Georgia has the 7th highest number of homeless students and the 28th highest rate of student homelessness in the U.S, according to a 2016 study. More than 77 percent of the 51,046 Atlanta Public Schools students qualify for free and reduced price meals.
While school administrators and social workers may be aware of a child’s needs, from coats and shoes to school supplies, there’s often no easy way for them to reach community members that may be willing to fulfill those needs.
In 2016, Blake Canterbury, who has an agency and social good background, received an email from a school system homeless liaison that was having issues tracking down basic resources for the children under her care.
“She framed the problem that kids that live in poverty, it may take weeks and sometimes months to track down basic resources for them like food and clothes, coats, shoes,” says Canterbury. “She listed about 50 needs that they currently had and she said, ‘Blake, there’s gotta be a technology solution to this.'”
Canterbury had a good idea on his hands and he recruited a few developer friends to kickstart his startup, Purposity. Purposity is an online portal and app that connects students in need with community members interested in donating. All they have to do is enter their phone number and zip code to receive a weekly alert with a child in need.
After the social worker adds a short story about the student and his emergent basic need (anything from clothing to school and food supplies), Purposity users receive a text with all that information. If you’re interested in donating, with just a few clicks you can quickly check the item out through Amazon and it’s sent directly to the student.
After delivering a basic MVP, the Purposity team watched the platform grow with just a few liaisons involved. A few months later Forsyth County Schools reached out to officially bring on the platform in 2016.
By the end of 2017, they had launched in six school systems.
“We took a lean startup approach to this,” says Canterbury. “The greatest lesson that I’ve learned in leadership so far was you have the potential to be great at two to three things in this world and you need to build a team of people who are great at things that you’re not. And I think that’s how we’ve been able to get as far as we have as quick as we have.”
Currently, Purposity has nine vetted school systems enrolled, including Atlanta Public Schools, with 40 systems nationwide in line for review.
“We have a community matrix that we lay over a city, and it engulfs the different types of people in need — children, special needs, veterans, homeless, and orphans. We begin to onboard different types of non-profits to make sure that we are serving cities well.”
“We work on a strategy with them to find the gatekeepers — for school systems it’s typically the social workers who will submit needs. When they identify a need, they literally just pull out their cell phone [and] give us the story of why the family or child needs what they need,” says Canterbury.
While currently bootstrapped and actively looking for more revenue streams, the startup currently has a sponsorship model in place to fund their growth.
“Brands can sponsor a city’s text line. Every text that goes out may say, ‘This community is powered X Foundation,” says Canterbury. They also receive revenue through Amazon affiliate links.
“Nobody’s trying to solve technology solutions for social workers,” says Canterbury. “We’re addressing the social and emotional learning of children. Thee schools now are starting to realize they’re solving a massive issue, and all we need to do is a little bit of storytelling to get people signed up, and it doesn’t even come out of our budget. So it’s just a home run for school system.”
Purposity is available in Georgia with launches in Oregon, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina planned soon.
“What would Atlanta look like if we had a million people receiving one text message a week in this city? There wouldn’t be a need in the city we couldn’t meet,” says Canterbury.