There’s a growing rumble about how few technology products are built with lower income communities in mind. Critics point to insensitive comments made by some entrepreneurs as evidence of a fundamental lack of understanding of these communities. After all, they say, if entrepreneurs understood these problems, would they really be spending their time building another photo-sharing service? And so we at Tumml want to offer our perspective on the opportunities available to entrepreneurs looking to solve problems in their own cities.
Technology adoption across the income spectrum is happening
Even as the media narrative continues to pit the technorati (the tech “haves”) against underserved communities (the tech “have-nots”), access to mobile tools is increasing across the income spectrum. According to a June 2013 Pew Research report, nearly half (47%) of individuals in the US making less than $50,000 a year own a smart phone. Granted, the percentage of smart phone ownership increases to 61% among households earning $50-75,000 annually, and to 78% with incomes above $75,000. But the trends are pointing towards a more technologically enabled urban population – even at the lower ends of the market.
Innovating for low income communities can work
Instead of seeing lower income communities as a fringe group that loses in the technology race, entrepreneurs should seize the opportunity to innovate. At Tumml, we scout out and cultivate entrepreneurs that create dynamic technology solutions in urban (and inner city) communities.
An example of a Tumml startup is HandUp – a mobile donation platform for the homeless and other neighbors in need. HandUp works specifically with fulfillment partners like Project Homeless Connect to ensure donations go toward productive items like wheelchairs, dentures, food, clothing, and housing. Tumml’s other entrepreneurs work in sectors like economic development for blue-collar workers ( WorkHands ) and technology innovation in preschools ( KidAdmit ). The Tumml startups have found paths to grow their businesses and make a significant impact on their communities.
Tumml’s 2014 Winter Cohort
As Tumml continues to cultivate technology entrepreneurs with a focus on urban impact, we are pleased to announce our Winter 2014 Cohort:
- The Farmery is an urban vertical farming and retailing system designed to produce and sell food locally in the city.
- Feeding Forward is a mobile platform that connects those with excess food to those in need.
- Neighbor.ly is a toolkit to help people, brands, and foundations to invest in the places and projects they care about.
- SavySwap is a secure experience to get what you want simply by trading.
- Sovi is a pinboard for local and community events.
These companies will spend the next four months working in Tumml’s office space in downtown San Francisco, receiving mentorship from a group of accomplished urbanites (like the Director of Public Policy at Airbnb) and $20,000 in seed funding.
The future of tech and vulnerable communities
When it comes to making city life better for everyone, we need all hands on deck. Tech entrepreneurs can be a vital part of this work, as long as we engage and support them effectively (and many worthwhile organizations have stepped up to help). We at Tumml are focusing our efforts on building a pipeline of entrepreneurs that are impacting all cities and urban communities – even the most overlooked. As more resources are deployed within the urban impact space, we hope to see outsized success in tech focusing on our most serious urban challenges.
About the authors:
_Julie Lein and Clara Brenner are the Co-Founders of Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator with the mission of empowering entrepreneurs to solve urban problems. A nonprofit, Tumml’s goal is to identify and support the next generation of Zipcars and Revolution Foods. Through a customized, four month program, Tumml invites early stage companies into its office space to receive hands-on support, seed funding, and services to help grow their businesses and make significant impact on their communities. _