Social Startup aims to raise $200,000 annually

Submitted by Anna Rzewnicki on Monday Aug 04, 2014.

Pennies 4 Progress first made headlines at Poole College in fall of 2012. That is when the social startup’s founding team won the first of several awards that are helping it move toward their goal, which is: “to revolutionize how we finance social good via point-of-sale donations at local retailers and high-impact outcomes-focused grants,” said Ryan O’Donnell, chief executive officer and rising Poole College senior in business administration and international studies.

Photo of NC State team at CGI U 2014This past March, O’Donnell and team member Josiah Keilson, a rising junior in marketing and entrepreneurship (on right in photo), had the opportunity to turn that goal into an official Commitment to Action as part of their participation in the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U). Also attending from NC State were Owen Jordan and Amanda Dango (on the left in the photo). The event was hosted at Arizona State University in Phoenix by President Bill Clinton, Secretary Hilary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. At NC State, student participation in this program is managed by staff at the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics and Public Service (CSLEPS). 

CGI U involvement begins before the annual meeting and continues after. Developing a Commitment to Action was one of the prerequisites for attending the CGI U meeting. The Commitments to Action are to be new, specific, and measurable initiatives that address pressing challenges on campus, in local communities, or around the world.

O’Donnell’s and Keison’s commitment states:

Pennies 4 Progress is focused on developing their program in the mobile point of sale segment, where customers can round up their purchase total and donate the difference to charitable initiatives. Their Commitment to Action is to develop, test, and implement a standard processing system for a leading mobile point of sale system in order to begin raising funds for educational related organizations/ projects by the end of 2014, with the goal of raising $200,000 annually by the end of 2014.

The team aims to fulfill its commitment by partnering with local retailers to enable their customers to round up payments, with the additional amount going to support local high impact school based programs,” O’Donnell said. “It’s simple; pennies add up and these pennies support local classrooms,” the startup states on its website. O’Donnell invites organizations, teachers, and community leaders to sign up here to be notified when new funding opportunities are available.

A pending 501.c.3 non-profit organization, Pennies 4 Progress has recently partnered with Relay Foods, an online grocer of healthy, local and organic food. “Relay Foods is new to the Triangle and seeks to live out their values of supporting the local community,” O’Donnell said. “When a first time Relay Foods customer buys $50 worth of food, they give that customer a $20 discount and donate $20 to Pennies 4 Progress in order to fund local school based programs addressing childhood food insecurity. 

O’Donnell and Keilson were two of the four NC State students chosen through a highly competitive international selection process by The Clinton Foundation to attend this year’s meeting. 

Building on the Clinton Global Initiative model, which brings together world leaders to take action on global challenges, President Clinton launched CGI U in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world. NC State became a partner university this past year as one of 57 universities committed to supporting, mentoring, and providing seed funding to leading student social innovators on their respective campuses.

At CGI U meetings, students, youth organizations, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss, participate in hands-on workshops, and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. This year’s meeting brought together more than 1,100 students to make a difference in CGI U's five focus areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health.

More than $750,000 was available to select CGI U 2014 students, and through the CGI U Commitments Challenge, students crowd-funded an additional $60,000 for their work. A grant from NC State’s Office of the Provost supported the students’ travel to the 2014 CGI U event, and NC State’s Center for Student Leadership, Ethics and Public Service provided Pennies 4 Progress with a $1,000 grant to begin technology development.

The simple premise behind Pennies 4 Progress has earned the collegiate social startup three awards in the past two years. In February 2014, O’Donnell presented its business plan at NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues Forum, which focused this year on needs in the nation’s education system. He was selected to receive one of the four $50,000 SECU Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation awards.

In fall 2012, the Pennies 4 Progress team received the inaugural University of North Carolina System Social Business Competition, and in June 2013, O’Donnell, two other founding members of his team, and Lewis Sheats, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship in Poole College and the team’s advisor, received passage to the Hong Kong PolyU Global Student Challenge.

When interviewed following the Hong Kong experience, O’Donnell said, “Great ideas are a dime a dozen but going through the startup process and making an impact is what it is all about.”

When asked about CGI U, O’Donnell said, “It was an incredible opportunity to learn from the best, like the founder of Wikipedia, and to build stronger relationships with other NC State student social entrepreneurs."

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NC State student team wins $50,000 prize for innovation for Pennies4Progress


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