Geng Wang says the original idea behind Civic Champs was to be the Pokémon Go of volunteering, a kind of mobile game that would focus on micro-volunteering.
In the three years since its inception, Civic Champs is now a web-based mobile platform that allows nonprofits to do away with the clipboards and paper sign up forms typically used for volunteer registration and organization efforts, automating many processes, like volunteers’ check-in at a work site. It aims to enable nonprofits to grow their volunteer base without spending time on tedious manual processes. It now works with dozens of nonprofits across more than 24 states, including animal shelters, food pantries, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity, United Way and Boys & Girls Club.
Civic Champs is Wang’s third startup, and he wanted to work on something that had a strong social impact, the CEO and cofounder told Technical.ly. Following that initial concept for a mobile game, “as we talked to various nonprofits about our idea, learning from them on how they manage, recruit, and track their volunteers,” he said, “it quickly became obvious that there was a technology gap that we could pivot and help fill.”
Wang founded Civic Champs in 2019, before the pandemic took hold. He says the pandemic made the company refine its priorities, and helped it get to product-market fit a bit faster, since it was able to tailor solutions for a narrower set of customers: those who continued volunteer efforts during the crisis. It also launched a new platform called Helping Hands, which provided deliveries of food and essentials for recipients in need.
“From a funding standpoint, we actually ended up doing OK as we luckily closed a friends and family round right before the pandemic struck,” he said. The organization got some funding from the UpPrize Social Innovation Challenge as well. “Then as we continued to grow through the pandemic, we were able to continue raising funding.”
Civic Champs has two locations; Pittsburgh’s Ascender coworking space, and Bloomington, Indiana. Wang said both have been “incredibly supportive ecosystems for us.”
“From a funding standpoint, I feel like we have had great access to early-stage funding in both cities,” he said. The startup has won a number of local and national pitch competitions over the past few years, including one from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and participated in Pittsburgh biz-boosting programs such as PGH Lab and OneValley. The company recruits nationally for talent, Wang added, and have found fellowship programs like Venture for America and CORO to be particularly helpful.
Earlier this month, Civic Champs raised $615,000 in a pre-seed round that included Elevate Ventures, Flywheel Fund, Innovation Works, IU Angels and the Richard King Mellon Foundation as well as several angel investors. The company plans to use the funding to launch a self-service version of its core volunteer management platform for smaller nonprofits, and for a new product module called Mentoring Works, which supports mentoring opportunities for youth ages 16 to 24. The organization plans to work with several local nonprofits on pilot programs throughout the summer and fall as it continues to develop and launch the Mentoring Works brand.
Expect hiring from the startup, too.-30-