Solve Is a Connecter

How Solve helps bridge the gap between people and the resources they need

Meet Akia: Akia landed her dream job in the technology field and found housing by working with Solve’s partners, i.c.stars and the Chester David Group.

Akia was working as a call center representative when she first heard of i.c.stars. The program, a rigorous technology-based workforce development and leadership training curriculum, seemed like the perfect way for her to transition from a customer service job to a technology-focused career.

Throughout the program, Akia learned hard skills, like coding, website and mobile application development, javascript frameworks, and business planning, while also gaining critical life skills such as personal finance, leadership, and interview practice. Akia was also able to develop a better understanding of how working in the technology field would differ from her prior experience in customer service.

i.c.stars connects participants with career opportunities in the technology industry through their social enterprise and partner organizations, internship placements, and daily discussions with employees in the field. This helped Akia gain experience in the industry and exposed her to new types of jobs to explore after the program.

For Akia, the program was life-changing but also full of sacrifice. The days were long—12 hours of learning, studying, and team-building. And on top of long days, Akia was commuting to Chicago from northern Indiana, traveling two to three hours each way every day.

But the long days paid off. After graduating from i.c.stars in February 2017, Akia worked as a freelance web developer at a media production company in Bronzeville, where she had a hand in developing and running the company’s website. This gave her an opportunity to implement the new skills she gained and provided her the experience she needed to take her career even further, landing her dream job as a technical specialist at Apple where she has worked since the fall.

Despite her career growth, Akia still had long, daily commutes and faced difficulty finding housing. She tried to find an apartment closer to work, but hit countless barriers—she’d been living with family in Indiana so her name wasn’t on any prior leases, she didn’t have any rental history, and had some credit issues.

“Nobody wanted to give me a chance because I didn’t have any history,” Akia confessed as her long commute continued to be a strain on her productivity and well-being.

She confided to mentors at i.c.stars and Solve CEO, Matt Strauss, who knew that together they could help Akia solve this issue. Through Solve’s partnership with the Chester David Group, Matt and her i.c.stars case manager were able to connect Akia with a property manager who quickly helped her find an apartment to rent in South Shore, shortening her commute and alleviating unnecessary stress. Reflecting on her experience, Akia recounts:

“The connections I made in the last year have been a blessing dropped into my life. If I hadn’t gotten the call to come sign this lease I don’t know where I would be.”

Chester David Group founder, Todd Smith, says “Meeting tenants like Akia and being able to help them with the most basic need, housing, gives us purpose and a sense of community with the neighborhoods that we serve.  It also allows tenants like her to be successful because the stress of finding and residing in a quality apartment has been taken care of.”

That is the gap Solve aims to fill: facilitating communication and referrals between nonprofits and businesses to help connect people with the services they need—whether it is housing, workforce training, social work, or legal counseling. A multifaceted digital software, Solve makes it easier for nonprofits, businesses, and agencies to connect clients to services, resources, jobs, and other opportunities throughout the city—and we measure everyone’s collective impact in the community.

Struggling to find housing is a challenge that is not unique to Akia. i.c.stars President and Co-Founder, Sandee Kastrul, observes,

“Housing is an increasing challenge for i.c.stars participants. Partners like Solve help overcome this barrier for interns and alumni like Akia.”

By working together to place more people in housing and jobs, or connecting them with the services they need to achieve financial stability, we know that we can get closer to solving the economic opportunity.

How One Chicago Nonprofit is Connecting Diverse Talent with Meaningful Work

A stable job can empower individuals in many ways. Full-time employment opportunities help close the economic inequality gap and enable individuals to remain financially independent.

The problem is that job opportunities can be exclusive – companies can ignore applicants simply because they lack a college education. But one Chicago-based job training program is working to change the hiring narrative and getting undiscovered talent in front of some big name companies.

re:work is a nonprofit sales training program teaching individuals without bachelor’s degrees how to sell software technology and placing program graduates in full-time sales jobs. Working specifically with Chicagoans from the South and West Side, re:work provides free sales training to help young professionals jump start their careers.

With more than 70 partners in the re:work network, candidates can explore entry-level sales positions that may lead to future roles in sales, business development, marketing, and software development. The Re:Work training program is just over two months long and candidates who complete the curriculum earn, on average, a starting salary of $50,000 plus benefits.

