Posts filed under ‘SII Member News’
Imagine knowing that for several months every year, your family will not have enough food to eat. This is the situation faced by more than 600 million people—70% of the world’s hungry—who starve not as the result of warfare or natural disasters, but because at certain times of the year they can neither afford nor produce enough food to feed their family. Worldwide, seasonal hunger is especially acute among small farm households, who often receive only one annual paycheck for their crop. Long before the next harvest, they have run low on money and stored food, with little opportunity for paid employment unless they leave their farm. 
Seasonal hunger is disturbingly prevalent among coffee farmers, even those paid higher prices for Fair Trade or organic coffee. The full extent of the problem only recently became known as a result of studies commissioned by coffee firms, and an awareness campaign was launched within the industry. However, the scale of the challenge was enormously daunting—what could a single business, no matter how innovative or dedicated, do to solve a problem that had foiled the best efforts of national governments and global NGOs? No single actor possessed the knowledge or resources necessary to end seasonal hunger, but combining the talent of nonprofit organizations with the funding and reach of multinational coffee firms offered a way to build on proven solutions.
Rick Peyser from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters had been working on seasonal hunger for a few years. He recognized the magnitude and complexity of seasonal hunger in the coffeelands, and knew it was an issue too big for one company to tackle alone. Rick personally reached out to a handful of colleagues in coffee and invited them to an initial meeting in Portland. The group quickly decided that there should be shared action on hunger in the coffeelands. Our idea isn’t to start a new “thing,” but rather to connect and support many of the efforts underway — there are so many good projects by coffee companies, nonprofits and other partners — that could benefit from broader industry support. — Shauna Alexander Mohr, Coffeelands Food Security Coalition Coordinator.
The resulting Coffeelands Food Security Coalition comprises five industry partners — Starbucks, Farmer Brothers, Green Mountain, Counter Culture and Sustainable Harvest — and two nonprofit organizations, Mercy Corps and Aldea Global. Mercy Corps, a client of the PSU Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, will manage global implementation. Sustainable Harvest, a graduate of the PSU Social Innovation Incubator, will lend expertise from previous food security projects they have developed and delivered around the world. The pilot program in Jinotega, Nicaragua will train 150 women and their families to increase their incomes and crop yields through better financial management, improved agricultural practices, and greater civic engagement. The goal is not only to help farm families overcome seasonal hunger, but also to help them become more resilient in the face of natural disasters and climate change.
Impact measurement will play a critical role in understanding how to create the best outcomes for participants and their families, according to Mercy Corps Senior Development Officer Jennifer Schmidt:
During the start-up phase of the program, the team will develop a detailed monitoring and evaluation plan to establish indicators to measure program success against an established baseline. Throughout the project, local collaboration will be critical — including local participation in monitoring and evaluation activities, whether they be surveys, focus groups or other methods. In addition to providing quarterly and annual progress reports, at the conclusion of the project Mercy Corps and Aldea Global will commission a final evaluation (endline) which will document the project’s impact and provide direction for how public sector, private sector and civil society actors can incorporate our findings into future food security programs.
Demonstrating effectiveness will be essential to launching similar projects in other regions. Equally important will be the work of helping potential industry partners understand that supplier food security is not only a moral imperative, but an inceasingly important element in the success of their own businesses. Pam Kahl, Director of Marketing at Sustainable Harvest, explains the link:
If farmers can’t adequately support themselves and their families, they will be forced to leave coffee for other income-generating opportunities. Farmers with enough income and food are able to reinvest in their crops to produce higher quality beans. Financially stable co-ops can invest in infrastructure that fosters greater traceability. And the combination of the two means a more reliable supply for roasters who — given the growth in consumer demand — are increasingly competing for the best quality product. Stable livelihoods among coffee farmers at origin are critical to the quality of product and ultimately the sustainability of the supply chain.
When coffee farmers and their families have enough to eat, the positive effects are felt not just in their own communities, but throughout the global coffee community. The Coffeelands Food Security Coalition is an important example of the partnerships necessary to create real benefits for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, and a model for a more just and responsible relationship between supplier, business and consumer.
 Vaitla B, Devereux S, Swan SH (2009) Seasonal Hunger: A Neglected Problem with Proven Solutions. PLoS Med 6(6): e1000101. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000101
By Jacen Greene, Ames Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship at Portland State University
The third year of PSU’s Social Innovation Incubator Circuit Program for startup social innovators is now underway. Over the next five months, new members Pacific Green Development, Project Beet Generation, and ReWear will participate in expert-led workshops on financial management, business law, impact analysis, marketing, and other topics essential to their success. Watch this blog for updates on their progress and to find out how you can see them pitch their ventures in June.
