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An urban farm in southern Dallas and a jewelry brand with a Deep Ellum store are among the recipients of investments from GroundFloor, a social innovation fund that’s part of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.
GroundFloor started in 2013 as a way to come up with new solutions to North Texas’ problems, such as poverty and illiteracy. It began with $100,000 in seed funding from Dallas-based AT&T and has grown with contributions from individuals and other companies, such as EY and Mary Kay Cosmetics.
Entrepreneurs, startups and nonprofits with a social entrepreneurship mission are eligible. Think companies like Toms, Warby Parker or Roma Boots, which donate shoes, boots or glasses for every one that’s purchased. Cafe Momentum, a downtown Dallas restaurant that trains and employs teen boys who have been in the juvenile system, was the first recipient of GroundFloor funds in 2013.
GroundFloor director Kate Knight describes the fund as a cross between a venture capital fund and an accelerator, but with one major difference: The United Way’s funds are technically a grant and it does not get equity.
“Education, income and health goals are what drives all of our decisions,” Knight said. “So if we can get difference makers in our community working hard on these topics, that is getting something back for us.”
“We can’t just do the same things that we have done for years to solve these problems in our community. We have to try new approaches and come up with new ideas to really make the impact we’re trying to make.”
Applicants must submit a business plan and pitch to a panel of mentors and investors. If chosen, they receive funding and support from the United Way and a group of mentors. To receive the funds, they must hit certain goals, GroundFloor director Kate Knight said.
Knight said people are often surprised to hear that a 90-year-old charitable organization like the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has a fund that promotes innovation.
“We are not your grandfather’s United Way,” she said.
This year, GroundFloor has selected five fellows to receive a total of $300,000:
- The Akola Project, which hires and trains women in Uganda to make jewelry and educates them about health, finance and wellness, will receive $107,500. The project, which started about a decade ago, now hires Dallas women who face obstacles to employment, such as a history of incarceration or sex trafficking.
- Bonton Farms is helping to revive the Bonton neighborhood of southern Dallas by growing fruits and vegetables, promoting healthy eating and creating jobs. It will receive an investment of $97,500. It has previously received money from GroundFloor.
- Dallas Teacher Residency prepares classroom teachers to succeed in urban schools so they can boost the quality of children’s education, especially in zip codes with high poverty. The teacher training program is expanding in Dallas and Mesquite. They will receive an investment totaling $148,500. It is GroundFloor’s second investment in the program.
- SafeNight, a mobile app, helps domestic violence organizations and domestic violence victims find open shelter beds. It also allows donors to cover the cost of hotel rooms when local shelters are full. The mobile service can be used online or through a smartphone app. SafeNight will receive an investment of $78,500.
- The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, a nonprofit, volunteer-based Catholic organization that helps families and individuals struggling with poverty, has a Micro Loan Program. It offers an alternative to high-interest payday and auto title loans that can cause people to end up even deeper in debt. They can also convert high-interest loans into low-interest loans. The group will receive an investment of $62,500 to help fund the loan program.