The value of reciprocal relationships between entrepreneurs and nonprofits or associations may not be obvious, but they can bring myriad benefits. And the divide between the nonprofit and for-profit communities is smaller than you might think. As a managing director at 1776, a startup incubator in Washington, DC, I work each day with companies that sincerely want to drive change and have a positive impact on the world. Sound familiar?
Many nonprofit leaders I speak to don’t realize how aligned their interests are with entrepreneurs who are addressing global problems. Last year, 1776 hosted its first Challenge Cup, a global startup competition taking place in 16 cities across 11 countries to identify the most promising startups solving the biggest challenges in education, energy, health, and cities. Winners included:
Each of these startups could provide partnership opportunities for particular associations and nonprofits. For associations, there is an opportunity to play matchmaker—connecting entrepreneurs to members who would value their innovative product, but would not otherwise know about it. Think about a teacher association that could publicize eduCanon to members as a free tool they can use to improve their lessons. Meanwhile, nonprofits can serve as “early adopters” of new tools that can improve your services. For example, a nonprofit that serves the homeless could work with HandUp to provide clients with services like dental work or interview clothes that they could not otherwise offer.
DC Metro Area Opportunities
The Washington metropolitan region has a particularly active startup scene that provides ample opportunity for nonprofit and association leaders to connect with it. The area is home to a growing number of startups due to its favorable economic outlook, well-educated and young labor pool, and vibrant neighborhoods. Pair that with one of the strongest nonprofit communities in the country and you have a recipe for success. You can engage with for-profit innovators in a number of ways:
In addition to 1776, there are many established organizations throughout the region that are working to connect nonprofits and associations with relevant startups. The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce invited me to speak at their recent Nonprofit & Association Leadership Academy event, and they have some great programs scheduled this fall to address the changing exempt landscape. Aronson LLC, a metro area-based accounting and consulting firm, is partnering with both 1776 and local chambers to connect organizations with the resources, products and services provided by local innovators.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is to embrace innovation and be open to forging new relationships with the startup community. Great ideas deserve to be shared!