Pacific Green Development
Pacific Green Development offers sustainable, low-carbon building systems for mainstream construction. Their signature product is a building material made from industrial hemp and lime that offers better insulation, healthier indoor air quality, and reduced CO2 emissions when compared with traditional materials.
Project Beet Generation
Project Beet Generation (PBG) seeks to fulfill the right of all children to be raised with their fingers and toes in the soil and the knowledge and skills necessary to produce healthy, beautiful meals from the land where they live and for the people around them. Partnering with schools, urban farms, and neighborhood communities, PBG will act as a central hub where garden educators can convene to receive training and cooperatively share fundraising opportunities and large-scale material needs.
The average US household throws away 177 lbs of clothing and textile materials annually. Currently, only 15% gets used or recycled. It is estimated that by choosing just one recycled item instead of buying new, you eliminate 29 lbs of CO2. Rewear offers customers the experience of boutique buying — products that are unique and fashionable with a modern urban aesthetic — all made from upcycled materials. ReWear crafts limited-edition and unique items, with each piece made by hand from existing materials.
In Portland, the Social Innovation Incubator graduated its very first Vector Program members, Sustainable Harvest and Preciva, and a new cohort of Circuit Program members. This January, we welcome the next cohort of startup social entrepreneurs in the Circuit Program.
We celebrated PSU’s induction into the prestigious Ashoka U Changemaker Campus Consortium, a recognition of the university’s efforts to advance social entrepreneurship and an exciting opportunity to enhance our impact.
As one element of our Business Leadership Program, employees of The Standard worked on pro bono consulting projects with local nonprofits, helping both sides to see the power of business tools for generating social impact.
In Istanbul, we celebrated the graduation of the fourth Mercy Corps cohort of our Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, which trains NGO managers in leadership effectiveness, business fundamentals, and social innovation. More than 150 participants from over 30 countries have now completed the program.
Ejaz Ali, a graduate of our Replication School in Cambodia, used what he learned in the program to develop and launch a new impact sourcing venture that will provide employment to an estimated 2500 women, refugees, and other underserved groups in Northern Pakistan.
The fourth year of our Social Enterprise Field Studies program in India gave graduate students the opportunity to work directly with Indian social entrepreneurs addressing some of the world’s most challenging problems. Participants wrote about their life-changing experiences in the program blog.
Through our programs, we seek to assist social innovators at every stage of their personal and professional journey, whether they are discovering the field for the first time, launching their own ventures, or seeking to accelerate their organizational growth and build staff capacity. We are humbled by the wonderful individuals and organizations we have the good fortune to work with, and look forward to continuing our work with them—and to working with you—in the coming year.
The Portland State University Social Innovation Incubator recently graduated Sustainable Harvest and Preciva, the inaugural members in its Vector Program. The Vector Program offers up to three years of tailored consulting to established, high-impact social entrepreneurs; a companion program, the Circuit, provides a six-month series of group workshops and mentoring to concept and startup stage social entrepreneurs. Other members of the Vector Program currently include local nonprofit Central City Concern, working to address homelessness through a comprehensive set of services and businesses, and EcoZoom, a designer and global distributor of high-efficiency cookstoves.
Sustainable Harvest, a certified B Corporation headquartered in Portland, is a Fair Trade and organic coffee importer that uses revenue from sales and grants to fund development projects for coffee farming communities around the world. With offices in Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Tanzania staffed by agronomists and development experts, Sustainable Harvest can tailor projects to the specific needs of different coffee cooperatives. Staff lead trainings in coffee quality and yield, drip irrigation for vegetable plots, organic compost production, and other projects to provide coffee farmers and their families with sustainable livelihoods. Sustainable Harvest’s model recently won a Sustainable Business Oregon Innovation in Sustainability Award, was featured in the New York Times, and won the G20 Challenge on Inclusive Business Innovation.
The PSU Social Innovation Incubator worked with Sustainable Harvest on a number of “intrapreneurial” projects, including iPad apps to help coffee cooperatives improve staff training, earn higher price premiums, and better integrate with global supply chains. An early concept for a coffee brand to provide job training and employment for individuals recovering from addiction and homelessness recently grew into an independent, full-fledged program at Central City Concern. Through Sustainable Harvest CEO David Griswold’s championing of innovation and partnership, the company itself has helped to incubate new ideas that will benefit not just the coffee supply chain, but the Portland community as well.
