This new program aims to be Techstars for social entrepreneurs - Technical.ly Brooklyn

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Aug. 11, 2015 9:52 am

This new program aims to be Techstars for social entrepreneurs

Blue Ridge Labs is launching an incubator to support tech firms that will help improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers.

Catalyst aims to be a bridge to more traditional funding sources.

(Photo by Brady Dale)

Blue Ridge Labs is rolling out a new program, Catalyst, that will act as an incubator for teams with ideas that will help improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers.

What the group is offering is $40,000, as well as mentoring, networking, testing services and a space in their downtown Brooklyn office for the six-month program. Teams can apply until the deadline, Aug. 23. The teams for Catalyst will be picked by a panel of experienced nonprofit and tech leaders.

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Bill Cromie is the director of emergent technology at Blue Ridge Labs, which is a part of the Robin Hood Foundation. He said the idea behind the incubator was that he and others had seen a gap in the nonprofit tech pipeline in the early stages. In the for-profit startup world, there are seed funds and accelerator programs aplenty such as Y Combinator and Techstars, but not so for social innovation, where there’s less money to be made.

"We saw tech being a powerful tool in the intervention of the lives of low-income New Yorkers."
Bill Cromie, Blue Ridge Labs

Our sister site, Technical.ly Philly, recently looked at some of the common challenges faced by impact investors.

“Human beings solved their biggest problems through tools and I feel like tech is the biggest tool we’ve come up with,” he said in an interview. “Catalyst is about taking ideas that have a minimum viable product and giving them the resources necessary to get them in front of more traditional funders.”

Prior to Blue Ridge Labs, Cromie founded two tech companies, one of which, Selectable Media, was recently sold.

“I felt like I was building technology that was comforting the comfortable and making wealthy people wealthier,” he explained, on his decision to go into the nonprofit world. “There’s not anything wrong with that, but I felt like tech has such promise and I wasn’t delivering on that promise.”

With Catalyst, Blue Ridge Labs hopes it can help develop some products or services that really improve the lives of struggling New Yorkers. Cromie pointed to the startup Text4baby as an example of something he’d like to see come out of Catalyst. Text4baby is a fairly simple app which sends pregnant women and new mothers a free text each morning with one tip on caring for their child, based on the age of the child or where they are in their pregnancy.

“It’s time for baby’s 1-month Dr.’s visit,” a sample text reads. “Your baby had blood tests right after she was born. At this visit, ask your Dr. for the results.”

“Part of the reason why we started Blue Ridge Labs is because we saw tech being a powerful tool in the intervention of the lives of low-income New Yorkers,” Cromie said. “Tech itself is easy and relatively faster compared to more frontline interventions. For instance, doing job training, it lasts three months and is incredibly powerful in its impact but it’s not feasible to test out new ideas and models. But it is with tech.”

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