Technori April 2014 – To Give or Not to Give

TechnoriThe de facto event of the Chicago tech scene, this month’s Technori focused on social welfare opportunities and start-ups.  A variety of entrepreneurs each brought forward unique and exciting ideas for improving the community, with innovations in job placement, education, finance, and logistics.

The most established startup was GiveBackBox – a new program launched in concert with Amazon, NewEgg, and a host of other online retailers.  The premise is that in order to encourage charitable giving to Good Will and Red Cross, retailers will offer pre-paid labels that customers can use upon receiving their merchandise.  Once they receive a box of new shoes, for example, they can then use that same box to ship their old shoes to charity.

The most compelling aspect of GiveBackBox is the direct correlation between receiving and giving.  Once they get something new online, customers can pay it forward and give their old items to someone else.  The primary drawback is that it takes a bit of work to look for old items, so many people prefer to donate in bulk.  Also, it will be interesting to see the quality of donated items, and whether shipping costs will outweigh the benefits of what the charities receive.

Another interesting startup was Yezzi – a new alternative to Western Union and Moneygram, focused on low-income households.  The goal of the startup is to provide migrant workers from Mexico with an easy and inexpensive way to transfer funds back home.  With a flat-rate transfer fee of $5 and maximum transfer of $300, it offers transfers at 25% to 50% of current rates.

Yezzi, when successful, will undoubtedly help millions of migrant workers across the world keep more of what they earn, and help give more to their families back home.  The primary market challenge to Yezzi’s approach will likely be virtual currency such as Bitcoin; it will be interesting to see how the virtual currencies play out with their business model.  Perhaps Yezzi is currently just positioning itself early, so that when virtual currencies do take hold, they will have an established customer base and can quickly gain control of the market.

All in all, this month’s Technori was packed with excellent presentations from promising social welfare startups, and their impact will hopefully soon be felt in our community and abroad.

Written by Andrew Palczewski

About the Author
Andrew Palczewski is CEO of apHarmony, a Chicago software development company. He holds a Master's degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has over ten years' experience in managing development of software projects.

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