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Startup Accelerator Puts Tech To Work For Good

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) What do you get when you combine technology's best minds with the good work of nonprofits?  You can change the world, according to this week's Jefferson Award winners.

Shannon Farley had helped start two nonprofits. Kevin Barenblat was a tech executive. Then they were seated together at a fundraising lunch in 2013.

"He was peppering me with questions about tech nonprofits," Farley remembered.

"Why aren't there more Khan Academies, Wikipedias, organizations leveraging technology for good?" Barenblat said he asked.

But Farley explained it was difficult to start as a tech nonprofit, so the pair decided to change that. They rented an office in San Francisco's Presidio and kicked off Fast Forward, an accelerator program to give new tech-based nonprofits the tools they need to succeed.

"We left our jobs, we twisted the arms of a lot of friends to be mentors," Barenblat said.

"It's a marriage of impact and technology that can have real good in the world," Farley explained.

Nonprofit startups that get accepted to Fast Forward's Summer Program receive a $25,000 grant.

Khari Menelik's nonprofit, IGottaMakeIt, was one of them. His website teaches inner-city young people how to launch their own business.

"I was just starting. I just really needed somebody to help me out," he said.

Through Fast Forward, Menelik received 13 weeks of training from a hundred volunteer speakers and mentors who are leaders in technology, nonprofits, and philanthropy. Tech companies and foundations like BlackRock, Google, and Mozilla lend office space for classes and finance the program with donations, so non-profits get the basics.

"Some of that is curriculum and content, so an understanding of fundraising, managing a board, or building a product," Barenblat explained.

So far, fourteen nonprofits have come through the program, and they have each grown their budgets by an average of $1.7 million.

As for Menelik, he learned how to improve his website, so it now gets tens of thousands of visitors. He can't thank Farley and Barenblat enough.

"I'll call them randomly, just to tell them thank you for believing in me," he said with a smile. "They're genuine people. They really want to see you win."

So for bringing together technology and nonprofits to make the community a better place, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Shannon Farley and Kevin Barenblat.

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