Seven Socially Minded Startups to Take Flight at Fledge

7/30/12Follow @curtwoodward

Fledge, a new Seattle-based incubator for companies that hope to improve society, is announcing its first class of seven startups.

The proto-companies will be running through the Fledge program for eight and a half weeks at the SURF Incubator co-working offices in downtown Seattle, and plan to have their demo day in late September at the Center for Impact and Innovation, a 30,000 square-foot former building near Pioneer Square that is being updated to serve civic-minded entrepreneurs.

It’s part of a grander experiment, just bubbling to the surface, that seeks to make Seattle the country’s leading place for social entrepreneurship—an approach to business that embraces the do-gooder mentality most often seen in non-profits, pairing it instead with good, old-fashioned American capitalism.

Fledge is led by Michael “Luni” Libes, a longtime technology entrepreneur most recently with mobile-data company Ground Truth (now Mobile Intelligence Solutions). He started Fledge after serving as an advisor to students at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute and University of Washington, and seeing that many socially focused business ideas would get dropped after the students moved into the working world.

The general concept was tested earlier this year at SocEnt Weekend, and Libes soon grew convinced that an incubator in the style of TechStars and other successful programs could work in the arena of socially minded entrepreneurs. (Like TechStars, Fledge emphasizes a team of experienced mentors and advisers to help the startups work through the early stages.)

Unlike most of the business incubator/accelerator programs that have exploded across the country in recent years, Fledge is not focused on companies in the broader technology sector. They can have a software or other tech angle, but there’s no filter keeping out non-tech companies.

Fledge also is investing in the companies, but it’s taking a slightly different approach there, too: In exchange for seed funding, Fledge gets a combination of normal equity and a slice of future revenues. The latter mechanism is known as revenue-based financing, a kind of loan that is also offered as a standalone financing tool by some alternative finance operations like Seattle’s Lighter Capital.

Libes says Fledge’s stake in the companies ends up being 6 percent, which is the same share TechStars takes for its companies.

With the caveat that the products or services can change as the incubator class goes on, here’s the initial list of startups being welcomed to Fledge:

BURN Manufacturing: Millions of people in East Africa rely on wood, charcoal, and other biomass fuels to boil water and cook their food. This is an often dirty process done on crude stoves, which leads to inefficient use of fuel and spews out smoke that can cause serious respiratory disease. BURN Manufacturing plans to produce a new kind of stove that can burn much cleaner and substantially cut fuel consumption. That saves people money on fuel costs, cuts the amount of wood being harvested, and improves health conditions.

Learning Lights: This team is designing kits that can turn materials like bottles and jars into inexpensive, solar-powered reading lamps for kids and families in countries where electricity is scant.

Trash Backwards: A website (and upcoming mobile app) that connects people who want to reuse and recycle otherwise disposable stuff into useful, fun, and beautiful products. Seems related in spirit to things like the maker movement, where people hack together their own physical objects, but with an environmental twist.

Personify: A hub for people to post volunteer opportunities, or find volunteering projects near them. Participants can also set goals for volunteering, get reminders, and track their own progress—kind of a “quantified self” approach to helping out the community.

Sharebox: This one has the least information kicking around online, but here’s the concept: A tool-lending library for neighbors, packed into a former modular shipping container. Looks like the community will have to donate the actual tools, because its tagline is “All the tools needed to create a neighborhood tool lending library, except the actual tools.” (This was one of the teams at SocEnt Weekend.)

Community Sourced Capital: A way for startups to tap into the general population for financing. That mechanism has been used by musicians and other artists to bankroll their projects, or to donate money to worthy causes. But the recently enacted federal JOBS Act opened up a new way for entrepreneurs to raise financing by crowdfunding their startup, with certain restrictions.

HERE: The tagline is “Re-create the world where you talk with your neighbors,” which sounds like a commentary on our super-connected digital lives. The website is just an early landing page, but it suggests a service that lets people save places they’ve been to an online map or application.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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