Tradecraft: 30 Mission-Driven Startups You Should Know
Updated: Jun 14, 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.