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Zero Percent Launches SnackPass to Reduce Food Waste

Zero Percent is an online food donation marketplace that helps businesses move surplus, edible food to nearby soup kitchens and shelters, reducing both hunger and waste. They were part of our second accelerator class in 2014.  Zero Percent recently launched SnackPass, an app that provides delicious, nutritious snacks from a variety of local restaurants. We recently caught up with Rajesh Karmani, CEO and Founder, to learn more about SnackPass and the future of the company.

Tell us the story behind Zero Percent.

In 2012, I was a graduate student in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I frequently visited a bagel shop between my home and my grad school office, where they baked everything fresh each morning. I learned that the shop could never perfectly predict how much food they would sell each day and always ended up with excess bagels. The shop owner Marc wanted to donate the extra food to a local nonprofit, but it was difficult for him to find out which nonprofit would need the food and how he could deliver it. I knew that technology marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist could effectively match supply and demand, so I thought, “Why wasn’t there an online food donation marketplace?” During a hackathon event hosted by the UIUC computer science department, I created Zero Percent.

What are some of the challenges you face building a food tech business and how have you overcome them?

The first big challenge was to understand the variables involved in matching excess food with a need in the community. Secondly, we needed to figure out how to rescue food in a large city like […]

By |November 18, 2016|
  • regroupannouncement

Announcing Our Seed Investment in Regroup Therapy

We are pleased to announce that Impact Engine has invested in Regroup Therapy, a leading provider of on-demand, virtual mental health teams to health entities. 1 in 5 Americans suffers from a diagnosable behavioral health condition, and yet over 55% of U.S. counties have a shortage of practicing psychiatrists, psychologists and/or social workers. The Chicago based company partners with health entities nationwide to provide state-of-the-art, video-based behavioral health integration, increasing access to critical behavioral health services, reducing total cost to treat, and enabling better outcomes for individuals and communities. Their seamless, full-spectrum behavioral health integration has allowed them to gain traction quickly with health organizations such as Metropolitan Family Services, KAM Alliance, Sinai Health System, Oak Street Health and OSF.

Regroup Therapy closed a $1.8M Series Seed round led by Hyde Park Angels with participation from Impact Engine, OCA Ventures, New Stack Ventures, the Harvard Business Angels of Chicago, MD Angels, Grubhub Co-Founder Mike Evans, Sandbox Ventures Managing Director Lon Chow, and Lou Malnati’s President Mark Agnew. The company will use the capital to build their platform, sales and implementation teams.

We have been extremely impressed by founder and CEO David Cohn, who brings deep expertise in implementing technology to scale solutions, as well as firsthand experience in creating impact and addressing global social challenges. He was previously a Director of the Latin America information technology practice at Corporate Executive Board, and served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. The team is rounded out by Justine Mitchell, Operations and Clinical Lead, who previously founded a mental health startup and is a licensed social worker; and Moon Lee, CTO, the founder and CTO […]

By |May 10, 2016|
  • DLBlog

Develop Link Is Changing the Way Health Workers Access Information In the Developing World

Develop Link is making it possible for healthcare providers in the developing world access data. CEO, Catherine Flatley, had the idea for Develop Link after noticing the disconnect between aid groups while working on a project to connect college students to Hurricane Sandy aid groups, and then again among healthcare providers in emerging markets while working as a consultant for PwC. Much like the referral system in the United States, Develop Links aims to connect doctors and health care providers to the resources that are available around them to better serve their communities in the region.

Tell us the story behind Develop Link. 

CF: A few years ago, I was working at PricewaterhouseCoopers in their healthcare consulting practice, helping pharmaceutical firms develop businesses cases to determine how to enter emerging markets and was blown away by the lack of available information. In the US, pharmaceutical firms have access to significant information on how diseases are trending and where doctors are working but in developing countries this is not the case. In researching the problem further, I realized that pharmaceutical firms aren’t the only ones who struggle because of this lack of data. Doctors also encounter countless issues because they do not have the necessary information and connections to treat patients which creates a huge social justice issue.  For example, doctors will not know if there is an outbreak of a virus in their community or doctors will see patients and need to send them to a specialist for follow-up care but will not know where or when a specialist is working. I was shocked by the enormity of the problem and healthcare professionals’ desire for […]

By |February 4, 2016|
  • AbbyElenaBlog

Skill Scout Is Making Hiring Transparent, Social, and Engaging

Skill Scout is innovating the hiring process through a hands on, human-centered approach. Co-founders, Elena Valentine and Abby Cheesmen believe that there is an opportunity to make hiring more personable, action oriented, and engaging for both companies and prospective applicants. Launching out of gravitytank, the two design researchers have spent many hours looking into what effectively communicates a job posting to candidates, how to use media to create digestible job post content, and the best skills based approach employers can use in a job interview. Skill Scout is a part of our current accelerator program, so we caught up with Abby and Elena to dive into how Skill Scout is making hiring more transparent through technology and media and the company’s approach toward corporations and applicants.