Harrison Horan is the founder of re:work and the go-to guy for everything. Horan’s day-to-day responsibilities include recruiting and staffing, business development, marketing and curriculum development. With re:work, Horan hopes to empower young professionals and to correct the injustices discriminating against equal work opportunities.

But re:work also has its fair share of challenges. A severe lack of exposure on the candidate side makes it difficult for potential applicants to identify what types of jobs are available to them; on the employer side, most technology companies continually draw their candidate pools from universities and don’t consider applicants from different educational backgrounds. And once candidates are placed, inclusion challenges make it difficult for new hires to feel like they belong in their workplace.

With Solve, Horan hopes to increase awareness around the free programs Re:Work offers individuals who are looking to fast track their career, boost their earnings potential, and increase their professional opportunities. To learn more about re:work’s training programs and who is eligible to apply, check out their website here.

Solving for Economic Inclusion Together

We here at Solve consider ourselves to be lucky. We are lucky to be working in Chicago,  an amazing city filled with summer days at the beach and ice skating in Millenium Park in the winter. But like any major city, Chicago has its fair share of  problems. Chicago is stricken with poverty, segregation and inequality challenges. For many Chicagoans, there is not enough food on their table, money in their pockets or safety on their streets. We here at Solve are lucky to be working with so many amazing organizations that strive to fix these problems.

In 2017, we on-boarded dozens of nonprofit organizations to the Solve digital platform. These organizations offer a variety of services in underserved communities across the city, providing resources and assistance to those in need. Our largest partner organization to date, UCAN, serves over 10,000 at-risk children, youth and families across Illinois through more than 30 programs. And our other partners at i.c. Stars, CodeNow, Greenwood Project and Re:Work  train underserved community members to prepare for the technology jobs of the future. Joining the Solve platform this month are Teamwork Englewood, Greater Bronzeville Neighborhood Network and Greater Chatham Initiative. These three lead agencies will bring dozens of more nonprofit service providers to the platform.

The ingredients for socio-economic change are here.  Solve is the platform to unify the hundreds of organizations and thousands of people working to make Chicago a better place for everyone. Together, we can solve for economic inclusion. Together, we can ensure that all Chicagoans live a dignified life. To learn more about the work we are doing, we encourage you to visit us at solvesmartcities.com.  

 

Introducing Client Filters

Continuous self-improvement is important to us. We are always open to criticism and feedback, without it we can’t make the best possible product. We’ve heard it is hard to sort through your contact list. We’re responding to your feedback with some brand new features:

1. Client Filters – easily adjust your client list by filtering by Program, Assigned Staff, Location and Zip Code

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2. Target Population – more accurately describe your target population by selecting from a variety of underserved populations (i.e. homeless, veterans, opportunity youth…)

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3.  Program Location – do you have multiple sites? Now you can add addresses to specific programs

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Employers, Why is it Challenging to Find Growing Entry-level Talent? Let’s Discuss.

Here’s a new term for you to think about: “bandwidth poverty”. What do you suppose this term means? Xavier Ramey, the founder of Justice Informed and advisor to Solve, recently brought “bandwidth poverty” to my attention and my team has been using this term ever since to motivate us in our work.  In this blog post, we’ll dive into bandwidth poverty and how it prevents residents from underserved communities from realizing their potential in the workforce.

Bandwidth poverty (source): An attention shortage that creates a negative, reinforcing cycle and contributes to less-than-optimal decision making that leaves individuals worse off than before. When we experience financial poverty, for example, we focus on the immediate need to make money or to pay a bill and don’t leave significant bandwidth or mental space to consider future needs.

When it comes to hiring, employers need to understand the effects of bandwidth poverty on some of their potential candidates and new hires. In addition to securing a stable job, there are other challenges that could be crowding an employee’s mental space such as:

  • Transportation – how will this individual commute to their job from home?
  • Childcare – can this individual afford to hire childcare services while they are at work?
  • Food – can this individual provide adequate nutrition for his or her family?
  • Trauma – is there a pre-existing emotional, physical or mental trauma this individual needs treatment for?

These four barriers can occur both pre-employment and post-placement and can even lead to poor retention rates.

But there is hope for positive change. Here are two examples of solutions that Solve has discovered since starting our journey.

