UnLtd USA Graduates its First Cohort of Social Entrepreneurs; Opens Applications for Third Cohort

UnLtd USA, an Austin-based nonprofit that operates a twelve-month fellowship program for entrepreneurs tackling pressing social and environmental challenges, has graduated its first cohort of 5 entrepreneurs. The organization is also recruiting for its third cohort, which will start in January 2016.

  1. Compost Pedallers, a bike-powered compost-recycling program that makes composting simple and rewarding.

  2. GirlsGuild, a marketplace for apprenticeships in creative fields. GirlsGuild’s collaborative community provides opportunities for girls and women to learn one-on-one from women in their chosen field, building confidence and creative voice.

  3. Mentegram, a platform that improves the decision-making of mental health professionals through more robust and more engaging daily tracking tools.

  4. PelotonU, a nonprofit, web-based university platform which provides at-risk college students a pathway to graduate from college debt-free by blending online education and in-person mentorship.

  5. Ten Acre Organics, working to build the most sustainable and productive ten-acre farm in the world, capable of producing 20x more food per square foot with 90% less water than conventional agriculture.

For Hudson Baird, the Executive Director of PelotonU, the team’s participation in the UnLtd USA program was pivotal:

Participation in UnLtd USA was the single best decision our team made in 2014. Their curriculum, mentor network and encouragement have been instrumental in helping us grow from nascent startup to focused organization. As I chat with industry peers I become increasingly convinced that they have the clearest roadmap in Austin for scaling the social impact of a growing organization. I encourage every young founder I meet to apply for the program.”           

During their year with UnLtd USA, PelotonU was able to raise funding from an additional four local institutional funders and increased the number of students served by 5 times.

Ten Acre Organics, another organization from UnLtd USA’s first cohort, leveraged a partnership between UnLtd USA and Texas Venture Labs to sign a letter of intent with their first institutional customer; they also raised enough investment to fund the expansion from their 1/4 acre beta-site into a 10,000 square foot facility, which will save over 7 million gallons of water in its first year of operations.

UnLtd USA opens applications for Cohort 3

On Sep 2, UnLtd USA opened applications for its third cohort, which will start in January 2016. “Through our network of friends and partners, we’ve already identified over 40 potential applicants for this application round, and we are eager to continue meeting more,” said Venture Partner Mark Hand, who is leading UnLtd USA’s recruitment efforts. “Those 40 come in addition to another 130 applicants from our previous two application rounds. Austin really is one of the world’s leading cities in social innovation.”

UnLtd USA is looking for entrepreneurs building for-profit and nonprofit organizations, which have both a strong business model and a clear social or environmental mission. “We’re looking for entrepreneurs that have found what we call a ‘problem-solution fit,’ says UnLtd USA founder Zoe Schlag. “We want entrepreneurs who have identified a pressing social or environmental problem, and have a solution that could make a meaningful dent in that problem.”

Interested applicants are welcome to apply at www.unltdusa.org/apply, nominate themselves or other entrepreneurs at www.unltdusa.org/nominate, or reach out directly to mark.hand@unltdusa.org.

Background on UnLtd USA

UnLtd USA exists to find the most promising entrepreneurs tackling pressing social and environmental challenges, then back them with seed funding, ongoing venture support and strategic connections to accelerate their progress toward further impact.  

With sister organizations operating in 14 countries around the world and having supported over 20,000 social entrepreneurs to date, the UnLtd model has built a global track record of success. UnLtd USA opened its first chapter in Austin, TX in February 2014, selecting and funding its first cohort in August 2014. To date, UnLtd USA has run 2 cohorts in Austin, funding and supporting 10 Austin-based social entrepreneurs with $5,000-$10,000 of seed funding, ongoing venture support, strategic network-building and peer learning.

Support for UnLtd USA in the Austin Community

Along the way, UnLtd USA entrepreneurs benefit from UnLtd USA’s advisors and mentors, which include investors such as Jason Seats from Techstars Ventures; successful entrepreneurs such as TED Fellow Erine Gray from Aunt Bertha; and community leaders like Robin Bruce, CEO of Acton School of Business. Among UnLtd USA’s funders is Washington D.C.-based The Hitachi Foundation: an independent philanthropic organization that seeks to discover, demonstrate and expand business practices that both measurably improve economic opportunities for low-wealth individuals in the U.S. and enhance long-term business value. Philip Berber, founder of the Glimmer of Hope Foundation and Enable Impact, is also a core supporter of UnLtd USA. In the spring, Enable Impact and UnLtd USA hosted an impact investing dinner keynoted by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who called for a redoubling of efforts to make Austin a social innovation capital.

