With $1 Million in Funding from The Rockefeller Foundation and Support from Unreasonable Institute, ‘Future Cities Accelerator’ Winners Will Tackle Perplexing Urban Challenges and Scale Their Solutions Nationally
Winners Include Organizations Helping Low-Income Families Learn to Read Via Text Message, Bridging the Digital Divide Through Social Services Technology and Reducing Food Waste Through an Online Marketplace
BOULDER, CO – The Rockefeller Foundation and Unreasonable Institute announced today the winners of a $1 million urban innovation challenge to develop scalable solutions to complex urban problems facing poor or vulnerable people across the country. The 10 winners are tackling an array of challenges through unique and varied solutions. Storytime, in D.C., is helping children in low-income families learn to read by sending picture books directly to users’ phones via text message. Coalition for Queens, in New York, is helping adults in poverty learn to code resulting in jobs that pay them four times as much as they are currently earning. In the Bay Area, Haven Connect is helping transform the affordable housing application, selection, and approval process into an online, user-friendly experience. On the other side of the country in Boston, Spoiler Alert is feeding the hungry with excess food from local food companies and large food distributors like Sysco through an online marketplace.
The winners of the Future Cities Accelerator will each receive $100,000 to help scale their solutions and will participate in a nine-month intensive program giving them access to national business leaders, investors and technical support to help develop and grow their initiatives.
“For this program, we received 314 applications, we reviewed each of the applications, conducted two rounds of interviews with the candidates that were the best fit, and personally visited the operations of each of the organizations we selected for this program; speaking to their funders, boards, teams, and beneficiaries,” said Teju Ravilochan, co-founder and CEO of Unreasonable Institute. “We are blown away by the rigor of thinking and the caliber of execution of the 10 organizations we will now have the privilege to support. They are already collectively benefitting millions of lives in significant ways and we hope to help them get the support they need to reach millions more.”
“The problems facing the 21st century are incredibly complex and interconnected—nowhere is this more visible than in our cities and the poor or vulnerable people within them. Our 10 selected winners are already making a difference through their innovative solutions to these challenges,” said Josh Murphy, associate director at The Rockefeller Foundation. “It is our hope that this challenge has encouraged and inspired next generation leaders to look differently at the problems facing our world today, and that our winners now have the resources and tools they need to grow their promising solutions.”
More than 600 individuals began the process to apply for The Future Cities Accelerator and 314 proposals were completed. Applicants came in from dozens of cities including San Francisco, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Austin, New York City and many more. After three months of intensive proposal review, phone interviews and in-person visits to applicants, ten winners were selected. The ten selected winners are from New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, the Bay Area, Denver, Boston and Baltimore and are focusing on challenges in the education, health, connectivity, food waste, and affordable housing sectors.
A full list and brief description of the winners are below:
- Coalition for Queens (C4Q) (New York, NY) – Coalition for Queens (C4Q) believes that people from every community — across gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic backgrounds — should have the opportunity to learn to code, gain jobs in tech, and create the companies of the future. Graduates have launched careers at iconic companies including JP Morgan Chase, Kickstarter, and LinkedIn, and have more than quadrupled average annual incomes from $18,000 to $85,000.
- CommonLit (Washington, DC) – 62% of high school students graduate unable to read proficiently. CommonLit exists to put an end to this problem. Using a website that equips teachers with the tools to gauge student’s reading levels and provide readings and standards-based quizzes that are tailored to each student’s reading level, CommonLit allows teachers to help each individual student improve their reading ability. CommonLit began in Washington D.C. and currently has over 250,000 student users across the country.
- EveryoneOn (Washington, DC) – In the country that invented the internet, over 60 million Americans (20% of the population) do not have the Internet at home. In a time where 90% of job applications and college applications are online, EveryoneOn exists to solve this problem. By working with internet service providers and technology companies (like Google Fiber, AT&T, and Sprint), and city and state governments, EveryoneOn has provided over 400,000 people in the U.S. with affordable and dependable internet access and will connect over 1 million by 2020.
