MBA Program: University of Chicago, Booth School of Business
Founding Student Name(s):
- Alana Taube, Chicago Booth MBA ’20
- Nikhilesh (Niki) Tadiparthi, Adobe Computer Scientist & current Chicago Booth Executive MBA student
Brief Description of Solution: Sprout’s mission is to help individual donors increase the sustained impact of their philanthropy. By enabling donors to seamlessly connect with a trusted philanthropic advisor through our online platform, we empower them to plan their giving objectives and develop strategies that are both effective and personally meaningful.
Our mission is rooted in a recognition that 70% of US charitable giving is done by individual donors – showing that people have tremendous power to drive forward innovative initiatives for positive social change.
The Sprout online platform enables donors to seamlessly connect with a philanthropic advisor who will help them to reflect upon their giving objectives and develop strategies for targeted investments that are both effective at delivering social impact and personally meaningful. Similar to MasterClass, donors can use Sprout to discover inspiring content from leading experts in the social sector – such as renowned academic researchers, community leaders, government officials, and seasoned philanthropic professionals. But, only on Sprout, the donor can not only read or watch content produced by these experts, but also set up a one-on-one philanthropic advising sessions to discuss their giving objectives and interests. Experts can either receive payment directly for their services, or request that a donation be made to the charity of their choice. Engagements are rated by both sides for their helpfulness in guiding the donor to an effective giving strategy.
Funding Dollars: $15,000 from the University of Chicago’s Polsky Accelerator + additional self-funding
What led you to launch this venture?
We recognized an opportunity to help individual donors connect more to the impact of their giving, which totals $300B annually in the U.S. Our team has 10+ years working in donor services, and recognized a deep desire amongst donors to do something meaningful to make our shared world a better place. However, it can be difficult and frustrating for people to understand how to get involved in order to make a genuine impact, so our goal is to lower that barrier while making the process of engaging in outcomes-based philanthropy inspiring.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? We are currently building the MVP of our platform, and have had incredible conversations with social sector leaders about piloting with us. Right now during the COVID crisis and in the face of George Floyd’s death, individual donors have been rallying behind collaborative initiatives to address both the immediate needs and systemic issues in our country. Community foundations in particular have been partnering with us to develop our platform – since they are at the front lines connecting donors and nonprofits in local communities across the US and are invested in directing philanthropic capital towards initiatives which will make a tangible impact.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? We have benefited tremendously from Chicago Booth’s entrepreneurship resources – including mentorship of the faculty and alumni, entrepreneurship classes, our membership in the Accelerator program of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the guidance of staff and programming with in the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation. We participated in the 2020 John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge, run by the Rustandy Center and the Polsky Center, and also enrolled in Booth’s New Social Ventures course.
For our founders personally, the Booth experience has given us the confidence and protected space to pursue entrepreneurship. Without the constant encouragement and support of the Booth community, we probably would not have launched this venture on our own. The demands of full-time work and the difficulty of overcoming each barrier along the way – without mentorship, outside resources, and cheerleading – would have just made the entrepreneurial journey that much more difficult.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you?
Mark O’Halloran, Booth alum now at Together Chicago, has met personally with our team since the very early stages of our concept. Mark is an entrepreneur himself, and has given us very direct and tangible guidance along the way. Even when our ideas didn’t quite “make sense,” he has kept the momentum going and given direction on next-steps for defining our product, business model, and partnerships.
Mark Chassman, with the Emerging Leaders Initiative in Chicago, has also been a champion keeping our team going along the entrepreneurial journey. As an angel investor in ideas and people, Mark practices the view that values and business success go hand-in-hand, and he has given us very helpful frameworks for how to instill this into the foundation of our venture.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? It was Commercializing Innovation, taught by Professor Scott Meadow. This course just teaches everything, from A-Z, of how to evaluate a business idea and what it takes to build a successful venture – complete with practical examples from Professor Meadow’s own successful career in venture capital and private equity.
What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Robert Gertner has by far been the biggest contributor to our journey in social entrepreneurship. Whether behind the scenes or working directly alongside us, Professor Gertner has been integral in providing so much of the support and learning opportunities we have received through Chicago Booth to pursue social impact. And when our team has needed urgent guidance to prepare for a partner meeting or pivot our business model, Professor Gertner has always stepped in to talk us through the path forward.
How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? We are actually in a very unique position, given that individual donations towards COVID relief and to address systemic racial injustice are up substantially. Our partners working on-the-ground with nonprofits and supporting individual donors have been very active, and have expressed excitement for the innovation that Sprout is bringing to the table. There is increased interest among our customers (individual donors) to engage in strategic philanthropy, which we are excited to serve.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our goal is to provide innovations for the next era of philanthropy, and we have worked closely with members of the social sector – from donors to nonprofits and foundations – to develop a unique perspective on how we can deliver this value.
We are focused on empowering people with the capacity for giving to become more actively engaged in outcomes-based philanthropy. This mission was born out of a recognition that the social sector is transforming: Donor advised funds are “the fastest growing vehicle in philanthropy” (NPTrust), important since they bring previously disconnected donors under the umbrella of financial institutions. Since donor advised funds are now commoditized, providers are feeling the pressure to innovate in their services to donors. Additionally, one of the largest generational wealth transfers in American history is also on the horizon – bringing in new donors who are passionate about measurable impact, hold new perspectives on giving, and are fluent with technology.
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