Tradecraft: 30 Mission-Driven Startups You Should Know
Updated: Jun 15, 2018
Many in Silicon Valley aspire to build products and companies that have the potential to create positive change on a large scale. Often, however, these companies can be difficult to find because they have smaller recruiting budgets, and their mission statements can get lost in the noise of startups claiming to be “changing the world.”
To help, we’ve decided to put together a list of mission-driven companies that are attempting to make a big impact on the world.
We tried to pick companies that:
have solutions that are technology-driven or at least tech-enabled
have similar hiring needs to a typical silicon valley startup
are focused on fulfilling basic needs of people who are typically underserved
Based on that loose criteria, we’ve put together a list of companies that we think are awesome and fit the bill.
San Francisco, ~324 employees
What they do Allow users to create campaigns to mobilize supporters around issues they care about.
Why you should know about them It’s the world’s largest social change platform with over 150 petition starters and signers in 196 countries. Recently they launched a crowdfunding tool to allow petition starters to tap into their community to raise the money they might need to push their campaign to victory. There’s also a new election platform that gives voters full ballots and allows them to crowdsource recommendations from people and organizations they trust.
More about Change.org
2015 — Year In Change (YouTube)
Change.org Raises $25M From Big Names for ‘Social Change’ Petition App(The Wall Street Journal)
San Francisco, ~9 employees
What they do Make it easy to understand the laws Congress is considering and streamline the process of giving your opinions lawmakers.
Why you should know about them In a world where the smartphone has become the central platform to consume political media, mobile devices should also enable citizens to engage with their news-making lawmakers. On Countable, users can learn about issues, influence their representatives in government, and rally their community and friends around those issues.
More about Countable
San Francisco and Washington D.C.~19 employees
What they do A political crowdfunding startup that makes it easier for citizens to learn about politicians, and to find and support political candidates that match their priorities and beliefs.
Why you should know about them They’re creating a level playing field by giving every American access to the same political tools that the insiders have monopolized.They’ve also raised money from several top-tier venture capital funds and angel investors, including NEA, InterWest, Index Ventures, CAA and SV Angel.
More about Crowdpac
Steve Hilton, a Brit out to disrupt American politics with Crowdpac (The Washington Post)
San Francisco, ~2 employees
What they do Build technology aimed at increasing voter turnout in the United States
Why you should know about them Since launching, this Y combinator backed startup has managed to drive 6.2 Million visitors. Eventually, they plan to streamline the voting process to allow voters in all 50 states to register to vote and get their absentee ballots via their smartphone.
More about Vote.org
How This Solo Founder Got Into a Top Tech Accelerator (The Huffington Post)
Crisis Text Line
New York, ~50 employees
What they do Offer free, 24/7 text-message counseling for people in crisis.
Why you should know about them Since launching in August 2013, Crisis Text Line has processed nearly 20 million messages. Right now more than 1,500 volunteer Crisis Counselors man the lines for Crisis Text Line; over the next couple of years, it’s seeking to expand to more than 4,000. They’ve raised over $24M from a star-studded group of investors including Reid Hoffman, Melinda Gates and Steve Balmer.
More about Crisis Text Line
R U THERE? (The New Yorker)
Las Vegas, ~20 employees
What they do Create affordable communication products for inmates and their families
Why you should know about them 1% of the U.S. population has a loved one in prison. In order to communicate by phone, prisoners and their families are forced to pay up to $70 for 300 minutes of call time. Pigeonly is using VOIP technology to bring that price down to $20. They are currently supporting about 2 million minutes of phone time per month as well as sending a quarter-million pictures every month between inmates and their loved ones.
More about Pigeonly
East Africa and New York City, ~200 employees
What they do Allow governments, foundations, and individual donors to provide direct cash transfers to the extreme poor.
Why you should know about them They’re one of the fastest-growing international development non-profits. The company has received both a Google Global Impact Award as well as a top rating from GiveWell. Currently, they are fundraising for a pilot program to test the efficacy of providing a universal basic income. The pilot will launch at the end of this year.
More about GiveDirectly
Pennies from Heaven (The Economist)
Money for Nothing and Your Cows for Free (This American Life)
San Francisco, ~7 employees
What they do They started as a direct giving platform to individuals in need, and have now broadened their platform to help non-profits raise money
Why you should know about them HandUp is one of the few startups that is directly tackling one of San Francisco’s largest social issues– homelessness. They’ve managed to help over 2,000 people and solicited over $1.3M in donations
More about HandUp
Tech Gives ‘HandUp’ to San Francisco Homeless (Bloomberg)
A Crowdfunding App for the Homeless, HandUp Raises $850,000 (The Wall Street Journal)
Seattle, ~55 employees
What they do Expand access to computer science education and increase participation by women and underrepresented students of color.
Why you should know about them They’ve inspired tens of millions of students to try Hour of Code and signed up 360,000+ teachers to incorporate their intro coding course in K-12 schools across the country. They also just raised another $15 million from Facebook.
More about Code.org
What Most Schools Don’t Teach (YouTube)
Code.org gets $15 million from Facebook (USA Today)
New York, ~82 employees
What they do Empower public school teachers from across the country to request and get funding for much-needed materials and experiences for their students.
