March 24, 2015 | forbes.com by Anne Field
When we last encountered Christopher Gray, he had recently launched Scholly, which has an app that streamlines the process of searching for college scholarships. Gray had previously won $1.3 million in school aid from a variety of groups.
Now the Philadelphia, Pa-based social enterprise has helped students raise at least $9 million, Gray and his co-founders are in the midst of raising a series A round, they’ve signed several major partnerships and launched a web site, according to Gray. And, oh yes, they recently won a $40,000 investment during an appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank, causing a ruckus in the meantime.
And Gray is getting ready to graduate from Drexel University in June.
The Shark Tank experience netted Gray a lot of attention, as well as an investment from panelists Lori Greiner and Daymond John. The investors offered their terms almost as soon as Gray finished his pitch, which is unusual for the show. (Gray says he actually pitched for 45 minutes to an hour, although only a few minutes of that made it to the final edit). Also, according to Gray, they gave him what he’d ask for–$40,000 and a total 15% stake. The hullabaloo happened after that, when the other sharks got mad that a deal had been made without sufficient questioning and one of them, Robert Herjavec, walked out of the studio in a huff. According to Gray, the company’s social mission, combined with his own life story, are what sold the investors on the company.
May 25, 2014 | Forbes by Anne Field
Semi-permanent, modular structures to make crime-prone vacant lots safer. A tablet-based system to provide self-driven education to inmates and, as a result, reduce recidivism.
Those are just two of the ten social enterprise startups in the Philadelphia-based FastFWD accelerator that recently held their pitch day, each adopting an unusual approach to improving public safety. I recently wrote about the accelerator.
Let’s start with SHIFT_DESIGN. Started in 2009 , the five-employee Philadelphia company designs sustainable outdoor products using three systems: green roofs, “living walls”—basically, green roofs that are walls—and rain water capture. The enterprise really got its start in 2010, when it was part of a GoodCompany Ventures accelerator program. (Founder Mario Gentile is an architect, not a businessperson and the experience helped him put together a business plan; GoodCompany is one of the organizations involved in FastFWD).
For FastFWD, the team focused on building modular mini-buildings that can be easily turned into semi-permanent structures in vacant lots. (All materials are made in or near Philadelphia).
What does that have to do with public safety?
January 5, 2014 | Forbes.com by Anne Field
Attention social entrepreneurs focused on public safety: You can apply to a new Philadelphia-based accelerator that recently won a $1 million grant.
Called FastFWD, the “super-group” accelerator was formed by the City of Philadelphia, along with GoodCompany Group, a nonprofit, social enterprise accelerator in the city, and the Social Impact Initiative at the Wharton School, after winning Bloomberg Philanthropies 2012-2013 Mayors Challenge, along with four other cities. (They included Providence, Chicago, Houston and Santa Monica).
The Mayors Challenge awards grants to cities that come up with innovative, entrepreneurial ideas for addressing urban problems. Some 335 cities submitted proposals.
Why public safety? Basically, over a period of six months, researchers at Wharton surveyed a handful of potential challenging areas to focus on. After interviews with more than 75 experts, they concluded that public safety was “fundamental to other problem areas,” says Garrett Melby, co-founder and managing director of GoodCompany. Accounting for more than one-third of Philadelphia’s budget, according to Melby, it also involves a larger portion of local discretionary spending than, say, education. They also broke the problem into four categories–”built environment”, “recidivism”, “community violence” and “enabling technology”–and nine sub-categories, including neighborhood surveillance, vacant lots, re-entry employment for ex-inmates, and effective technology, among others. (Here’s more about the areas).