The Vector Program provided me with an invaluable space to think creatively about my work. In our monthly meetings, [SII Director] Cindy [Cooper] provided a combination of asking tough questions, holding me accountable to finding the answers, listening and reflecting back what she heard based on her deep understanding of our organization and needs.
Staying focused on our core business was the best outcome of our work with Vector Program, allowing us to deepen our commitment to our supply chain model and earn accolades on the local, regional, and international levels.
—Debra Rosenthal, Director of Development and Global Programs.
Sustainable Harvest Founder and CEO David Griswold (L). Photo by Sustainable Harvest.
Preciva, developer of a disposable, low-cost cervical cancer screening device with greater accuracy than the Pap test, is a B Corporation with a nonprofit arm. Husband and wife co-founders Craig Miller and Anaïs Tuepker are driven by the fact that cervical cancer — an easily detectable, treatable condition — still results in more than 270,000 unnecessary deaths each year, most in developing nations where testing is too expensive or inaccessible. Their new test can be easily delivered anywhere in the world, including in the field, for less than $2 per test. They recently completed a crowdfunding campaign at StartSomeGood that raised more than $11,000 for prototype production, and are preparing for early clinical trials with their research partners.
What advice do they have for social entrepreneurs?
1) Start something, a small version of whatever it is you’re doing, and then look for funding. This is a variation on “don’t worry (too much) about your business plan,” which we’ve heard from many people, because the plan is not what attracts investment, a working model is. Plus you cannot plan anything fully, and the plan evolves during deployment.
2) Don’t try to be someone you are not. There are two main reasons for this: people (investors, other partners) will not respond to you if you’re not sincere, and also if you are going to put so much energy and time into a social enterprise you need to be able to do it on terms that excite and motivate you.
3) Don’t feel you have to conform to a particular vision of what a social entrepreneur looks like. The classic entrepreneur, in our case, would have put in 80 hours a week for a year and then given up. If you believe in your idea, it may make sense to keep your day job and find a way to be there for the long haul. Social entrepreneurs are not always serial entrepreneurs.
—Anaïs Tuepker, co-founder.
Preciva Co-Founders Anaïs Tuepker and Craig Miller. Photo by Sustainable Business Oregon.
By Amanda West, co-founder of EcoZoom
Since man discovered fire people have been cooking on open fires. For half the world’s population this practice continues today. My company, EcoZoom, seeks to change this behavior. But it isn’t easy.
Cooking over an open fire – an act that kills 1.9 million people every year and is similar to smoking 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day – is ingrained into the cultures of many. Although it is uncomfortable, dangerous and deadly, it makes the food taste like grandma’s cooking, it’s reliable, it’s readily available and it’s the tradition.
Designing with cooks in developing countries is essential for making products, training materials and marketing campaigns that are useful and accepted. This is a story of creating user uptake for EcoZoom cookstoves in rural Rwanda.
EcoZoom cookstoves are being used in a large-scale project in Rwanda. Over the summer the distributor, DelAgua Health & Development (which has ties to PSU professor Evan Thomas, director of SWEETLab), conducted a 100-stove pilot.
Rural Rwanda primarily uses wood for cooking so the Zoom Dura cookstove was the best fit. Before the pilot we learned that people in Rwanda use bigger pots than other places in Africa so our typical 26cm stovetop wouldn’t be big enough. Ok, easy fix. We put a 32cm top on the Zoom Dura and modified the handles to accommodate. Now we needed to get the stove into the hands of cooks to see what else had to change for wide-scale adoption.
The extensive follow up during and after the pilot distribution revealed some small opportunities to improve durability. Mainly screws. If a screw loosens in rural Rwanda most end users don’t have a screwdriver to tighten it or are afraid to tighten it because they don’t want to harm their new stove. Again, easy fix. All new stoves use rivets instead of screws.
Besides the screws the product was a hit. We suspected it would be because we’ve already made lots of product modifications based on feedback from other countries in Africa and have a history of high user acceptance. But entering a new market can be challenging and its unique characteristics have to be taken into consideration.
Once the stove is ready for the market, we have found that most gains to user uptake can be realized through user training. If you just drop a stove off at someone’s house with no explanation of how to use it then you can’t expect high and/or sustained uptake rates. (Sounds obvious, right?)
Before distributing the stoves I worked with native Rwandans on the DelAgua staff to modify our stove training images and materials. We tweaked graphics and added new ones until we all felt like we had a comprehensive training presentation and poster that could be understood by everyone regardless of their literacy level.
