No better place to make an impact.
By Amanda Levinson, NeedsList
I arrived in Philadelphia more or less by chance. But as I’ve worked over the years to build an impact company, I’ve come to find out what a great place this city can be for ventures like mine.
A few years ago, my team and I saw a problem that needed solving: there was a lack of transparency and an overall inefficiency when it came to connecting donors and worthy humanitarian causes worldwide. Our solution was NeedsList, a global online marketplace that allows people everywhere to discover direct ways to help displaced people.
By connecting local NGOs with individual and corporate donors, NeedsList was designed to allow donors to immediately meet needs by purchasing directly from local suppliers, donating funds, and completing tasks.
But more than this, from the beginning, we also wanted to create a company that was built upon the ideals of valuing more than profit maximization. We wanted to create a sustainable business, yes, but also a business model worthy of being sustained. In short, we wanted NeedsList to be an impact business.
That we were located in Philadelphia turned into a major asset in helping us realize this plan.
Both the tech and impact economy communities here are supportive and collaborative in ways that not all regions are. As we’ve moved forward, there’s been no shortage of people willing to offer advice, mentorship and even introductions to investors and potential partners. It’s a kind of openness that maybe isn’t always noted or remarked upon, but is nonetheless a critical asset for anyone trying to start an impact business.
In addition to this important but informal support, there were also some formal programs that were vital to helping us get NeedsList off the ground. Again, opportunities and offerings unique to Greater Philadelphia.
Consider that the business model we wanted to build really had several interrelated parts. First, we wanted to create a frictionless, transparent online marketplace that allowed for the easy exchange of money and goods — the very definition of a financial exchange site. At the same time, our hope was to tell stories and inform people about humanitarian needs in ways that would compel them to want to help and contribute — very much like a media company.
Luckily, in Philadelphia, we were able to find supports in both areas. First, we were fortunate enough to be accepted into the Philadelphia Media Network’s Project Liberty Incubator for new media companies. This not only provided us with space and staff support at a key stage in our development, it also gave us key access to technical and other resources to help us build out our site.
Second, we were one of the two companies that won investment through the Ben Franklin Technology Partners / Village Capital fintech accelerator. This peer-ranked program introduced us to Philly's growing community of impact investors and connected us with mentors in the complicated area of international financial payments.
In June of 2017 we publicly launched NeedsList and already we are growing — and more importantly, our impact is growing. We couldn't have done it without the support of people around the world, and especially right here in Philadelphia.
When we ourselves were in need of support, people came together to help us. The lessons — and irony — of this is not lost on us.
Amanda Levinson is the COO and a co-founder of NeedsList. She is a creative entrepreneur with 20 years of experience leading social change projects, especially those at the intersection of social change and technology.