Why you should know about them They’ve facilitated funding 750,000+ projects in public schools ranging from classroom supplies to field trips. Every donor gets complete transparency into the impact of their dollars.
More about DonorsChoose
San Francisco, ~100 employees
What they do Provide free personalized learning resources in math, science, programming, history and more for learners of all ages
Why you should know about them Led by the prolific, Sal Khan, Khan Academy has delivered over 580 million lessons to learners around the globe.
More about Khan Academy
Sal Khan: Educating the world — for free (Business Insider)
One World Schoolhouse (Amazon)
San Francisco, ~25 employees
What they do Enable high school students to earn performance-based micro-scholarships throughout that go towards financial aid.
Why you should know about them They’re aiming to make the financial aid system more accessible to kids who need it. So far, they’ve provided micro-scholarships to over 250,000 students from 7,000 high schools across the country. Their investors include Owl Venture, First Round Capital and SJF Ventures.
More about Raise.me
Got an A in Algebra? That’s Worth $120 (New York Times)
Finland and Distributed, ~70 employees
What they do Collect and analyze data from refuse containers across the world in order to create efficiencies, cut the cost of waste collection, and incentivize recycling.
Why you should know about them Traditionally, collecting waste has been an inefficient process using fixed routes and schedules that require a lot of manual planning. Containers are collected on a set schedule whether they are full or not. This causes unnecessary costs, poor equipment utilization, wear and tear on the roads and excessive emissions. Enveo’s product provides a solution through smart monitoring of waste containers. The company has raised over $26m in private equity funding to date and continues to invest highly in R&D and geographic expansion.
More about Enevo
Boston, ~6 employees
What they do Offer a collaborative, online platform and value-added services that enable food businesses, farms, and nonprofits to create or recover value from surplus food and organic waste.
Why you should know about them Nearly 50 million Americans live in “food insecure” households, which means they don’t have regular access to affordable food. Every year, however, nearly one-third of food inventory goes to waste, or about 20 pounds per person. Spoiler Alert is trying to provide a way for that unwanted food to go to people in need. Born out of MIT, the startup was a 2015 winner of MassChallenge and member of the Spring 2016 cohort of Techstars Boston.
More about Spoiler Alert
New York, ~12 employees
What they do First Access combines financial and mobile data to reliably predict credit risk for borrowers in informal markets.
Why you should know about them In East Africa, only 22 percent of the population has access to formal financial services with the region’s poor having even less at 10 percent. First Access presents an opportunity to increase the ability of these low-income communities to save, manage risk responsibility, invest in such critical services as education, and ultimately rise out of poverty.
More about First Access
Announcing a New Investment: First Access (Acumen Blog)
San Francisco, ~110 employees
What they do Connect lenders to borrowers in 83 countries who are looking to start or grow businesses, get an education or access clean energy.
Why you should know about them Kiva pioneered consumer microfinance. They’ve helped facilitate more than $875 million in lending from 1.5 million lenders to over 2 million borrowers. And they’ve been able to keep loan quality high, with a repayment rate of 97.2%. In recent years, Kiva expanded to serve socially impactful and financially excluded communities in the U.S., and worked to provide loans that better serve the unique needs of borrowers around the world.
More about Kiva
Distributed, ~21 employees
What they do Founded as an alternative to traditional micro-lending platforms, Zidisha is the first online micro-lending community that directly connects lenders and entrepreneurs by bypassing expensive local banks and intermediaries.
Why you should know about them Their loans are interest-free and the startup gives lenders and entrepreneurs the opportunity to communicate with each other directly .To date, Zidisha has raised over $6.6M and funded funded 29,572 projects.
More about Zidisha
The Story of Zidisha: Dramatically Reducing Microloan Interest Rates(Huffington Post)
New York, San Francisco, Lagos, and Nairobi ~280 employees
What they do selects, trains and finds work for the top 1% of tech talent from the largest pool of untapped talent in the world — the African continent
Why you should know about them For every software developer in the United States, there are five open jobs. Africa, meanwhile, has the youngest, fastest growing population on earth, with more people joining the labor force over the next 20 years than the rest of the world combined. By connecting engineering organizations to the brightest individuals on the African continent, Andela provides a bridge to close the talent gap while investing in the smartest, most creative minds in software development. Andela has raised $39M to date, most recently a $24M Series B in June of 2016 led by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and GV (formerly Google Ventures).
More about Andela
Boston, ~9 employees
What they do Offer artists living with homelessness or disabilities the chance to secure their own income through the sale of original paintings, prints, and products.
Why you should know about them They’re working with 72 artists who earn 55% from the sale of their work. 1% from each sale goes to a fund, which provides art supplies to therapy groups nationwide. They’ve recieved funding from the founder of TOMS, Eric Ries, the author of Lean Startup, and social impact accelerator Tumml.