The training presentation was for Community Health Workers (CHWs) – government-affiliated residents in the villages where we’d be distributing stoves. The CHWs personally visit each house to provide one-on-one training on how to use the stove.
The poster was made to hang in the cooks’ house. Besides being easy to understand, the poster ended up being popular for its colors. Cooks felt a sense of pride in the poster and wanted to hang it prominently in the main room for all to see. While printing a larger poster in color costs more, it was worth it in the long run since cooks (and their friends) will look at it often and be reminded of proper stove use.
The base of distribution for the pilot was a coffee washing station. Apparently, it was well known and strategically located, which made it ideal as a distribution site. During the distribution the owner and his wife received a stove. They took it out of the box and started cooking beans on it immediately. Both of them were elated to have the new stove and thanked me profusely for bringing it. So, I walked away happy and kept helping with the distribution.
About an hour later Emmanuel (the owner) came up to me and said there was a problem with the stove. I went to investigate. He said that it was great because cooking beans on the open fire used to take two hours and they did it on the EcoZoom stove in 45 minutes. But they don’t know how to roast corn on the new stove. He was wondering if they should just keep using the three-stone fire for that cooking task.
I have to admit it I was stumped. No one has ever asked how to roast corn on the stove. I didn’t even realize that roasted corn was a traditional food in Rwanda. Was it possible to roast corn on the stove?
Emmanuel and I spent the next 20 minutes strategizing about how to roast corn on the stove. Turns out it’s easy. All you have to do is put the stove on low power (i.e., one stick) and lay the corn over the stovetop. Roasting this way takes the corn from being in a vertical orientation, like on the three-stone fire, to a horizontal orientation. We both thought it was a simple change and we wondered if other people would know what to do. But no need to wonder with proper instructions!
We revised the training presentation and poster so it would be more comprehensive. They now include information on cooking corn, using clay pots and other lessons learned during the pilot, which will definitely increase user uptake for future stoves placed.
New EcoZoom Benefits
It’s well known that to sell a product you need to market its benefits to potential customers. The same goes for cookstoves. Many of our partners gather feedback about EcoZoom stoves. For example, cooks like that the stove cooks fast, saves fuel, emits less smoke, and that it looks modern. Others say it is easy to light because the wind is blocked or that the pots stay cleaner so they don’t have to spend as much time cleaning. In Rwanda, we learned about some unexpected benefits that speak to cooks on a more emotional level.
1. Husbands will not be ashamed to cook now because the EcoZoom stove is sophisticated, unlike a three-stone fire.
2. Husbands will want to be around their wives more now because she will not be covered in ashes like when she cooks on the three-stone fire.
So, surprise…the EcoZoom stove is also an aphrodisiac. Husbands will help with the cooking (which we all know is sexy) and wives won’t be covered in ash.
We are learning about new benefits all the time and how our stoves impact daily life beyond the obvious. I wonder if it will be the same in the next market we enter.
To Sum it Up
Initial field results of the 100-stove pilot were great. Almost all (86%) of the cooks completely stopped using the three-stone fire and use the EcoZoom stove exclusively. The remaining users cook on the EcoZoom stove 50% of the time and the three-stone fire 50% of the time. With the improved user training and posters being used in future distributions, we know we will improve beyond 86% and get that much closer to 100%. This experience was truly a great lesson in the importance of working WITH your customers to create the best results!
This post was updated to include the name of the PSU SWEET Lab Director, Evan Thomas.
Impact Entrepreneurs: How would you describe Preciva in a single tweet?
Anaïs and Craig, Preciva co-founders: Seriously, one tweet?
Preciva is an impact-driven startup developing a field robust, accurate, electronic cervical cancer screening test that can be delivered anywhere for less than $2 per test.
What is the social problem you’re trying to address?
Cervical cancer usually develops slowly and is easy to treat; women who regularly screen, even with imperfect tests, are likely to be treated and survive. The problem is that in many parts of the world, affordable tests aren’t available, health workers with enough training aren’t available to deliver or interpret existing tests, or women live too far from clinics to make repeat visits. This results in over 270,000 deaths every year, over 80% of them in low-income countries. Even in the United States, low-income women face barriers to screening. To address these problems, we’ve designed our test to be field portable, easy to use, highly affordable, and independent of the lab infrastructure needed for current tests.
How does your product work?
