Into the Uncharted: Tackling Urban Poverty

by the Uncharted team

Last summer, we proposed a new idea: What would happen if we funded projects that fix systemic urban issues?

We teamed up with The Rockefeller Foundation, who is deeply invested in urban innovation, to launch the Future Cities Accelerator (FCA) and find out if there is a way to systematize how we learn to solve problems our U.S. cities face.

In January, we announced the ten ventures who would participate in the 9-month program, which included a $100,000 grant, 5-day in-person bootcamp, on-going support from financial architects, leadership and fundraising coaches, a mentorship team, and a ticket to SOCAP, the world’s leading conference on impact investing and social enterprise.

The program has officially ended, preliminary data has been collected (stay tuned for the long-term value still to come), and many genuine connections have been had.

(You can read about our immediate learnings in this report.)

The main agenda item for our team was to provide real traction for our ten ventures — helping them grow by giving them access to the capital, connections, and clarity they needed to make a larger urban impact.

And it’s working: One venture raised $8M since March with the help from an Uncharted fundraising coach, and another just reached 2 million users, in part because of a significant product development change they worked through during the bootcamp. A third overhauled their entire advisory board, one launched a new financing model, and another doubled the size of their engineering team.

“Figuring out the top 3 things I needed to do for my business during the bootcamp was incredibly clarifying for me. We improved our onboarding and increased our sales over the last 9 months, in part because Uncharted gave us the space to clarify the biggest barriers to scale and the framework to work within.”
— Caroline Caselli, CEO Haven Connect

Josh Murphy, Associate Director at Rockefeller, worked very closely with us throughout the entire program. Here’s insight from him:

We have to look at problems not merely from one vantage point or from the surface, but from the bottom up. We need to tear down old ways of thinking, designing, and executing. This means engaging community change agents, policy and issue experts, thought-leaders, and social entrepreneurs to truly move the needle on so many pressing issues— from education to health care to economic opportunity.

Josh in a mentor meeting with one of our ventures, EveryoneOn.

There was an additional value add that ended up being one of the most important offerings for our cohort: each other.

“The FCA peer group and the Uncharted team are fantastic. I think there’s a genuine feeling that we’re rooting for each other and willing to go out of our way to help each other succeed.”
— Jimmy Chen, CEO Propel

This was one of the first times we brought together people who are all tackling a similar issue from different sides. With urban poverty in the center, we brought together ventures who are focused on education, employment, affordable housing, hunger, and connectivity.

We wanted to see what would happen if we addressed varying drivers of a singular problem — could this increase the odds for success? Could this be a new approach to putting a dent in some of the largest problems American cities experience?

“This accelerator has shown that when you put amazing organizations and leaders together from a range of sectors and problem spaces, what looks impossible becomes possible,” says Josh. “Each organization is able to share their own experiences, challenges, and opportunities that lead to real impact in the lives of vulnerable communities across the country.”

Both Josh and our team believe the future of philanthropic and systemic change could be through a collaborative model of impact. No one entity or individual can solve a challenge alone. We must work together and utilize shared strengths to chart new paths toward new solutions.

As we wrap up the Future Cities Accelerator, we’ve learned that taking high-caliber ventures and giving them specific support is an important piece to the larger, problem-solving puzzle. Our work has helped ventures secure funding, validate business models, build team cultures, and generate critical leads.

We simultaneously learned about the complexity of urban issues through the eyes of our ventures, and how building a coordinated movement of people who tackle it from all sides can help us chart the course closer from urban poverty to urban transformation. As a result, we tested this hypothesis:

Perhaps it takes pulling people together who are tackling urban poverty from all angles to really make a lasting dent.

In isolation, ventures can only go so far. Urban transformation happens when we address all sides of an issue, break down focus areas, and facilitate coordination. Online forms for affordable housing and food stamps are only helpful if you have access to the internet. Students excel in the classroom if curriculum is custom and engaging, and their basic needs are met outside the classroom.

It’s still early, but from these last nine months, we believe it’s not just about growing companies. It’s about growing companies to a specific end, directing them towards a specific problem, and using all our strength to create significant change.