Comcast NBCUniversal partnered with Venture for America to launch a round of funding for a first ever social impact award. Venture for America (VFA) is a fellowship program for recent college graduates to launch their careers as entrepreneurs with a focus on revitalizing American cities 25% of VFA Alumni have gone on to found companies of their own. The award is seed funding for VFA fellows who are launching social enterprises using new media and technology to solve community issues. Venture for America and Comcast NBCUniversal defined this “Tech for Social Good” movement as encompassing the innovative application of digital technology and new media in order to more strategically target social impact, speed up the development of effective programs, and bring a wider array of help to more individuals and communities.
On Thursday, April 27th, five judges experienced in either the social impact or new venture funding space gathered to judge pitches from five Venture for America Fellows and Alumni. Representing Comcast NBCUniversal on the judging panel were Kai Bond (Head of Comcast Ventures Catalyst Fund and Principal Investor, Comcast Ventures) and Laurent Yoon (VP, Strategic Development – Comcast NBCUniversal). Katie Beck (Executive Director, STEAM Program at Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation), Erin Simpson (Director of Programs at Civic Hall Labs), and Sergei Revzin (Venture for America’s Entrepreneur in Residence) rounded out the judging panel.
The judges heard pitches from ventures ranging from social innovation hackathons and virtual civic chats, to a pro-bono video storytelling agency. Judges scored the pitches on a number of factors including: the primary focus of the venture of social impact, the proposed business model, the budget provided was scalable and venture aimed to solve a social problem with an effective tech solution. After reviewing the scores and a thoughtful discussion and, the judges decided to fully fund two social ventures: Bridge the Media and Recline.
Bridge the Media is a Google Chrome Extension that exposes online readers to alternate viewpoints, allowing them to become more informed participants in American democracy. Pamela Taylor started Bridge the Media in response to the increased distrust in journalism during the 2016 US Presidential Election season. Her experience as an Advertising Manager and Columnist at Boston College's Independent Student Newspaper, The Heights, has informed the development of Bridge the Media. Pamela has acquired hundreds of new users at Uber and two early stage startups, Playful Data and FileChat. After having worked with dozens of social entrepreneurs while interning at NY-based venture capital firm, Collaborative Fund, and Boston-based accelerator MassChallenge, Pamela was inspired to start a venture of her own. With the funds awarded from the Comcast NBCUniversal Social Impact Award, Bridge the Media plans to expand their web functionality and develop a mobile version, as well as improve their data-driven algorithm and advertise to grow attract new users.
Recline is an anonymous, on-demand peer counseling platform where users hold 30 minute voice-based sessions with vetted active listeners to improve emotional well-being. Asher Lipsitz and Magdalene McArthur identified that mental health care for low-income and under-represented communities as a pressing social issue and created a technical solution to create a more affordable solution. Asher is an employee at Zlien, a quickly growing finance startup in New Orleans. He’s passionate about mental and community health, sustainable business models, business, and media news. In college, he started a student-run sexual assault campaign that has grown across the country. Asher is also a Venture for America fellow and a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill where he studied business journalism and marketing.
Magdalene McArthur is a Software Developer who works as an Instructor at the New Orleans - based code school, Operation Spark. She graduated from Howard University in 2015 with a degree in Systems and Computer Science, where she had the opportunity to work as a Web Developer at NASA and became a Venture for America fellow post-grad. Magdalene is passionate about mental health and creating opportunities for people to gain access to education in STEM. Asher and Magdalene intend to use the Comcast NBCUniversal Social Impact Award funding to grow Recline by hiring a software developer to build a stand-alone platform and improve the backend/database. In addition, Recline will launch a marketing campaign to increase their user base and offer first-time users a free trial.
Comcast NBCUniversal is proud to support social entrepreneurs eager to tackle societal challenges and improve their local communities. Both Bridge the Media and Recline as well as the other Venture for America Fellows and Alumni who participated in the Social Impact Awards will be advised by Comcast NBCUniversal and Venture for America as their enterprises grow. The Social Impact Award judges saw promise in these Venture for America Fellows and Alumni and believe by funding their social enterprises, Comcast NBCUniversal can build stronger communities through technology.