It generates a detailed visual map of the cervix by measuring tissue response to electrical stimulation. This map will show the probability of tissue being abnormal or cancerous with much greater detail than is currently available with cervical screening tests.
All of the basic science developing the method has already been done by academic researchers over the last 20 years. Craig (our founder) had worked in the field previously, designing cervical cancer screening technology, and he drew on his experience to develop an innovative design that overcomes the technical limitations of other people’s earlier attempts. That’s where we are now. The next step is to conduct clinical testing at multiple sites (we have several research partners lined up), and ultimately submit our clinical data for FDA approval. You don’t need FDA approval to sell in our initial market, which will be India, but because we believe the advantages of our test will make it attractive in the US market as well, we will seek FDA approval.
We’re motivated by two powerful ideas. One is that our technology really does hold promise to bring greater equity to a particular area of women’s health — if you can make a product that is more affordable and delivers better results, why shouldn’t it become the standard of care for all women? And there is no justification for the fact that cervical cancer deaths are so heavily concentrated among poorer women.
The second thing that excites us and keeps us going is the opportunity to innovate as a social business, and contribute to defining what that term means. Few medical innovations are developed this way — out of a small, for-profit but socially driven company — and we’d like to show it can be done.
You’re currently running a crowdfunding campaign through StartSomeGood. What are your targets, and how will the money be spent?
Our tipping point — our minimum goal — is $10,400, which is what we need to put all the pieces of our prototype together in a working model we can take to clinics and show investors. Ideally, we want to raise $20,600, which will pay for some necessary legal, accounting and other work that we need to do to prepare for raising a more significant amount of funding.
What can our readers do to support Preciva?
Contribute to the campaign. We have a lot of clinical partners and potential investors very interested to hold a working prototype in their hands. Once we have that, a lot will start to happen very fast. With many people giving a little bit of support to the campaign, we can get there and take off.
By Jacen Greene, Ames Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship at PSU
Ray Thompson carefully selects a ripe tomato from the selection of produce at his local grocer. He scans a selection of ready-to-make meal kits complete with ingredients and instructions, then glances at a chalkboard listing today’s seasonal items. The only difference from his regular shopping experience is that Ray is not, in fact, at the store—he’s at a mobile grocery truck that set up near where he lives. It’s there as part of a new partnership between Central City Concern and My Street Grocery.
Creating pathways out of homelessness and selling affordable, healthful food. A for-profit startup and one of the oldest nonprofits in Portland. Clearly the perfect opportunity for a partnership, at least when viewed through the lens of Portland State University’s Social Innovation Incubator. The staff of Central City Concern (CCC) and the founders of My Street Grocery met through the incubator, a program that serves both startup social entrepreneurs and established organizational intrapreneurs. By facilitating engagement among a diversity of organizations focused on social impact, the incubator seeks to establish exactly the type of joint learning and effective partnerships as that between CCC and My Street Grocery.
My Street Grocery is a mobile grocer that provides healthful, affordable groceries and meal kits complete with ingredients and instructions for about $3 per serving. Eating well can be a huge struggle for those living in poverty due to a combination of factors: distant grocery stores, limited transportation options, a perception of higher costs, and a lack of time and knowledge to prepare healthy meals at home. By addressing all of these barriers, My Street Grocery can make healthier choices cheaper, easier, and more available across the city.
The newest of My Street Grocery’s twelve pop-up grocery locations serves the general public, but targets clients and tenants of CCC as part of a pilot program each Monday in September (1:30–2:30 p.m. at NW Broadway and Couch). CCC works to address homelessness through a comprehensive set of solutions: recovery and health programs coupled with supportive housing, job training, and employment placement to provide a complete pathway to self-sufficiency. Proper nutrition plays a critical role in this process, as described by Geoff Sittler, Occupational Therapist at CCC’s Old Town Clinic:
Many of the clients we see are dealing with chronic pain and their primary method of coping has been through medications. We work to teach people that medications can be just one option for managing pain, while lifestyle changes related to nutrition, relaxation, exercise, leisure and social engagement are all equally or more important depending on the cause of their pain. From my perspective, healthy nutrition is the key factor in all of these areas as it facilitates engagement in all functional activities in life, which is incredibly important to redirect our clients from focusing on their pain.
From using healthy nutrition as a tool to control pain, to using business as a tool to improve community health, the members of the Social Innovation Incubator are finding new ways to address some of society’s most pressing concerns. And that, in the end, is why the grocery store now comes to Ray.
