Group from Atlas Venture, General Catalyst Form Non-Profit to Promote Youth Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation

10/5/09Follow @bbuderi

For the past three years, Jeff Fagnan of Atlas Venture and Hemant Taneja of General Catalyst Partners have teamed up to hold a charity wine tasting and auction event to raise money for select non-profit groups. This year, the pair tell me, they are going themselves one better—setting up their own organization to more directly advance their cause of promoting entrepreneurship and innovation programs for young people in New England. They’ll do that largely by recruiting help, money, and ideas for spending the money from the technology and innovation community of which they are a part.

The new organization, called TUGG, for Technology Underwriting Greater Good, will be formally launched at the 4th Annual New England Venture Charity Wine Party, which takes place on October 22 at Artists for Humanity in South Boston. Here is Tugg’s mission statement, from its placeholder website (the full site launches October 23), where you can also purchase tickets to this year’s wine event for $150 apiece: “By harnessing the power of the region’s technology ecosystem to source, screen and fund social innovation, TUGG helps young people to realize their full potential through entrepreneurship, education and life experiences. TUGG empowers both the individual and the community to identify important issues and collaborate to solve them.”

Last year’s wine tasting drew more than 250 people and raised $40,000 for Build, a Palo Alto, CA-based non-profit dedicated to helping students start small businesses. Part of what drove Fagnan, Taneja, and Dana Samuels, investor relations director for Atlas and the third Tugg founder, to start their own charity was that Build had intended to open in New England but decided not to, at least for the time being, in part because of the economy. “We feel like New England missed out,” Fagnan says. The trio plan to at least partly fill the void by beating last year’s fundraising by a wide margin. “We raised $40,000 last year, and we’d like to see if we could raise $80,000 this year,” says Fagnan.

Tugg will not be branded as a General Catalyst or Atlas organization. Instead, as indicated in the mission statement, the hope is to involve a host of others in the technology, life sciences, startup, and (especially) venture communities—not just for help in raising money, but in deciding what to fund. “The purpose of this is to be collaborative,” says Samuels.

“We’ve got a really vibrant entrepreneurial community,” and Tugg’s mission is to engage that community in a way that brings both ideas and a sense of ownership in the effort, Taneja adds.

The new organization will not just use its funds for its own programs. Indeed, in some sense, it will act almost as a “fund of funds,” dispersing money directly to various individual programs or initiatives, as well as to other non-profits in the region for them to dispense. “Think of it as almost an open-source charitable foundation,” says Fagnan.

He, Taneja, and Samuels say they hope to fund different innovation initiatives each quarter, supporting anything from a new program for youth entrepreneurship to a trip for inner city students who want to tour Silicon Valley as part of a school project to helping provide materials for a charter school. While entrepreneurship is a big theme they want to promote, Tugg’s activities could involve more general education and life experience programs as well, they say.

It all kicks off at this year’s wine tasting (the wines for the tastings and auction are being donated by producers, distributors, and private individuals). The event will feature five tastings, with two wines vetted at each tasting, says Samuels. One wine will be from the Old World of Spain, Italy, or France, the other from the Americas. In addition, bottles of wine will be raffled off throughout the evening, and the event will also include both a silent auction and a live auction of wines, retail items, or experiences such as special dinners or overnight stays. And after the wine party, “Club Tugg” will open for dancing. “We really want people to think about this as a party,” says Fagnan.

I’ve added Tugg to our list of new 2009 initiatives to help Boston area entrepreneurs.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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