Tech non-profits are spreading like tech startups

Blake Bassett, co-Founder of Objective Zero, presents at Fast Forwards demo day
Blake Bassett, co-Founder of Objective Zero, presents at Fast Forwards demo day
Image: Fast Forward
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Many startups like to say they’re making the world better. Some really are.

Since 2012, the number of tech non-profits has risen steadily. There are now 412 such organizations, and the numbers are growing by 30 percent each year, says Shannon Farley, co-founder Fast Forward, a non-profit accelerator in San Francisco.

Fast Forward held its fifth demo day on Oct. 2 in San Francisco to show how capital can have an impact when the only expected return is a better world. Nonprofits are tapping into the same opportunities that are empowering conventional startups: cheap cloud computing, ubiquitous mobile devices, and the spread of social networks.

Learning Equality is one such nonprofit. The organization’s web app serves up Khan Academy and other educational videos offline. For a few thousand dollars, students in a school in Uganda can get access to an education normally reserved for those in the developed world with fast internet connections. Whole curriculums can be installed on old computers or cheap Raspberry Pi microcomputers where internet service may still be years away. Learning Equality says it has reached 6 million students so far, and plans to reach 20 million by 2022. “I’ve seen so much investment in education technology, but it’s not reaching those who need it most,” says executive director Jamie Alexandre.

Another nonprofit startup is Objective Zero, which connects veterans who need mental health counseling to counselors. The suicide-prevention app founded by current and former soldiers helps veterans without an immediate support network survive critical hours before they might be able to see a mental health professional. Every day, says co-founder Blake Basset, 20 veterans in the US die by suicide, twice the rate of the civilian population.  “We’re very good at preparing people to go to war, but not to help them come home again,” said Basset. Objective Zero released its app 10 months ago and already has connected 1,000 soldiers with help. It plans to rapidly expand next year.

You can see all the groups participating at the Fast Forward demo day here.

  • Dost Education: Mobile audio content that helps parents of any literacy level support their child’s early-education success
  • DREAMers Roadmap: A mobile app connecting undocumented students to hard-to-find college scholarships
  • Empower Work: A real-time SMS hotline for workplace issues
  • Learning Equality: An offline platform making open education resources globally accessible
  • Objective Zero Foundation: An app providing 24/7 mental health interventions for active military and veterans
  • Peerlift: Platform connecting underserved high schoolers to micro-scholarships for college
  • Tarjimly:  A real-time translation app connecting the world’s 3 billion bilinguals to the 23 million refugees worldwide
  • UPchieve: Free, online, & on-demand STEM tutoring and college counseling for underserved high school students
  • Upsolve: TurboTax for personal bankruptcy
  • WeVote: A national, digital guide that leverages the power of networks to make voting easier