The first example is the simplest yet most innovative: Access United, an initiative supporting access to career and training pipelines in the unionized construction trades, is piloting a $100,000 fund.  This fund, managed by United Way of Metro Chicago in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust, the Obama Family Foundation, and the Chicago Federation of Labor, will support the reduction of identified barriers to securing employment through the administration of financial assistance coupled with wrap-around supportive services.

The second example pertains to the employer. Much like the Google’s of the world, employers can go outside the box to attract talent from under resourced communities and employ unique tactics that directly address individuals affected by poverty bandwidth. In this five minute TEDx Talk, one company describes how they resolved a common challenge their employees experienced (transportation) with one simple, cost-effective solution.

A model similar to the TEDx Talk above is live right now in Chicago and sponsored by the Manufacturing Performance Center’s Tony Garritano and Xavier Hernandez. Much like the problem described in the TEDx Talk above, Tony and Xavier are providing their employees with affordable and convenient transportation options to their firms out in Elgin.

As employers look to add to their teams, I ask that they stop to consider what challenges may be impacting the individual sitting across from them during a job interview. What did it take for that potential hire to even physically be present during the interview? Are there children waiting for this person to come home or pressing bills that need to be paid? It’s important to keep in mind the different things like transportation and childcare that can take away an employee’s ability to devote their entire time to their work.

Together, it’s time to Solve the many barriers to employment and create inclusive growth for all!

Navigating Uncharted Waters: What it Takes to Do Something That Hasn’t Been Done Before

What do you do when you want to build a business completely from a scratch, in an area that no one has previously pursued? The prospect of starting a project from below ground zero can seem daunting and it takes a special mindset to venture into the unknown.

Materializing a dream from an undiscovered space requires three things: courage, self-reliance and determination. It’s not simply enough to just have a vision – you also need the mental fortitude and will to see your business through to the end.

First, you need the courage to jump right into the unknown. Courage can propel you to achieve what was once thought to be unachievable and to deflect doubt coming from any naysayers.  This can also help entrepreneurs like yourself confront any uncertainty or internal conflict you’re likely to encounter as you bring your vision to life.

Once you find that inner courage to start building, you need to foster self-reliance to sustain growth. With self-reliance, you can rely on yourself when it comes time to make difficult decisions and also trust your instincts as you push forward toward attaining your goal.

And finally, determination is a trait every dreamer needs to persevere. Determination means you won’t quit in the face of adversity and are driven to overcome any obstacle, no matter big or small. It can enable you to get through any negativity (both internal and external) and to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

Building your business from nothing is far from easy and is not for the faint of heart. But with courage, self-reliance and determination, there is little to stop you from achieving your goals.

The Third Wave, Steve Case and How to Create a Social Enterprise

One of my all-time favorite reads is a book by Steve Case called The Third Wave. Case, the founder of AOL, shares with readers his vision of the next technological revolution and believes there are only five sectors left that have yet to undergo complete change and re-innovation. These five sectors include:

  1. Education
  2. Healthcare
  3. Fintech
  4. Energy
  5. Social Enterprise

If you’re surprised by any of these sectors, you shouldn’t be. They all share a common denominator that prevents rapid innovation within each of these industries: government.

Unfortunately, investors tend to shy away from companies that are closely tied to the government Also known as “cross-sector partnerships”, there are two key things to keep in mind if you hope to get investors on your side:

  1. Your intellectual property is your ability to build relationships
  2. Your barriers to entry include taking those relationships and creating formal partnerships

When I used to work in the angel investing and venture capital space, I noticed a correlation between raising capital and selling it to the government. But raising money, especially in the first round, starts with a strong relationship between entrepreneurs and angel investors. I recommend meeting your prospective investor every few weeks for coffee and following up every three weeks with progress updates. Not only does this show you know how to cultivate a working relationship, it also demonstrates your ability to deliver promised milestones to your angel investors.

One thing you should be careful to avoid is treating the government like another customer as you try to solidify a formal partnership. While you can consider the government as a client, they aren’t going to be the ones you turn to for advice on innovation. Asking for the government’s feedback can diminish your credibility as a thought leader. Instead, I suggest finding board members and co-founders who share the same passion as you to add to your leadership team.

