Startup Spotlight – Place2Give – July 2012

Startup of the Week:  Place2Give

Founded with the mission to facilitate meaningful conversations between donors and charities, Place2Give.com is a charity search engine that provides donors with the tools they need to: search, evaluate and give to the charities that align with their passions.

Founder and CEO, Gena Rotstein calls it “eHarmony for charities”.  We just talked to Gena to learn more.

How did you come up with the idea for your startup?

After working with non-profits for over 15 years, I realised that there is a lack of information that donors require to make smart donation decisions and that North America’s charitable sector is fundamentally flawed in its structure. I believe that if we empower donors to ask the right questions and provide charities with the tools to answer those questions, we will see more meaningful social change and stronger communities overall.

Combining knowledge from online dating platforms such as eHarmony, profiling preferences established through websites like LinkedIn, and a user recommendation board such as Amazon, Place2Give finds the best fit for donors and charities to make meaningful impact in the world.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Paving the way for a philanthropic advising niche market within the financial services sector.

Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help to your startup?

I had put together an Advisory Committee of individuals representing different aspects of the business.  To this day, even though I have a Board of Directors, this group meets on an ad-hoc basis to provide guidance.  Being able to access people with pertinent knowledge and know-how has been incredible help.

What’s new with your startup that we can share?

Last month we launched a new release that includes an Advisor Toolbox, incorporating feedback from charities on how to tell their stories better and from donors on what they are looking for.  Also included in this release is the ability to donate securities online through our partnership with the Benefaction Foundation.

Personally, do you think it is more difficult to raise capital or find the right talent?

Financing for the prototype was through friends and family.  We tried to get angel investors, but realized that social venture investing is so new in Canada, and very unique in Calgary, that we stopped going down this path.  Instead we turned our focus to developing software that was going to fundamentally shift the way that financial conversations were happening around charitable giving.  As such, our difficulties shifted from a financing issue to a finding talent issue.  Due to the nature of Calgary’s economy and our core values of supporting local, we will always come up against talent struggles. We’ve addressed this by providing practical work experience for new immigrants and students who are new to the job market.

What has contributed to your success to this point?

The team of incredibly talented people around me has been a large contributor to my success.  Building a great board of directors with diverse and intelligent people, and then being able to listen and act on their advice has been a driving force in getting the business off the ground.

My advice to early stage entrepreneurs is to surround yourself with people who are smart, who will challenge your assumptions, help you think beyond your boundaries and teach you the skills needed to manage a business.

What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship? 

After 15 years of fundraising, I was frustrated by the questions that the charities were reporting on because we had ingrained in them that it’s about overhead expenditures rather than the cost of the issues that they were mandated to address.  In the for-profit world, when companies invest in overhead, typically it is a measure of operational effectiveness.  When charities invest in overhead, it is seen as negative cost expenditure.  This does not make sense.

By focusing on where the dollars come from and how policy is influencing how societies operate, we can make stronger cities, a better charitable sector and overall a stronger economy.  I believed that Canada could be a leader in this space, so I quit my day job and remortgaged my house to do this.

What are your thoughts on Calgary’s startup community? 

I love being a part of Calgary’s startup community and I love the energy I get from it.  I moved back here after living in Toronto, Boston and New York because I strongly wanted to be part of this entrepreneurial community.

Strengths: small enough that entrepreneurs can easily access advice and guidance from the business community, but big enough that there are ample examples of successes and failures to learn from.

Weaknesses: as a social entrepreneur, we are in the early stages of educating the investor community on investing in for–profit social ventures.  In addition, Canadian government legislation has not evolved enough yet to make investing in social businesses advantageous.  However, I am confident that as models out of the USA and UK are documented, Canadian policy will soon follow.

As one of the co-founders of the Social Good Accelerator, I am looking forward to when we open the doors and start bringing together for-profit social entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations and social venture investors in one space to collaborate on critical social issues.

What’s your ask right now?

We would love for people to visit Place2Give.com and research the charities they want to give to and provide us with feedback.  Also, we encourage Canadian registered charities to add information about their organization.  The more information that charities provide, the stronger the matching algorithm will be.

 

If you are working on something that could potentially change the world, we’d like to hear about it. Send us a tweet at @startupcalgary or email us at info@startupcalgary.ca.

Startup Spotlight is covered by Boast Capital, a Calgary-based Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) consulting firm that helps companies secure and maximize government funding to advance innovation. For more information visit BoastCapital.com or @BoastCapital.

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