Fast Forward is a nonprofit startup accelerator for technology enterprises, founded by Shannon Farley and Kevin Barenblat in 2014. In three years, it managed to become one of the most influentional nonprofits achieving impact in the technology field.

Fast Forward is a startup accelerator, focused on nonprofit-based technology enterprises. Founded by Shannon Farley and Kevin Barenblat in 2014, it provides support and mentorship for emerging companies aimed to improve the world, by fighting poverty and environmental degradation, straggling for education and healthcare access. Following its mission, Fast Forward is running an accelerator program, which has helped 23 tech nonprofits impact over 18.4M lives and raise $26M in follow-on funding since 2014. In addition, it is the only organization which applies a well-established Silicon Valley playbook to a sector of tech nonprofits.

The market Fast Forward is aimed at is technology, rapid development in which is changing the way how we communicate, find jobs, discover relations, and solve any social problems. The main spheres that the startup accelerator is funding lie mainly in education, healthcare, and human rights areas. Fast Forward is supported by famous nonprofit tech leaders like Sal Khan of Khan Academy, Premal Shah of Kiva, Andrew McCollum of Facebook, Josh Reeves of ZenPayroll, Joe Greenstein of Flixster, and others. The list of partners includes charitable arm of Google founded in 2005 Google.org and investment management corporation BlackRock.

Fast Forward also maintains a comprehensive directory of tech-based nonprofits, and manages a tech-for-good job and volunteer board. It also hosts annual Accelerate Good Global summit.

 

Accelerate Good Global Summit

Being a part of Fast Forward activity, Accelerate Good Global is a sector-defining event, «uniting tech nonprofit entrepreneurs, technology leaders, and philanthropists who believe in leveraging tech for good». The latest conference took place on March 2-3, 2017. During two days, diverse tech nonprofit founders from all over the world were «solving our most pressing issues through social innovation, the support of Silicon Valley tech, and new funding models», – as the conference program says. The issues under discussion include global healthcare, the education gap, and civil rights movement. The members of the conference cultivate new solutions around tech and philanthropy, challenging the norms of a nonprofit organization.

 

Meet Fast Forward’s Co-Founders: Kevin Barenblat

Kevin Barenblat is an expert in tech entrepreneurship, with a strong passion for using technology for good purposes. With Bachelor Degree in Industrial Engineering at Stanford University and MBA at Harvard Business School, Barenblat started his carrier as a manager in business and strategic development in 1999. In 2003 he was invited as Director Business Development at WideRay (now Qwikker), where he spent about 2 years. Since than Barenblat started creating own business projects with his partners. Therefore iTunes plug-in and Web service SpotDJ, a social marketing company Context Optional, an established search and display advertising platform Efficient Frontier, and a startup accelerator Fast Forward were set up. The inspiration for the latest project arose from «Barenblat’s desire to leverage technology to create scalable solutions to critical social problems».

 

Meet Fast Forward’s Co-Founders: Shannon Farley

Shannon Farley is known as a co-founder and Executive Director of Fast Forward, previously holding the same office at Spark, the world’s largest network of Millennial-age philanthropists. Having Bachelor in American Studies at Georgetown University and Master of Science in Gender and Social Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science, Shannon co-founded The W. Haywood Burns Institute in 2001. Since 2014 she is a board member at The Whitman Institute.

Farley has been awarded the New Leader’s Council «Top 40 under 40 Award», The Aspen Institute’s Ideas Scholar Fellowship, and The Women’s Funding Network’s Changing the Face of Philanthropy Award. On the official website we also find that «Under her leadership, Spark won the 2010 Outstanding Foundation Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and served in the Inaugural Congressional Conference on Philanthropy and Innovation».

 

3 Lessons From 1000 Day-Long Experience

In the article on LinkedIn published on April 3, 2017 Barenblat admits that he started setting up Fast Forward with so many questions, like this one: «Who would provide the capital and devote their valuable time to mentoring when there is no equity to provide in return?». He highly appreciated the work of Khan Academy, Kiva.org, and Wikipedia, but had never come across any other scaled nonprofits achieving impact in the technology field: «I wondered how many organizations there were chasing this new addressable market for tech». In three years, Barenblat and Farley managed to expand Fast Forward’s programs far beyond the initial accelerator vision, including the world’s only tech nonprofit summit, a comprehensive directory of the world’s tech-based nonprofits, a tech-for-good job and volunteer opportunity board.

#1 Lesson: the tech community power. When Fast Forward was launched, its founders had a strong concern how it would attract investors and experts, while the organization didn’t have an incentive structure like for-profits. But in no time mentors, speakers, and advisors from tech community came. In just a few years their number exceeded 200 members. Barenblat recollects: «One was a friend from my freshman dorm who runs Living Goods. He came to speak to our entrepreneurs, and connected with one of our teams, Medic Mobile, which builds mobile tools for community health workers. Since the initial meeting, Medic Mobile and Living Goods launched a partnership and are together providing better healthcare to an additional 1.4 million people».

#2 Lesson: the generosity power. Non-profits have no resources of investors, as for-profits: for example, AngelList unites over 30,000 angel investors for them. But surprisingly «Fast Forward’s follow-on funding rate is almost twice that of for-profit accelerators like YC and TechStars». This happens only because of generosity in this field: «Our alumni have already raised over $28M in follow-on funding», – Barenblat says.

#3 Lesson: the power of using technology for scale. CareerVillage.org, Fast Forward alumnus, is an online platform for crowdsourced career mentoring. Since the presentation at Demo Day 15 months ago was made, the platform succeeded in tripling its impact and now is providing career advice to more than 1.5M students. The main thing here is that CareerVillage.org has only 3 full-time employees.

Barenblat believes in the power of these lessons, as they helped Fast Forward to gain such strong highlight figures since its foundation. «These three elements — community, generosity, and technology — are working. When we started Fast Forward, we could count the tech nonprofits we knew on one hand. But over the past 3 years the sector has grown to over 300 organizations and our applicant pool tripled», – Barenblat states.

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