Richmond nonprofit incubator’s first cohort is ready for takeoff
Two Richmond entrepreneurs and Virginia Commonwealth University are helping boost the fortunes of three small nonprofit organizations, named the first cohort of NPO Launchpad, a new incubator for charities started this summer.
The three Richmond-based organizations announced Thursday will receive work space at VCU’s da Vinci Center, mentoring from local business and nonprofit leaders, and an opportunity to pitch area philanthropists at a December fundraising gala that will conclude the three-month accelerator program, which starts Sept. 4. The three organizations won’t receive direct funding but will meet with fundraising and marketing experts to give them the tools to expand.
The cohort includes Beyond Boundaries, a group that offers outdoor activities for people with disabilities; Shood, which collects running shoes that are reconditioned and given to people in poverty; and VET Fund, which helps financially strapped pet owners afford life-saving veterinary treatments.
NPO Launchpad’s co-founders — Pat Hull, who started and sold lucrative web-based businesses GetLoaded.com and FreightCheck, and fellow entrepreneur Jeff Palumbo — have collaborated on several business projects, and both have considerable experience with startup incubators and philanthropic causes. The Hull Foundation, which Hull started a decade ago for philanthropic causes, funds NPO Launchpad, although Palumbo says they hope to win grants and funding from other sources in the future.
The two came up with the idea of a nonprofit incubator when they were talking in June, Palumbo says. “Needs for early-stage nonprofits are nearly identical to needs for early-stage startups,” he says, and by the time they parted, the partners had come up with a name and a plan.
By mid-August, Hull and Palumbo had 29 cohort applicants and 13 mentors on board, including Techead CEO Phil Conein, Richmond Symphony Director of Advancement Scott Dodson and Charles P. Ajemian, president of Social Enterprise Alliance Virginia. The co-founders and mentors voted on the applicants, choosing the three winners.
Palumbo says they plan to expand the number in the next cohort, starting in 2020, although he doesn’t have a specific number to announce yet. To qualify, an organization must be based in the Richmond region, have 501(c)3 status and earn less than $100,000 in revenue annually. Although the three winners this fall have local missions, Palumbo says nonprofits with global or national focuses can apply, too.
In addition to the accelerator curriculum, NPO Launchpad also will host half-day and full-day workshops for nonprofits that weren’t accepted into the cohort, providing tools and resources.
“I subscribe to a ‘no man left behind’ ideology,” Palumbo says. “We want to create a whole ecosystem.”