Nonprofits do essential work in Richmond and are led by some of the most idealistic and passionate people around.
But they can also be hard to get off the ground.
NPO Launchpad, a newly formed incubator for nonprofit startups, hopes to change this for some lucky Richmond nonprofits.
Established by entrepreneurs Pat Hull and Jeff Palumbo, it’s an accelerator program for three chosen nonprofits that involves mentorship and operational resources to help them make it through the difficult early stages.
“They enter as novices and leave as experts,” Palumbo says.
Financially backed with a multiyear commitment from the Hull Foundation, NPO Launchpad has already chosen its inaugural class. Applicants had to be Richmond-based with charitable nonprofit status as well as have revenue of less than $100,000.
The first class will include Beyond Boundaries, which offers people with disabilities the opportunity to experience outdoor activities, Shood, which collects gently used running shoes and reconditions them for people living in poverty, and Veterinary Emergency Treatment Fund, which provides financial support to pet owners facing financial hardships.
NPO Launchpad is collaborating with Virginia Commonwealth University’s da Vinci Center to provide on-site, shared co-working space and operational support to the accelerator program. The nonprofits get office space, one-on-one collaboration with NPO Launchpad leaders, public relations and social media support, free technology software supporting marketing, operations, accounting, text messaging and cybersecurity protection.
There are absolutely no costs to the nonprofits, Palumbo says.
In the past, Hull and Palumbo made charitable donations and developed technology as for-profit companies that impact nonprofits. One company, Y!rm, connected influencers or celebrities with nonprofits and charitable causes.
But they quickly noticed there wasn’t much support in Richmond for new nonprofits.
“We both run across a lot of people who want to start nonprofits and have good ideas,” Hull says. “But early on they drop to the wayside.”
The inaugural three-month accelerator program starts in the first week of September and runs until Dec. 1, after which there will be a launch party and a fundraising event Dec. 3, the international day of charitable giving known as Giving Tuesday.
Palumbo notes that Capital One is starting a similar accelerator program this fall, geared toward nonprofits benefitting its organization — so its applicant pool may be narrower than NPO Launchpad.
Looking forward, he says they hope the NPO program will continue to expand so it can help more nonprofits grow in a short amount of time — maybe even ones with brilliant ideas that can be successful beyond Richmond.
“I’d love to foster the next Charity: Water,” he says of a clean water nonprofit from New York. “But right here in our city.” — Brent Baldwin