Recognizing 4 other Boston startups who found growth through social impact
We’ll admit it: we are proud of what we do. Airfox is helping create financial options for populations around the world that have traditionally had their needs ignored. It started when Brazilian immigrant Victor Santos brought his idea for Airfox to the Boston startup accelerator TechStars. He quickly connected with the right resources and talent he needed to grow his dream into a business.
Airfox is not the only company to see a strong foundation rise out of the city of Boston. Crunchbase lists over 1,700 startups currently operating within Boston, with an average founding date in 2011. These startups range in product and purpose, but here at Airfox we are inspired by the companies that are also focused on social initiatives. Whether they are helping feed the hungry or providing young homebuyers with alternative and fair methods of securing a mortgage, these four companies are some of our Boston startup favorites.
Founders: Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman, 2010
Freight Farms merges the need for local fresh food options with advancing global technology. Their most popular product Greenery uses abandoned shipping containers to create mini indoor farms that can exist independent of the climate or season.
The shipping container greenhouses use LED lights to control the climate inside and can be constructed to grow many different types of plants or crops. The company originally paired food-stricken areas with these climate-controlled greenhouses. Now Freight Farms has expanded their customer base to include schools, restaurants, nonprofits, grocery retail, corporations (including Google, Ford, Sodexo), and farming operations like Kimbal Musk’s Square Roots and AppHarvest.
Freight Farms has also developed Farmhand, an integrated cloud-based management software that lets farmers access the conditions of the farms and adjust temperatures, pH, nutrient levels, and more from their smartphones instead of constantly managing the farm in person.
Freight Farms connects communities to innovative, small-scale farming solutions that can reasonably be run by people with different levels of agricultural skills. By beginning their farming initiatives in Boston, founders Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman were able to pull from a talent pool of individuals very familiar with innovation. “Boston is home to many schools and academic institutions, and being surrounded by individuals with specialized areas of focus has enhanced the depth of our work,” says Jon Friedman. “Active collaboration between institution and industry propels a consistent pace of innovation, something that’s allowed us to advance our research and development faster and farther.”
The company helps people gain access to fresh, locally grown food, while also providing individuals with materials they need to grow their own products and sell them for a profit. Beginning in Boston allowed the company to test their climate-focused solutions in an environment not favorable for farming year round.
“In starting Freight Farms, we committed to innovating something new and meaningful on a global scale, and were able to spark that here in Boston. Of course, Boston’s four-season weather also made a great initial testing ground for our climatized vertical farming technology,” says Friedman.
Read more about Freight Farms on their website.
Founder: Ashley Stanley, 2010
Food waste is a major problem around the world. 40% of edible food in the US is wasted each year, which can equal 58,064,516,129 meals. Ashley Stanley aimed to find a solution to not just end food waste in her community, but help provide food for the thousands of people around Massachusetts who struggle to feed themselves.
She started Lovin’ Spoonfuls in 2010, and now the organization serves over 40 cities and towns across the state. To provide food for underserved communities, Ashley has created a team of drivers who pick up food from grocery stores, produce wholesalers, and farms that are right on the edge of being salable. The drivers then bring the food in refrigerated trucks to nonprofit partners, shelters, crisis centers, and other locations to be used for meals. The delivered food now contributes to meals for over 30,000 people each week. The drivers have the same routes so they can get to know each shelter’s needs. This way they can match the products regularly available to the location that will make best use of it.
Ashley’s organization started small, but now serves thousands of people across her home state, inspiring others to create similar models in other states. Ashley observed the imbalance in food availability, and came up with a solution to bring excess food to those not that far away that need it .
To learn more about Lovin’ Spoonfuls and how you can get involved, visit their website.
Founders: Patrick Boyaggi, Mike Tassone, and Brent Shields, 2015
OwnUp provides a much needed solution to the sometimes unexpected expenses that come with buying a home. Starting their careers as mortgage bankers, founders Patrick, Mike, and Brent realized the system was not providing fair mortgage options. After the founders got mortgages using their inside knowledge of the industry to skip the banks, they recognized an opportunity to help new homeowners similarly access affordable mortgages.
OwnUp provides future homeowners who may be ignored or overcharged by traditional banks with a technology-based process to obtain a fair mortgage. “OwnUp is a technology company that enables every American to get a fair deal on their mortgage,” says company co-founder Patrick Boyaggi. “OwnUp uses intelligent technology and mortgage experts to save consumers thousands of dollars and reduce the uncertainty and anxiety associated with getting a mortgage.”
To determine their loan rates, users first create a homebuying profile that doesn’t include the buyer’s social security number. Users then are assigned a personal advisor who walks them through all of their options. Advisors aren’t working for a specific bank and don’t push biased mortgage options onto people.
The founders at OwnUp decided to stay in Boston when launching their service, allowing them to pull from the talent pool of passionate and driven individuals looking to change the way things are traditionally done. “At OwnUp, we’re changing the way people shop for and secure a mortgage, and there is no better place to take on this challenge than in Boston. Our city is filled with incredibly talented people that are passionate about working for purpose driven organizations,” says Boyaggi. “Our team comes to work everyday on a mission to empower consumers with intelligent technology and personal advice so that they can achieve better financial outcomes.”
Even with the plethora of banking options available in the US, there are still gaps in service where banks are getting away with high fees and service charges to people who might not be able to afford them. OwnUp provides a solution centered in online systems that are user friendly and can be accessed conveniently whenever the user needs it.
To learn more about the OwnUp mission and the impact their making in the mortgage industry, visit their website.
Founders: Quinn Fitzgerald and Sara de Zarraga, 2017
Flare is relatively new to the startup community in Boston, but is already breaking down barriers surrounding the issue of sexual assault. College friends Quinn and Sara came together when they realized that their terrible experiences were sadly more common than they thought. The two women decided to take action and change the story in any way they could.
“We built Flare to help redefine how people think about safety. Being a socially-minded company has always been at the forefront for us because we started the business based on personal experience with assault,” says co-founder Quinn Fitzgerald. “We set out from the very beginning to create a company that never put profits and impact in conflict with each other and to tackle a large, real problem that impacts millions of people.”
Quinn and Sara have created a bracelet that connects potential victims to help at the click of an unnoticeable button. Using protective solutions like brass knuckles and pepper spray aren’t considered legal in Massachusetts unless the holder has a license to carry the items. These solutions also carry with them the need to be certain you’re being “attacked” before you can use it, and leave room to be used wrong or taken away from you by an attacker.
The Flare bracelet lets users connect their wearable device to their smartphone, where they can notify a predetermined group of friends or family if they start to feel uncomfortable in a situation. The bracelets current options for help include a button that initiates your phone ringing to provide an opportunity to exit a scenario, and a button that sends an urgent text to your predetermined network.
Sara and Quinn are truly dedicated to preventing sexual assault and changing the way the issue is talked about around the world, especially with college-aged men and women. They donate their profits from the bracelets to sexual assault awareness campaigns and organizations, and are still consistently looking for funding and support through investors and winning startup competitions in the New England area.
“We have partnered with so many for-profit and not for profit organizations in and around Boston who are like-minded and actually give a damn. It is truly inspiring,” says Fitzgerald.
To learn more about the Flare bracelets, visit their website.
Motivating Airfox in Boston and Brazil
Finding the drive and opportunity to start a business is hard to begin with, but choosing to build your business to solve social injustice can add additional pressure to succeed against systemic injustices. At Airfox we’re inspired by startups in Boston and around the world that fight everyday to find solutions for the problems being ignored.
To learn more about Airfox’s mission to provide banking services to the underbanked, please visit our website. To stay up to date on the Airfox team, follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.