Start by positioning yourself in front of thought leadership working within your space and convincing them you have something of value to them. Look for individuals who come from a variety of industries and bring unique experiences to the table. Potential board members should see you as a relentless entrepreneur who can also help prospective partners with the network you’ve built up to this point. Remember to be patient; board members are going to evaluate your passion, ability and value before coming to a final decision. Only after you’ve won their trust can you approach them with the offer of joining your company’s board.

My directors and legal counsel, for example, come from diverse backgrounds and each individual brings years of experience to the table. Here are some of my directors and their work experience:

  • Ernest Sanders
    • Instrumental figure in creating the safe passage model and recipient of 2014 University of Chicago Medicine 74th Annual Community Partner Award
  • Todd Belcore
  • Jamal Jackson
    • Current legal counsel for Solve Smart Cities

Together, my directors fill the roles that are crucial to the success of Solve Smart Cities and have helped us quickly build and formalize relationships with our partners. Solve Smart Cities is currently meeting with employers and expanding our nonprofit partners.

If you’d like to learn more about our vision or would like to discuss potential partnerships, please visit SolveSmartCities.com.

Who’s behind all this technology?

 

Reid Compton Headshot

 

Reid Compton has been building the Solve Smart Cities web application. Reid is committed to advancing STEM education and sets aside a couple hours each week to volunteer with a robotics club in Southwest Chicago to train a team to build robots. Reid also helped build DonorPath, a technology used to connect a community of nonprofits, experts, funders, and provide a simpler way to raise more money to fund nonprofits

Reid and Matt met through a mutual friend, Travis Centers, and immediately connected over their shared passion for addressing social problems.  Since last fall, they have been discussing the big picture of Solve Smart Cities. Matt’s vision is grand, but Reid keeps him realistic and ensures they hit certain milestones. With Emile Cambry as their third cofounder, the three of them feel that truly anything is possible.

Here is what Reid envisions for Solve Smart Cities:

“A lot of talk about the future of ‘Smart Cities’ centers around self-driving cars or using big data to inform policing and utility decisions, but much of that conversation leaves me feeling cold about the human implication of things. I think the more important question to ask is ‘how can we build a city that takes care of it’s citizens in a smart way?’ When someone loses their job, can we step up and help them find another one, or connect them to a workforce training nonprofit to help them gain new skills? That’s the kind of city that I want to live in.”

Reid has been in the social enterprise scene for nearly five years, and he’s done incredible things. In 2013, Reid joined DonorPath as one of their first hires. In 2016, DonorPath was acquired by Network For Good. Reid summarizes how it was from early on to acquisition:

“In the beginning, there was a feeling that we were on to something that could really make a difference to nonprofits by helping them to scale their fundraising and be able to devote more resources to their missions. It wasn’t an easy road, and there were a few times when we almost didn’t make it, but it was a satisfying feeling to see it acquired by a company that cared about continuing the vision.”

Reid brings his ability to build lean startup web applications to Solve Smart Cities. Aside from being the CTO of Solve Smart Cities, he is also the project manager making sure we have realistic expectations for feature and product launches.

Reid, Matt, and Emile all speak the same language — impact and solving complex social problems revolved around Government shortcomings in technology. The Third Wave by Steve Case, a blueprint for using technology to revolutionize real world issues, is their rule book and vision. Follow them on their journey as they change social enterprise forever.

Learn more about Reid at his website Reidcompton.com.

 

 

 

Co-Founders: Finding Your Perfect Match

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Matt Strauss, Solve Smart Cities, Co-founder & CEO

Peter Thiel – Finding Co-founders is Like Finding Your Spouse  

Finding a co-founder is tough, very tough. All startups have an incredible amount of risk. You meet tens or hundreds of people who share your idea. Many people say they would love to help, but they ask for consulting fees or other payments. Resources are scarce in startups, so that is usually not an option.  

Websites such as CoFoundersLab and Founders Dating help entrepreneurs address the common problem of finding an ideal co-founder. But these websites are often full of people with their own ideas who do not want to implement someone else’s vision. As Peter Thiel says in his book Zero to One, “Finding your co-founder is like marriage. How many of you would marry someone after meeting once?”

Thiel is right — you must approach the search for a co-founder as you would a potential spouse.  

Finding someone you trust and who shares your values is essential. The ideal co-founder believes in the company, will work only for equity, and has a proven record of “executing” ideas to businesses.  

