We hear plenty about all the money sloshing around Silicon Valley, whether it’s the cash pouring into startup funding or the stock options pouring into acquisitions. But we don’t hear a whole lot about how tech makes a difference for the little guy – how the downtrodden can leverage tech and business to get a bit of a leg up.
It’s not that the stories aren’t out there – plenty of companies are doing plenty of good work, and there’s even some money to be made in social justice-minded innovation. It’s true that profits do tend to be a bit lower when your goal is helping bring balance to the world, but can you really put a price on making the world a better place?
I mean, Nestle can, but can you?
Here are five startups that are trying to turn a buck while also contributing to social justice, one click, sale, or connection at a time.
The founders at Saint Harridan believe that clothing is empowering. Selling “masculine clothing for women and transmen,” this Oakland-based startup has set out to prove that their niche market is one worth serving. Using ethical suppliers and manufacturers, they offer custom-made suits and shirts and a variety of ready-to-wear items that enable people to dress in a style that suits them – and fits them, too.
It might not seem like it’s on par with feeding the starving or saving orphans, but giving a marginalized community an equal chance at looking good on their own terms has a range of personal, professional, and social benefits. So if you need a bowtie, pocket square, or a full-on suit – and if you have what we might call a more feminine frame – give this outfit a look.
What started as a simple sock business now offers beanies, scarves, gloves, and t-shirts in addition to their foot-warming fuzzies, and Mitscoots gives a pair of socks to someone in need for every purchase made. Sock shortage is, according to the company, a major problem among the homeless population and people living in shelters, and Mitscoots works with a number of charities to get high-quality socks where they’re needed most.
The founders also employ people transitioning out of homelessness, paying them for each pair of socks they pack up for shipping (adding up to well over minimum wage, on average, Mitscoots assures us). They’re doing good on two fronts, and they don’t look too bad on you, either.
Food shortage is an even bigger problem than sock shortage (on a global scale) but there’s one thing the world has plenty of: insects. And if you think that smells like a starvation solution, you and the folks at Six Foods will get along great. Their signature product is Chirps, a potato-less chip made from chickpeas, beans, corn, chia seeds, and – if the pun in the name didn’t give it away — crickets.
Yep. Good old, good for ya cricket flour, just like mom used to grind out on the porch right after frying up an ant-filled appetizer with a magnifying glass.
The three founders behind Six Foods aren’t the first to tout the benefits of cricket-based flour, which is essentially a protein powder made by, well, drying out bugs and grinding them up. More plentiful and less resource intensive than traditional agriculture or meat production, these bug-based foods could be the wave of the future – and could start fending off the starvation and famine that’s already facing large parts of the world’s population.
Based in the author’s hometown of Santa Cruz, CA, home of hippiedom and all of the social justice attitude that comes with it, EquityStone takes a surprisingly market-based approach to the problem of mortgages on the brink of default. Using the company’s website, people looking for places to rent can find homeowners struggling to meet their mortgage payments, and vice versa, for a match made in heaven. Sort of like the Uber for pre-foreclosures.
Whether or not you end up with a good deal on rent or more solid tenants – that is, whether or not there are additional benefits to the platform not offered by other rental services – is a little unclear, but their heart seems to be in the right place.
The concept behind the housecleaner-connecting app might not mean much for social justice here in the US – especially not in the wake of Handy‘s labor lawsuit – but in Mexico City (and soon throughout our español-speaking southern neighbor) Aliada is making a big difference for some of the economy’s lowest-paid workers. There, the housecleaning industry is dominated by agencies that take upwards of 80% of what customers pay.
This app (yes, it’s the Uber for housecleaners in Mexico, and yes, there really will be an Uber for absolutely everything you can imagine) only takes 20%, and also gives workers the ability to pick clients based on location and avoid long hours on untrustworthy public transportation. That means more hours for family (or for extra work), better wages, and more self-determination. Which all sounds muy bueno.
So sure, startups are exciting because they can make and lose enormous amounts of money in inordinately short periods of time, but so can Donald Trump. Once in awhile, we need to take a look at the Jeff Flakes of the world – the less flashy, values-oriented do-gooders who still manage to have a great head of hair.
Because isn’t that what makes it all worthwhile?
Daniel A. Guttenberg is an Atlanta-based writer who fell into the startup world by accident and has been gleefully treading water ever since. He will be survived by his beard and his legacy of procrastination.
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