- Haven Connect (Bay Area) – In every city in the United States, the government mandates a certain amount of housing to be discounted in order to house low-income and homeless populations. The process of applying to this government-mandated affordable housing is so onerous that many low-income people cannot take advantage of it, while property managers deal with thousands of paper applications and phone calls from people looking for housing. Enter Haven Connect, the “TurboTax for Affordable Housing”. Haven Connect transforms the affordable housing application, selection, and approval process into an online, user-friendly experience for property managers and applicants. Haven Connect is piloting in Palo Alto, San Mateo, and in San Carlos, CA.
- mRelief (Chicago, IL) – 13 billion dollars in food stamp benefits go unclaimed each year due to cumbersome processes in accessing needed supports. In Illinois for example, food stamp applicants need to fill out an 18-page application or sit through a 90-minute phone call, and submit as many as 10 required documents. In other states, the application can be more than 20 pages long and involve hours at the public aid office. mRelief has built an easy-to-use platform that allows families to find out if they qualify for food stamps by answering 10 simple questions in less than five minutes via text or website. Over 100,000 families in 42 states have used mRelief to secure food stamps or other public support.
- Learn Fresh (Denver, CO) – Learn Fresh teaches kids math through NBA Math Hoops, a basketball-based board game and online app. Through independent evaluation, kids who play NBA Math Hoops perform 2.8x better than control groups in basic arithmetic. With sponsorship from the NBA, Learn Fresh is currently reaching over 30,000 kids across the US.
- Propel (New York, NY) – 45 million Americans rely on food stamps to eat. But there’s so much opacity around checking food stamp balance that beneficiaries aren’t able to responsibly budget. To solve this problem, Propel has developed Fresh EBT, a free financial management app for SNAP that allows users to manage and budget their benefits, find places to shop, and access other money-saving resources. Fresh EBT is used by over 150,000 people each week and has users in all 50 states.
- Spoiler Alert (Boston, MA) – More than 40 million Americans struggle to get enough food to eat, while nearly 40% of the food produced in the United States never gets eaten – often because food businesses, farms and non-profits lack real-time responsiveness for unsold inventory. Spoiler Alert’s technology platform creates a collaborative, online marketplace that facilitates food donations and discounted sales, while offering the relevant accounting and reporting systems to capture tax benefits and document important financial, environmental and social metrics. Spoiler Alert is working with Sysco Corporation, the nation’s largest food distributor, along with more than 200 organizations in New England committed to getting surplus food to nonprofits providing services to the food insecure.
- Storytime (Washington, DC) – It’s hard for many low-income families to get books, but many people have a phone. Storytime is a free app that lets teachers text illustrated children’s books to families, without any extra work. It’s more than doubled reading at home. Now, schools across 12 states use Storytime to connect school to home and build literacy.
- Thread (Baltimore, MD) – Thread enrolls 9th grade students who are academically performing in the bottom 25% of their class and facing enormous personal challenges, ranging from homelessness to parents with drug addiction. Students remain in Thread for 10 years, no matter what, surrounded by a group of up to 5 volunteers. Their Thread Family provides unconditional support available 24 hours/day, 365 days/year. To date, Thread has served 255 students; 91% have completed high school within 5 years and 86% of Thread’s alumni have completed a post-secondary degree or certificate.
Winners will be enrolled in an online curriculum in preparation for an intensive five-day bootcamp with Unreasonable Institute in Denver. At the bootcamp, winners will be paired up with high-profile mentors including Tom Chi, formerly of Google X and Co-Founder of Google Glass; Jamie Van Leeuwen, Senior Advisor to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper; and Dan Rosen, Founder and President of Mosaic, the country’s largest home solar lender, along with many more.
The Rockefeller Foundation has long viewed cities as places of innovation and ingenuity, and is committed to building resilience and more inclusive economies within them. The Future Cities Accelerator is the latest partnership in a series of innovative urban challenges spearheaded by the Foundation. Most recently, 100 Resilient Cities, an urban challenge pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, announced its 100th city, the milestone for which the initiative was named.