Fast Forward is Silicon Valley startup accelerator for nonprofits

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Nonprofit startups look for funding in San Francisco
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Startups pitch investors all the time, but an event that's happening tonight is a little different at a startup accelerator where entrepreneurs aren't looking to make dollars, they're looking to make change.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If owning a home is the American dream, the Silicon Valley dream is to build a startup that makes you a billionaire.

But that's not the dream of the entrepreneurs taking the stage to pitch their products Tuesday evening at Google's offices in San Francisco. While most startups are founded with the hope of making millions, these founders' big hope is to make a difference.

Fast Forward is a Silicon Valley startup accelerator, explained co-founder Kevin Barenblat, "where we invest money, mentoring and resources into early stage entrepreneurs. But our entrepreneurs are nonprofits."

And the investors are not venture capitalists, but philanthropists -- including foundations like the Omidyar Network and the corporate giving arms of companies like Google, AT&T and BlackRock. Fast Forward's founders say they're looking for founders with grit, and also with personal experience in the problems they're trying to solve.

"They're building the thing that they most needed in a desperate moment in their lives," said Fast Forward co-founder Shannon Farley.

The organizations in this graduating class include:

Beyond 12 - A coaching platform to help students from low-income communities graduate college. Founder Alexandra Bernadotte came to the U.S. from Haiti, and was the first in her family to attend college.

Concrn - A mobile 911 alternative to dispatch help for people in crisis. It's currently being piloted in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood.

IssueVoter - A nonpartisan platform that breaks down bills in Congress to a simple question, and helps you track whether your representative is representing you. Founder Maria Yuan is a former Iowa campaign organizer who says she waited years for someone to make this tool, and finally decided to do it herself, in hopes of keeping voters engaged between major elections.

MindRight - Proactive daily mental health support for teens that coaches them via text messages.

RealTalk - Sex education for middle schoolers in the form of real stories by teens, written as text messages. Founder Cristina Leos grew up in Texas and said many of her friends became teen parents before finishing high school. She believes better access to sex education will reduce the rate of teen pregnancy.

Online SOS - A central place to reach out for help with online harassment. Artificial intelligence and mental health professionals work together to offer users the right help, and take steps to stop the offender. Co-founder Liz Lee says she was harassed online seven years ago after starting her first job, and feels that tools to deal with it haven't evolved enough since then.

Onward Financial - An employee benefits program aimed at low-wage workers that helps them manage a savings account and save toward goals. Employees who save are rewarded with access to low-interest emergency loans in the event of an unplanned expense. Founder Ronnie Washington says he once had to bail his uncle out of a tight spot after his car broke down and he missed work -- beginning a downward spiral that almost landed him at a payday loan store. He says wants to prevent that spiral for other hard working people who live paycheck to paycheck.

Raheem.AI - "Raheem," which means "compassion," is a Facebook Messenger chat bot that lets users anonymously report and rate their contact with police officers -- both good and bad. Trends that emerge from the data are posted publicly online, and also shared with police departments. Founder Brandon Anderson says his life partner was killed by police during a routine traffic stop -- a tragedy that led him to look for solutions to improve the relationship between communities and police.