Tell us the story behind Skill Scout.

AC: Our team came together on an innovation project while working as design researchers at gravitytank. The WK Kellogg Foundation challenged us to address the problem of 7 million young adults in our country who are not engaged in school, or the workforce. We set out on a 3-year project to understand and design solutions to more meaningfully connect companies with talent in their communities.

We talked to hundreds of job seekers and companies in Baltimore and Chicago. We found that companies suffer from operating under an old paradigm of hiring: posting text job descriptions and getting hundreds of text resumes. The hiring process is equally frustrating for candidates, who apply to multiple jobs online and never hear back.

Job postings do a terrible job of showing what workplaces are actually like. On the flip side, companies sort through dozens of resumes […]

By |December 15, 2015|
  • Marc Burton

Fletch: An App Aimed at Improving College Retention

Tell us the story behind Fletch.

MB: I tested out of high school at age 16 and completed two years of community college in a single year.  Then I transferred to UC Berkeley only to discover that I needed a new strategy to thrive. The university curriculum and environment was too rigorous for me to continue doing well without some help.

Office hours could only do so much, tutors were only open during business hours which is when I had most of my classes. However, there were about 299 other students in my Statistics 50 class all working on the same problems at the same time—why was I not working with them?!

I utilized my social skills to approach as many students as possible for the purpose of organizing study groups. Within these study groups I was also able to challenge, reaffirm and practice expressing my knowledge.  I noticed tremendous improvement in my exam scores and I felt more a part of the UC Berkeley campus as my study groups provided me an academic community and support network.

After having earned a BA from UC Berkeley and an MA from Johns Hopkins, I was invited to give a talk at Pasadena City College on how students can be successful in the colleges they transfer to. I reflected on my initial shock at the rigor of UC Berkeley and remembered how I survived; by trying to access the other 299 brains in my lecture hall.

Even with my best effort, there were about 250 other students in my lecture hall that I had no opportunity to meet.  Consequently, I created Fletch to make large class size […]

By |November 23, 2015|
  • Blog post photo

6 Impact Engine Companies Making Their Mark on Chicago

By: Elizabeth Riley

From the most remote parts of India to bustling cities in Brazil, our portfolio companies are working in and having an impact on five of the world’s seven continents (we’re coming for you Australia and Antarctica!). The Impact Engine team is often in awe of the breadth and depth of these mission-focused startups. And while this is awe-inspiring, to say the least, it’s also important to remember the impact these companies are having in our own backyard of Chicago.

The impact entrepreneurs have on local economies cannot be understated. According to the Small Business Administration, local businesses provided 66 percent of all net new jobs since the 1970s. Our 23 portfolio companies, 19 of which are based in Chicago, employ over 160 people.

But aside from job creation, social entrepreneurs, specifically, can and are having an impact on entire communities in ways that often go overlooked. Here, we spotlight seven Impact Engine companies that are making their mark on Chicago.

Civic Artworks – Civic ArtWorks empowers citizens to get involved with neighborhood design by streamlining the community commenting and feedback process. Thus far, the company has worked on many high-profile city projects, including Transforming Wabash in the Loop, the Museum Campus Transportation Study in the South Loop and Bronzeville, and the North Branch River Works project. Most recently, with support from the Chicago Community Trust, Civic ArtWorks has partnered with ChicagoQuest charter school to develop a new civic-engagement curriculum: Regenerate Chicago Neighborhoods. This program gets students involved in neighborhood planning, design, and redevelopment by teaching them how to amplify their voice amongst the community to inspire positive change.

Meal Sharing – Nothing […]

By |August 3, 2015|
  • Totus Power Blog

Founder Stories: Shiv Rajendran, Totus Power

Art by Tiffanie Mang

This blog was originally posted by Be Like Peter in May 2015

Founder: Siva “Shiv” Rajendran
Company Description: Creating portable affordable power from recycled electric car batteries
Company Site: http://totuspower.com/; @TotusPower
Date of Interview: June 2015

Shiv Rajendran is a car enthusiast, an engineering enthusiast, and a possibilities enthusiast. After achieving his short-term corporate goals, he realized that none of his passions had any place in his current career trajectory – so he took off in search of a new one. 

On shedding material wealth:
In his previous life, Shiv worked at Deloitte. At age 25, he was one of the company’s youngest Senior Consultants in their finance practice. “I wanted to hit six figures before I turned 25. I did that three days after my 25th birthday – and I really disliked it. I was doing 80 hours of work a week that I didn’t care about.”