So let’s say you found someone you think could be a perfect match. Especially when it’s someone you don’t know well, it is critical to make sure you are on the same page.  You should view the world similarly, agree on the types of people you would hire, and have the same vision of the product. If you just met this person, you shouldn’t start building your product right away. Instead, talk two or three times a week, once in person and the rest over the phone. Share all the details about your vision, and get their feedback and input. Discuss the potential hurdles. Then, address equity. Make sure everyone is comfortable with their sweat equity incentives and amounts.

For us, it was easy getting along. First, I met Reid. We agreed on one key thing: being a mentor is awesome, but it is difficult to scale your impact. Seeing your mentee overcome hurdles and achieve their goals is one of the best feelings ever. But, it’s tough to recognize that you can only help your mentee reach a certain milestone;  the next milestone may require additional time or resources that you cannot provide.  We both knew we wanted to work together to solve this problem and scale our impact.

Then came Emile. After hearing Emile speak at a few events, I met with him to explain my goal of scaling social impact through software. Emile’s ears immediately perked as he knows software is key to scaling impact. I initially asked Emile to join as a board member, but instead Emile insisted on becoming a co-founder. That moment Reid and I realized we were on to something.

That “something” is the belief in solving the opportunity gap by providing new funding streams to workforce nonprofits and job training programs. Solve Smart Cities works with workforce development nonprofits, such as Cara Program, ReWork, UCAN, The Ideal Candidate, and others, to scale their impact. Solve Smart Cities is looking to partner with churches that offer job training programs and other nonprofits focused on manufacturing training. Please reach out to us if you know of any!

Welcome Emile Cambry!

We would like to give Emile Cambry a warm welcome to Solve Smart Cities. The future of our world depends on social enterprise startups and nonprofits. Collective impact is the buzzword everyone uses to ensure fitting groups are partnering better. These two ideas summarize why Emile Cambry is excited to join us. Not one person, not one nonprofit, nor one company can alone solve the problems our world faces. Together we can collectively make the best impact possible by partnering. Solve’s goal is to do that first in the workforce development space.

We are excited and so is Emile. Here is a short blurb from Emile:

With social impact finance around the corner, we (Solve Smart Cities) can build something five years ahead of its time.  Our roadmap for new products evolve from software product as Phase 1, to data analytics as Phase 2, to something we can automate as Phase 3.

By reading the below list of just some of Emile’s accomplishments; you will see how lucky we are to have him on our team. We are looking to be the tech team that partners all workforce nonprofits and the Government. Exciting times ahead!

Here are a handful of amazing things Emile has done in the last year:

Highlights: My 2016 Year in Review: Testified for Congress, 60 articles about BLUE1647, 22 Awards, 5 Trips to the White House, New York Times feature, Root 100 Award, SXSW Award, Chicago Innovation Award, Chicago Inno 50 on Fire, 2 Resolutions, 1 Law passed, 1 Film Festival, and a Hackathon in 8 states. WHAT A YEAR! Thank you everyone for your support and allowing me to chronicle the journey.

Nelly stopped by the office in St. Louis. Yeah, that Nelly.

My mother and I were featured on TV One’s Change Agents: History in the Making

Keynote at a Young Mens Conference

9 Tech Leaders in Chicago you should meet

Did my first live talk show in front of a studio audience

Received a SXSW Dewey Award as a top social innovator in the world

Received a Cook County Resolution for contributions to making Cook County better, by Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia.

Featured in the Root for getting my tech inspiration from Afro Futurism

Featured in PolicyLink for our ability to inspire public policy change

Received a Resolution by the Missouri House of Representatives, sponsored by State Representative Courtney Curtis.

FEATURED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES!!!

Had an Illinois law passed through our organization, Social Change

Recognized as the Root 100, top 100 most influential Black Americans.

Testified in front of Congress on Federal IT Spending

We had the best month ever in the history diversity in tech

Appointed to the Cook County Commision on Social Innovation

Appointed to the Polsky Council, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the University of Chicago.

We won the Chicago Inno 50 on Fire

Visited the White House 5 times in 2016

The White House did a presentation and event at BLUE1647

The United States Department of Commerce held an event at BLUE1647

A Portrait of Emile Cambry by Jeff Sciortino