Four years ago, Microsoft partnered with the MassChallenge to identify startups with innovative solutions fostering citizen engagement and transparency between government and constituents. The Microsoft Scholarship for Civic Innovation supports up to five civically-focused startups with a cash grant to help grow their business as they apply to the accelerator. To date, the scholarship has benefited nearly 20 startups with innovated civic solutions, such as leveraging big data for automating parking management (FetchPark), using IoT and mobile money solution to bring running water to every urban home (CityTaps), and an online town-hall platform (Agora).
The truth, is we hope that the Civic Innovation Scholarship is only the beginning of our partnership with these startups. In fact, we hope that our collaboration is deepened as the startup continues to grow. This has been the case with Donii – a 2016 scholarship recipient.
Donii is the social enterprise that makes sure your donated goods make it to people in your community that need it most. Founder & CEO Angie Janssen works with local charities like homeless shelters and youth welfare programs to match the organization’s immediate materials needs with potential donors. This eliminates the hopeful guess-work of donating goods.
Have a set of pots and pans to donate? Simply log-on to Donii’s online portal and select from a list of local organizations that need pots and pans. Donii then picks up the donation and delivers back a tax receipt with a personal note detailing how the goods will be used. Each organization on the Donii platform has been vetted to guarantee that the items will indeed go to individuals in their program.
Beyond the Civic Tech Scholarship, Microsoft was one of the very first corporate partners to sign up to host a Donii drop-off in their office.
This idea was introduced after Donii’s time in the MassChallenge helped Angie think more deeply about addressing the needs and challenges of potential donors. The corporate partner model allows employees to bring goods to their office. By having a box in the office with regularly scheduled pickup days, potential donors don’t have to find the extra time in their day to find a drop-box somewhere else in town. Corporate partners receive ongoing impact metrics about how their employees’ donations helped the community. Microsoft now uses Donii in its New England offices to empower year-round employee giving and to build meaningful connections with nonprofit organizations throughout the city.
Earlier this year, Donii introduced tablets and printer kiosks to eliminate the time between giving a donation and knowing its impact. Donors are now able to check-in their donation and print a label for easy delivery right on-the-spot. The new streamlined system also notifies the organization that the ask has been filled in real time.
Once again, Microsoft was there to support Donii in its growth goals. We provided the organization with five Surface Pro 4 tablets – four which will be attached to new drop-off boxes and one for Angie to use for demos.
Angie is quick to note that a year ago the $5,000 Donii received from the 2016 Civic Tech Scholarship went a long way in building out the “bootstrapping young start-up.” However, the ongoing collaboration with Microsoft has provided far beyond a monetary or hardware donation. She notes that businesses are more comfortable and inclined to become corporate partners when they know Microsoft has done the same. The intangible benefits of credibility and access are often the most difficult for startups to overcome. Microsoft is happy to help our Civic Tech Scholarship recipients however we can.
Another round of MassChallenge accelerator applications is now upon us! Applications are now closed and the first round of judging is underway. We can’t wait to see all the innovative civic solutions this year’s entrepreneurs have dreamt up!
Microsoft is excited to once again support civically-focused startups with the 2017 Scholarship for Civic Innovation. We hope the recipients will lean on Microsoft — as Donii has — in a collaborative partner as their startup continues to grow.