What Are ‘Political Entrepreneurs?’ This Guy Believes They’re the Heroes Who Will Disrupt Washington’s Gridlock

“Political entrepreneur” is a phrase NationSwell Council member Kahlil Byrd uses to describe nonprofit leaders and techies who are tackling America’s biggest problems “in a completely innovative, nontraditional, and entrepreneurial way.” And without a dose of partisanship.  

“Their bias is to create a tool, an idea or a process that will cut through the challenge,” Byrd wrote earlier this year in Forbes.

Byrd, a Republican, has been dedicated to cross-partisan policy reform for more than a decade. He’s worked with Massachusetts’ former governor Deval Patrick and Michelle Rhee, both Democrats. And during the 2012 presidential primary he ran Americans Elect, a startup that worked to get a bipartisan presidential ticket on all 50 state ballots. More recently, in the wake of the 2016 election, he’s noticed a new league of people across the political spectrum determined to reform American policy.

As he wrote in a December 2016 LinkedIn post, political entrepreneurs are “tackling the biggest issues that directly affect citizens’ lives [and] they refuse to accept the failure, division, and deadlock that dominates our politics.”

But as an investor with deep ties to the nonprofit and tech sectors, he knows firsthand the challenges his beloved “political entrepreneurs” face in getting the financing they need to transform their civic innovations into nonpartisan policies.  

“Even the best ideas — making it easier to vote, using data to connect citizens to Congress or deploying new talent into undervalued sectors like child welfare — have profound trouble finding the capital needed to scale,” the New York City–based Byrd says.

Taking action, Byrd co-founded the Invest America Fund, an advisory firm and seed fund that supports political entrepreneurs and matches them to what he says are “the business leaders, philanthropists and others who have already succeeded and want to spend their time and capital.”

Byrd and his co-founder, Kellen Arno, believe they are among the few investors focused on creating a financing pipeline for these types of policy innovators.

One organization they back is Foster America, a startup devoted to child welfare reform founded by Sherry Lachman, a foster child herself who later went on to serve as a policy adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden. The nonprofit’s fellowship program recruits talent from the business, education, technology and health fields, and supports them in their efforts to transform child welfare policy.

Early success has led Foster America to double its impact, expanding from eight fellows in 2016 to 16 this year. By 2020, Foster America plans to have 50 fellows working with 25 child welfare agencies nationwide.

“We are trying to bring together two groups on opposite ends of the success curve: Political entrepreneurs on one end, and on the other, successful and creative funders who can provide growth financing,” says Byrd. “Entrepreneurs are still trying to prove worth — both their own and of their ideas. Funders have sustained success and know how to build value from the ground up. Both care deeply about the country.

Kahlil Byrd is a NationSwell Council member and the founder of Invest America Fund, which provides seed money to entrepreneurs working on bipartisan policy reform.

Sin City Goes Green, Philanthropic Investments That Reap Incredible Returns and More

Behind the Bright Lights of Vegas: How the 24-Hour Party City Is Greening Up Its Act, The Guardian
It may be known as Sin City, but that doesn’t mean the indiscretions taking place in the Nevada desert must include harming the planet. A new leafy oasis now offers vacationers a respite from the bright-as-the-sun neon lights that illuminate the Strip all night long. The Park, which features native Southwestern plants, a 40-foot-tall statue originally from the Burning Man festival and large metal structures that keep visitors shaded and cool, might be the only actual green space amongst the seemingly-endless stretch of casinos, but it’s one of many ways that Las Vegas is reducing its environmental footprint.
How to Bet Big on the American Dream, The Atlantic
Despite politicians’ proclamations, the American Dream isn’t dead or even on its last legs. But how much philanthropic investment is necessary for low-income residents to have a shot at upward mobility? The nonprofit advisor Bridgespan Group examined how impactful $1 billion dollars invested in each of 15 different philanthropic ventures would be at reducing poverty. As with any investment, the payout isn’t certain. But with returns estimated at being between $3 and $15 for each $1 spent (not to mention a high probability of drastically increasing program recipients’ lifetime earnings), these are bets that seem to be worth taking.
New MOOCs for Rising Leaders, Stanford Social Innovation Review
Why is it that things are usually out of reach to those most interested? Social entrepreneurs often can’t afford or get to leadership development programs. But now, educational seminars are going to them, thanks to the release of two new MOOCs (massive open online course). Free video classes from Philanthropy U provide students insights from social enterprise greats such as the cofounder of Kiva.org; Leaderosity, which charges tuition, touts among its instructors leaders from The Presidio Institute. Both programs provide access to personnel development that’s desperately needed in this sector.
MORE: Big Bets: How a 12-Month Boot Camp Transforms Low-Income Youths into Whiz Kids