During a vacation, he met a guy in the electric car industry, and was really interested in the industry. “I’m a car nut. I’ve raced since I was 15. I was a bus driver when I was getting my master’s degree. I’ve ridden my motorcycle across the US on solo trips.” He decided to sell everything he had except his motorcycle and move to California.

He worked as a director at an electric vehicle start up for a little over a year, but the company closed shop. He knew he didn’t want to go back to a standard full-time job, so he he sold his belongings again and moved into his friend’s garage.
“I can pretty much survive on $6 a day. It’s not that big of a deal, […]

By |June 25, 2015|
  • Infiniteach Team

For Infiniteach, A Clear Message Has Proved the Most Valuable

Katie Hench and Christopher Flint have spent most of their lives working in the autism space and have experienced firsthand the need for resources to help parents, therapists, and teachers understand the complex and specific learning needs of children with autism. Based on their experiences, the two autism educators teamed up to build Infiniteach, an autism education platform that uses learning styles proven to cater to autistic students learning abilities. Infiniteach was a part of Impact Engine’s third cohort and the team is seeing great traction. Skill Champ, their iPad app has over 5,800 downloads and they’re launching a second app in July. We wanted to check back in with the co-founders, Katie and Chris, via email to discuss why they chose Impact Engine, how being honest and transparent helped to strengthen their mission, and the necessity of our new Seed+ program.

Tell us the story behind starting Infiniteach.

KH: For me, Infiniteach is a way to ensure every child has access to life-changing resources. When my younger brother was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at the age of 6, our family was living in rural Ohio where there was a lack of awareness and resources. I now see the potential that technology has for bringing high quality autism resources to all families around the country and throughout the world, regardless of location or circumstance.

CSF: I have been in the autism field for nearly 20 years. The dramatic increase of autism rates over that time has left a huge void in supports and services. I was looking for a way to create solutions what were scalable, effective, and accessible. Tablets were a perfect […]

By |June 17, 2015|
  • Brian Hill_Be Like Peter

Founder Stories: Brian Hill, Jail Education Solutions

Art by John Rose

This blog was originally posted by Be Like Peter in May 2015

Founders: Brian Hill and Andy Brimhall
Company Description: Educational content platform delivered via tablets to jail and prison inmates.
Company Site: http://jaileducationsolutions.com/ ; Twitter
Date of Interview: May 2015 

Brian Hill is the co-founder of Jail Education Solutions, a social enterprise delivering educational content to jail and prisons via their technology platform, Edovo. He believes in bringing together government and private sector solutions to make large-scale social impacts through patience, adaptation and commitment to mission.

On the problems:
Brian describes a typical jail as a crowded space with people milling around between sleep and daytime television. “Well no wonder this doesn’t work! We’re not getting any results out of this. There are some brilliant people behind bars – some that shouldn’t be there and some that should – and many who are there because of a mistake that many of us have also made in our lives. We have to figure out how to use this important time to help people make changes in their lives. We’re really arresting development. They come out worse off than when they went in.”
“Incarceration is a serious social issue. We have to figure out what we think corrections are supposed to be and then figure out how we can financially put incentives in place to get it where it should be.”
“It really comes down to what Americans see as the purpose of corrections. If the purpose is to promote public safety and get dangerous people off the street, then we’ve got way too many people in jail. If the purpose is to be angry […]

By |June 3, 2015|
  • Katie-Hench-Be-Like-Peter

Founder Stories: Katie Hench, Infiniteach

This blog was originally posted by Be Like Peter in November 2014
Art by Rudy Salinas

Founders: Katie Hench, Christopher Flint, Lally Daley
Company Description: Infiniteach is developing autism solutions through technology and training.
Company Site: http://infiniteach.com/, Facebook, Twitter
Interview Date: November 2014

Katie Hench is one of the 3 co-founders of Infiniteach, a company dedicated to changing the approach in Autism education through tools like SkillChamp, an education software that allows for affordable and customized learning for each student. She is passionate and dedicated to improving the quality and accessibility of Autism education, and Infiniteach is part of that journey.

On finding her mission:

“My start in Autism is really from my brother who is on the spectrum. At the time, I did not really understand Autism, but understood how I had to engage with my brother. We have this really unique and amazing relationship which has always brought me back to working with kids and working in education.”

“I’m a huge advocate of accessible affordable resources for every child. The rates of Autism have soared ridiculously in the past few decades. 1 in 68 kids, and a 600% increase in the past two decades! No resources could have kept up with the demand. That’s what my family felt. I’m from a small town in Ohio. We were driving an hour and a half each way to get to therapy appointments and groups for my brother. It was a tremendous strain on my family and that was just time-wise. If you think about financially, when services are in that high of a demand – of course it’s going to be exorbitant as well.”
Families are struggling to afford what we know are really […]

By |February 18, 2015|

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