Incubator member Central City Concern was featured in a Reuters article on the emergence of social impact bonds in the US, and their employee Daniel Winters was profiled in an inspiring Oregonian article and video. “Daniel [...] was given a room at the Estate Hotel. He turned himself around. A few years ago he was at the Rebuilding Center and saw the door to his old room.”
Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer talked with Next Billion about utilizing social enterprise models to fulfill their mission of building secure, productive and just communities. “We try to make use of already existing market relationships [...] to bridge social and political divides via business and trade.”
Arnold Strong, CEO of incubator grad Bright Neighbor, was profiled by Oregon Business Magazine. “I first talked to Strong a few months ago [...] and was intrigued by his seemingly unique career trajectory, one that has taken him from the traditional hierarchies of the U.S. military to a company predicated on free-form community and exchange.”
Amanda West, co-founder of incubator member EcoZoom, wrote a guest post for Social Enterprise Associates. “Three billion people – half the world’s population – rely on biomass and charcoal for their daily cooking needs. These fuels are often burned indoors on open fires or dangerous unimproved stoves, resulting in two million deaths each year.”
Incubator grad Silvania was featured in the Oregonian article “Cracking the Office Dress Code,” in a Portland Mercury piece on the Alley 33 fashion show, and in a Portland Monthly photo gallery of the show. “The patterns are beautiful, and the silhouettes are easy and feminine.”
Photo credits, top to bottom: Oregonian, Mercy Corps, Arnold Strong, EcoZoom, Portland Monthly
Each year, the social entrepreneurs of PSU’s Social Innovation Incubator Circuit Program wrap up six months of group workshops and coaching by pitching their concepts to a public audience. With feedback from a panel of expert judges, audience Q&A, and a $1000 prize winner selected by attendees, it can be a little tense. Luckily, there was free ice cream waiting at the networking session after the event.
Sponsored by FMYI with media support from Sustainable Business Oregon, the Pitch Fest is a way to give Circuit Program members additional exposure, connect them to resources, and introduce the public to the efforts of local social entrepreneurs. Each entrepreneur had only two minutes to pitch their business, following by a short question and answer session with the judges.
When the judges retired to finalize their feedback and recommendations, the audience quizzed the entrepreneurs, then voted on the winner of a $1000 cash prize. When the votes were tallied, a clear winner emerged: Ahmed Abidine, founder of the ethical fashion company Elkarti Morocco. He accepted the award with tears in his eyes, describing his childhood in Marrakech, his inspiring mother (namesake of the firm), and his own entrepreneurial journey.
This is what the Pitch Fest is meant to be: a celebration of business for social good and an opportunity for the public to connect with the inspiring work and emotional journeys of just a few of Portland’s amazing social entrepreneurs. We hope to see you at next year’s event, in the audience—or on the stage.
Thank you to the Pitch Fest judges:
- Shelley Gunton, director of the PSU Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
- Irving Levin, executive chairman of Genesis Financial Solutions and co-trustee of The Renaissance Foundation
- Adam Reid, founder and development director of the Leadership and Entrepreneurship High School
- Amelia Pape, co-founder and CEO of My Street Grocery, Circuit Program graduate
Bright Neighbor, founded in 2007, was one of the first peer-to-peer lending sites designed to facilitate a “sharing economy.” Users list needs, skills or unused items to barter through the platform, with a focus on the Portland, Oregon area. By encouraging reuse through community connections, Bright Neighbor hopes to reduce consumption and waste in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner.
Fee-based rentals and other paid services are in the works, enabling users to rent out items or businesses to lease inactive assets. Have a lawnmower sitting idle in your garage six days a week? Rent it out to your neighbors. Unused equipment in your warehouse? Put together an insured lease agreement. A new mobile app enables on-the-fly transactions and location-based searches.
Bright Neighbor makes a net profit on each fee-based transaction, but the company is currently seeking a $500k round of investment to accelerate growth and implement insurance offerings, legal services, and large equipment rentals.
Even with the expansion of business offerings, Bright Neighbor’s focus remains on building sustainable local economies, as they work with nonprofits and government agencies to facilitate what they call “Barter Philanthropy®.” In a recent pitch by founder Randy White and CEO Arnold Strong to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, a senior VA official pointed to a stack of computer equipment and said,
Do you mean you might be able to help me find a place [...] for that stuff? Just in this building, there’s so much waste. Rather than track it and allocate it to someone who can use it, I have to tell you, we end up just buying a replacement, whether we need it or not. Your technology might curb overspending by improving the value we get from existing resources. I think I understand Bright Neighbor.