The Neediest Students Couldn’t Afford His Help, So This Test-Prep Prodigy Stepped Up

Garrett Neiman knows first hand the difference an improved SAT score can make—he increased his own SAT from 2000 to a perfect 2400, and began a SAT tutoring business while he was in college at Stanford. But he soon saw that the students who needed his help the most were those least able to afford it, so with co-founder Jessica Perez, he started the non-profit CollegeSpring in 2008, two years before he graduated. CollegeSpring helps low-income high school students—whose scores tend to begin at about 300 points lower than other students—through diagnostic tests, mentoring, and classes.
As Neiman points out in a column for Forbes, a few points difference on the SAT can determine whether or not a low-income student is accepted into a four-year institution, where statistics show they are much more likely to graduate than if they attend a community college. While in college, low-income students are less likely to be able to place out of entry-level courses through their SAT scores, making earning enough credits to graduate more difficult for them. People who earn bachelor’s degrees make an average of $800,000 more in a lifetime than those with only high school diplomas. He gives the example of a young woman he tutored named Neda, whose family was low-income and didn’t realize SATs were required for many college applications. Neda learned how important SATs are, brought her scores up and went to UCLA, where she’s now applying to medical schools.

When Immigration Reform Got Stuck in Washington, This Entrepreneur Stepped Up

Tech entrepreneur Joe Green was Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate and Facebook’s sixth user, but he doesn’t share the political disinterest of some of his Silicon Valley colleagues. Having attended the mostly minority Santa Monica High School where he had a lot of undocumented friends, Green ran for the Santa Monica School Board at age 17. He won on a platform promising a living wage for service industry workers, many of whom were immigrants. In college, he studied community organizing with Marshall Ganz, who’d once worked with Cesar Chavez, and discovered parallels between community organizing and social networking. “Community organizing is all about friendships. And the Internet is all about relationships,” Green recently told Elizabeth Lorente of Fox Latino. “I ended up being someone who cares a lot about politics who also worked in tech.”
A co-founder of the company Causes, which uses social media to spur funding for nonprofits, and NationBuilder, which encourages political organizing, Green is now pressing for immigration reform through his political advocacy group FWD.us. He even got his old buddy Zuckerberg to help fund it. The group generates political support for immigration reform, on both sides of the aisle, and also works with immigrants directly. Recently FWD.us sponsored a hackathon for 20 young undocumented programmers, and afterward continued to work with the contest participants.
As Green told Fox Latino, he sees immigration as quintessentially American: “There’s a lot of stuff that America is not the best at, but when you travel around the world you see that America is pro-immigrant. … We are better than almost anybody else at welcoming people from around the world.”

The Company That’ll Change How You Throw a Party Forever

Nothing says “successful party” like a huge overflowing trash can full of paper plates and plastic cups. But ugh, so much waste. Brooklyn performance artist Emily Doubilet took this on as problem she could solve with a new business with a conscience. Her “Susty Party” products are eco-friendly, colorful and manufactured in the U.S. by an Ohio non-profit that employs visually impaired people. She’s one of five $40,000 winners of the Hitachi Foundation’s Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Program this year.

Detroit’s Small Business Owners Won’t Back Down

Detroit’s lousy, very bad year includes declaring bankruptcy. But while some people see the end for the Motor City, some business entrepreneurs see opportunity and potential. Take a look at these young entrepreneurs, artists and innovators who are making a stand for economic and social revival by putting their small businesses on the line. What they’re doing takes not only guts, but vision to see possibilities where everyone else just sees failure.