More about ArtLifting
Helping Homeless Artists Turn Around Their Fortunes (New York Times)
San Francisco, ~18 employees
What they do Unlock opportunities for low-income people by sourcing data projects from some of the world’s largest companies
Why you should know about them By recognizing the growing needs for data enrichment work for large Western companies and increasing bandwidth speeds throughout the developing world, Samasource is pioneering a model for helping struggling workers sustainably pull themselves out of poverty. Since 2008 they’ve given work to 7,896 workers and increased their income by 3.7x over 4 years.
More about Samasource
San Francisco, ~11 employees
What they do Solve pressing public interest problems such as delivery of government services or health risk prediction by building open source software products that leverage data.
Why you should know about them They’re bringing together a team of top-tier data scientists and engineers to solve pressing civic issues in a scalable way. They’ve also managed to secure funding from Y Combinator, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
More about Bayes Impact
Kenya, ~9 employees
What they do Enables the 4 billion people who do not have a physical address to, “Be Included”
Why you should know about them People without a physical address do not have access to the same level of emergency or financial services as those that do. OkHi has already mapped more than 100,000 people in Nairobi. They recently raised $750,000 in funding from a group of local and international investors including ex-Google chief financial officer (CFO) Patrick Pichette and Garage Capital.
More about OkHi
Kenyan addressing startup OkHi raises $750k funding (Disrupt Africa)
San Francisco, ~12 employees
What they do Create solutions for striving families to access, manage and review nonprofit and government services.
Why you should know about them Since graduating from Y Combinator, they’ve helped 100,000+ people in the Bay Area access government and non-profit services. They’ve also launched One Home, a free website to make affordable housing listings easier to find.
More about One Degree
New York, ~25 employees
What they do Provide a pipeline for data from smartphones to any 9–1–1 dispatch center in an emergency.
Why you should know about them The USA’s emergency response infrastructure is incredibly antiquated. Despite the prevalence of smartphones, most people in the United States still can’t send a text message to their local 911 dispatcher. These Harvard and MIT alums are trying to change that with the help of a $5M round of funding led by Highland Capital.
More about RapidSOS
Harvard, MIT alums raise $5m to modernize 911 with RapidSOS (The Boston Globe)
A Lifesaving Smartphone App Inspired by a Brush With Tragedy (New York Times)
New York, ~15 employees
What they do Help health plans, hospitals, and provider networks work better in low-income communities by making quick and accurate referrals for patients who need additional help from social services.
Why you should know about them Having recently raised $2.5 Million from investors like Acumen Fund, Kapor Capital, and others, Healthify is tackling the unaddressed social needs, like food insecurity and housing instability that affect millions of Americans and cost an estimated $85 billion a year in additional healthcare spending.
More about Healthify
Hopkins startup Healthify targets overlooked factors in evaluating health risks (The Baltimore Sun)
Chicago, ~9 employees
What they do Aimed at dramatically reducing recidivism rates for those in early substance abuse recovery, their platform utilizes phone sensors and phone data to predict the state of somebody’s recovery in real-time, enabling the right care to be delivered proactively when it is needed most.
Why you should know about them Every year millions of people enter substance abuse recovery programs. Yet, a year after their treatment less than 10% will remain sober. Triggr Health has assembled a world-class team of engineers, designers, doctors, and researchers from institutions such as Stanford, UCSF School of Medicine, Northwestern, Google, and Rackspace to tackle the problem and build a solution to ensure that the right care is delivered proactively.
More about Immunity
Triggr Health Explainer Video (YouTube)
San Francisco, ~12 employees
What they do A global crowdfunding platform that enables anyone to directly fund low-cost, high-impact medical treatments for people in need.
Why you should know about them Watsi was the first non-profit company to participate in Y Combinator. As of July 2016, the startup has raised more than $6.5M to fund treatments for over 8,000 patients. Their radically transparent metrics are available here.
More about Watsi
Medical Care, Aided by the Crowd (New York Times)
Nonprofit Startups Are Just Like Their Counterparts (The Wall Street Journal)
What Startups Can Learn from Watsi’s Wildly Successful Email Campaign(First Round Review)
San Francisco, ~21 employees
What they do Design, engineering and social impact consulting for mission-driven organizations including Google.org, the Skoll Foundation, Unicef, USAID and the city and county of San Francisco.
Why you should know about them Traditional design & engineering consultancies take world-class tech talent and hire them out to the highest business bidders, which means that those businesses make better products but the world doesn’t necessarily become a more just place. Exygy is filled with world-class talent, but only applies that talent to solving world-bettering problems.
More about Exygy
Building A Better Workplace: An Interview with Exygy CEO Zach Berke (B Corporations)
San Francisco and New York City, ~69 employees
What they do IDEO.org is a mission-driven design organization dedicating to improving the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities across the world.
Why you should know about them Launched out of the global design firm IDEO in 2011, IDEO.org is a nonprofit that has worked on problems as varied as water and sanitation, reproductive health, agriculture, and solar energy. Today, IDEO.org has identified four programmatic areas where it knows design can have big impact: Health XO,Financial Health, Launchpad, and Amplify.
More about IDEO.org
The Human Center of Design: In Conversation with IDEO.org’s Patrice Martin (Impact Design Hub)
Working at IDEO (Vimeo)