit startups similarly as for-profit startups. As a result of this, several nonprofit startups have proved to be lean and effective. Here are some of the best startups you should absolutely know about.
1. The Crayon Initiative
Think back to your childhood for a moment. Didn’t you love to draw? In the age before computer tablets, kids would spend the start of the school year trying to convince their parents to buy the best set of crayons, the large pack of 64 that came with the pencil sharpener. Children would feel that sense of pride those early days of the school year when they got to sharpen their favorite colored crayons.
The Crayon Initiative is a nonprofit that believes that this love of crayons never goes away. They also understand the dangers of environmental waste. Their nonprofit startup attempts to solve both problems in a brilliant way. The company’s founder, Bryan Ware, learned that tens of thousands of crayons get thrown out each year. That’s not even the worst part. These crayons wind up in landfills, becoming a blight on the environment.
Ware came up a solution. He founded this nonprofit startup to collect crayons either before or after they’re discarded. Then, his program remanufactures the crayons into new ones. The crayons also get a new, triangular design that makes them easier for children with special needs to use. Once the crayons are ready, The Crayon Initiative ships them to children’s hospitals where sick kids can entertain themselves with happy drawings.
2. Drive Change
The state of New York has a historically harsh criminal justice system for teenagers. Until April 2017, New York State was one of only two states that tried anyone aged 16 or older with adult criminal responsibility. Since some parts of the state are poorer than others, kids are often forced to turn to a life of crime as a way to support themselves and their families. When they get caught, they wind up as felons before they’re technically even adults.
A felon has a much harder time getting a job than a non-felon, and a teenager or young adult with no other work experience has an especially difficult time. Roughly 70 percent of people who enter jail before they turn 24 will be re-arrested or re-incarcerated following their release from jail. Drive Change tries to help teen felons learn a trade to prevent this from happening. It offers year-long fellowships in a unique work environment. The teens get jobs on food trucks in New York City, where they learn to cook and service quality cuisine at a low price.
Once the year is up, Drive Change strives to place the teens in jobs that will match their training. Since several celebrity chefs have given their blessing to the project, the nonprofit is extremely effective in finding work for fellowship participants.
3. Project Semicolon
One of the best known and most successful nonprofit startups, Project Semicolon, has humble origins. Founder Amy Bleuel loved her father deeply. After he lost a lifelong battle with depression, his daughter wanted to do something to note his absence. Bleuel settled on a semicolon tattoo. She would later describe her thought process:
“In literature, an author uses a semicolon to not end a sentence but to continue on. We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going.”
This served as the inspiration for Project Semicolon, a nonprofit startup that dedicates all of its resources to the prevention of suicide. Sadly, the founder of Project Semicolon lost her own battle with depression in March 2017. The sentiment of her idea still resonates with many people. Countless people have gotten semicolon tattoos as a way to honor loved ones dealing with mental illness and depression.
Company founder Heejae Lim is a Korean immigrant in the United States. During her school years, Heejae noticed a disadvantage that the children of immigrants faced. Since English wasn’t their family’s native language, their parents had limitations in how much they could help with school work. Kids from English-speaking families received more guidance since they didn’t face any language barriers.
Heejae took this knowledge and used it to start a nonprofit startup, TalkingPoints. This organization strives to place children from foreign countries in a better position to succeed academically. TalkingPoints has developed a multilingual text platform that enables all users to speak in their native tongue. Then, the app does instant translations to other languages.
Using TalkingPoints, teachers can communicate with parents and children in a more comfortable environment. Nothing gets lost in translation. Students who have participated in this program have shown consistent improvement with their grades. Also, teachers have noted that TalkingPoints makes their job easier. They no longer worry that the language barrier unfairly impacts students learning English as a second language.
5. Think of Us
No one understands the plight of foster children better than someone who has lived it. That’s why Sixto Cancel wanted to give back to the system. Having grown up in seven different foster homes as a child, Cancel knew the dangers of the system. Each year, 23,000 people in the foster system age out and wind up on their own.
Cancel started Think of Us as a way to aid the life prospects of foster children. The nonprofit startup is an online portal and mobile app that offers guidance to young adults. These former foster kids can get life advice on things like renting or buying a home, purchasing a car, or finding a job. They also receive mentoring from other foster children who’ve become successful adults.
The goal of Think of Us is to function as a pseudo-parent to struggling foster kids. The start of adulthood is a difficult challenge for people in that situation. It’s a time when the kids are too old to foster again but too young to know basic life skills. Think of Us helps to bridge that gap.
Nonprofit startup funding
The following startups have taken a different approach to funding than many others.
6. Neture, Inc.
One of the most troubling statistics about internet usage is how so few underprivileged kids have access to it. Poor sections of America don’t have the financial means to pay for broadband service, and most cellular plans are too expensive. This problem leaves some of the people most in need of the information superhighway unable to connect.
Neture, Inc. wants to bring internet access to one of the places where it’s lacking. The Bronx in New York City fails to provide internet access to a third of its residents. The nonprofit startup is trying to change that by offering free and/or low-priced internet to some of the Bronx neighborhoods that are otherwise without online service.
What’s makes Neture, Inc. unique from other programs attempting to tackle the problem of internet access is that their business model has a revenue stream. They do charge the people who can afford internet. Then, they use that money for nonprofit startup funding. They can pay for online services for the residents of the Bronx who can’t afford the service. It’s a clever program.
7. One Degree
One Degree grew out of the belief that no family should have to struggle to acquire basic resources. The founder, Rey Faustino, experienced firsthand how difficult it can be for low income families to find critical resources on their own. In the rapidly expanding metropolitan area of the San Francisco Bay Area, Faustino realized that technology was the answer to this issue.
One Degree created a mobile-friendly online database of human aid services. During venture capital pitches, the founders of the nonprofit startup referred to it as the Yelp of social services. Investors loved the practicality of the idea, especially because many of them were based in Silicon Valley. They understood the degree of the problem.
Once the nonprofit startup had funding, it quickly developed a revenue model. A Pro version of One Degree is available. Nonprofits can list their services on the site for a nominal fee. One Degree makes enough from these listings that it can afford to pay people to add resources to the database. It’s a nonprofit that has discovered a self-sustaining business model.