UnLtd USA Announces Second Cohort

Today UnLtd USA announced 5 new Austin-based social impact startups selected for its second cohort, joining our current portfolio. Twice a year, UnLtd USA selects cohorts of Austin’s most promising entrepreneurs tackling our toughest social and environmental challenges, backing them with seed funding and a full year of ongoing venture support. Over the course of the year, entrepreneurs participate in a series of workshops and trainings with top Austin-based founders, connect with the UnLtd USA Mentor Network and receive customized support from the UnLtd USA Venture Support team to accelerate their progress toward further financing, scale and impact. 

Cohort II includes:

  • Buzz White - BlueHub Health offers a digital platform for patients and healthcare providers to collect, store and share healthcare information, alleviating the administrative burden that diminishes the quality of patient care
  • Casey Smith - Cooking Up Cultures breaks down cultural barriers in communities by fostering cross-cultural learning through immersive language and cooking instruction
  • Joe Troyen - PenPal Schools promotes cultural awareness and literacy across cultures, connecting students in classrooms to discuss global issues
  • Meg Erskine - Open Arms provides livable wage employment to refugee women in Austin through private label manufacturing for socially conscious businesses
  • Paul Abumov - ScribeSense automates the grading process for teachers with 99% accuracy, saving teachers time and ultimately decreasing teacher turnover rates

Cohort II was selected at UnLtd USA's Final Selection Panels hosted at Capital Factory, along with the support of our Final Selection Panelists:

  • Josh Baer of Capital Factory
  • Brandon Marker of Techstars
  • Micah Sagebiel of Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
  • Suzi Sosa of Verb
  • Eric Goff, Co-founder of the Compost Pedallers and UnLtd USA Cohort I alum

This year UnLtd USA has partnered with Washington D.C.-based The Hitachi Foundation, an independent, philanthropic organization that seeks to discover, demonstrate and expand business practices that both measurably improve economic opportunities for low-wealth individuals in the U.S. and enhance long-term business value.  

With the support of The Hitachi Foundation, UnLtd USA will grow the number of Austin-based social entrepreneurs it funds and supports. “In 2014 we selected a first cohort of five entrepreneurs,” says Zoe Schlag, Founder & Executive Director of UnLtd USA. “Based on the quality and quantity of impact-focused startups we’ve been able to identify in Austin just over the past year, we’re increasing our efforts to select, fund and support two cohorts in 2015.” 

“The Hitachi Foundation is pleased to help UnLtd USA bolster companies that solve social and environmental challenges in Austin,” said Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation. “UnLtd USA challenges entrepreneurs to think and act for the long-term good of society, a nice counter-weight to the prevailing pressures for short-term exits.”

Cohort II joins the entrepreneurs in UnLtd USA Cohort I, currently midway through their year of venture support. These include: the Compost Pedallers, GirlsGuild, Mentegram, PelotonU and Ten Acre Organics.

More Information

To learn more about UnLtd USA or learn more about applying for funding and support, please visit www.unltdusa.org. Applications for Cohort III will open in early Fall 2015.

Mapping Social Enterprise in Austin

We’ve heard about the power of social entrepreneurship to solve poverty in developing countries around the world, from clean cookstoves that reduce smoke emissions in India and asset-based financing for smallholder farmers in East Africa. But have you ever wondered what’s going on in your own backyard? We did. When our team arrived in town nine months ago, we knew that Austin was renowned for its growing tech startup scene, but we had a different question: who’s using the power of entrepreneurship to solve our own pressing social and environmental problems?

So we got to work mapping. Inspired by Mexico’s GIIMAP and with the help of the team from Kumu, we’ve mapped out all of the activity we’ve uncovered about social entrepreneurship in Austin. You can see the map here. Startups can quickly be identified by their logos; the grey nodes are the organizations that support those startups: accelerators, coworking spaces, and the like.

But we’re not done! This is a live project that is growing every day, so if you know of a startup in the impact space that’s not listed, give us a shout so we can keep building. Tweet us at @UnLtdUSA. And if you’re interested in hiring someone to build one for your own hometown, let us know that too!

Impact Enterprise Resources

Impact Enterprise Resources

A list of resources compiled by UnLtd USA for impact enterprises.*

At UnLtd USA we seek out, fund and support entrepreneurs building solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. We invest directly in these individuals, developing them as leaders, accelerating their impact and propelling their organizations toward further investment and scale.

Below are some of the resources that have inspired us most, in addition to the tools we inherited from UnLtd UK and UnLtd India.

Pitch Day at UnLtd USA

Pitch Day at UnLtd USA

On Saturday, July 12th, we hosted our six finalists at a workshop that focused on how to design and deliver a successful entrepreneurial pitch. To kick things off, we invited Mason Arnold -  local social entrepreneur, founder of Greenling, co-founder of Slow Money Austin—and a veteran when it comes to pitching. Over the course of Greenling’s...