Berkeley Students Upgrade the Business of Philanthropy
By Alice Bauer | February 1, 2015
The future lies in the hands of the youth, and the founders of SmileyGo are offering a positive view of what the younger generations have to offer. With an inspiring blend of altruism and entrepreneurial spirit, the new student-founded company is working to make a positive global impact to educate, assist and inspire.
“Essentially, we’re a matchmaker between companies and non-profit organizations,” says Dante Alvarado-Leon and CEO, a UC Berkeley student and CEO of SmileyGo. The company is a tech platform that connects large companies and corporations with non-profits to offer resources and create a mutually beneficial relationship between both parties. Companies can fulfill their philanthropic goals and generate brand awareness while NGOs can get more resources and funding to continue their work. The tightly intertwined business-philanthropy idea is a unique focus of many millennial businesses models, and SmileyGo is a prime example of this admirable and socially aware push.
Originally from Peru, president Pedro Espinoza, created SmileyGo in his freshman year of college, but the project initially started out as a mobile game app to educate students about countries and their cultures. While developing the game, the four founders: Pedro Espinoza, Jamie Rosenstein, Milla-Mari Vastavuo and Joy Ting Zhang saw that more could be done with the idea to make a greater impact. With the guidance of professors and assistance by UC Berkeley, Stanford University and Santa Clara University, the group was able to connect with VCs and investors and build their idea into a social enterprise devoted to assisting underrepresented communities. “We are doing this because we have a passion for helping others, and we’re doing it for the good of these kids and communities that need a lot of help,” Alvarado-Leon states, “and the fact that they [professors] believe in us, and in SmileyGo’s mission, encourages us to continue working hard every day.
Officially off the ground since July 2014, SmileyGo is still in its first year and expanding rapidly. The company is achieving a high level of success with branches in over 50 countries in 6 continents with plans to reach even further. SmileyGo also boasts an array of clients like Coca Cola and Google and various NGO’s covering issues including education, sustainability and women’s rights.
The growing list is in part thanks to the volunteers. “A lot of times people who want to work with SmileyGo will come to us with a specific NGO in mind that they want to help,” Alvarado-Leon says. With a robust list of NGOs in the database, companies with extra resources can find one close to them more easily.
SmileyGo runs by the efforts of employees and over 200 volunteers both students and post-grads. “We really value that older people are helping us,” 20-year old Alvarado-Leon says, “because they bring a lot to the table and can also serve as mentors.” Alvarado-Leon has been excited and amazed at the growth of the company and explains that one of the most important factors in accepting employees and volunteers is the relationship between the two. “We always ask the question ‘How can you help SmileyGo, and how can SmileyGo help you.’”
Originally working as full hands-on matchmaker between the companies and NGO’s, SmileyGo now has an algorithm on its website that allows companies to find “Best Nonprofit Matches” and “Nearby Nonprofits”, and both companies and nonprofits can search the database to find all groups involved with SmileyGo. Alvarado-Leon and the team put great emphasis on the bond between the two entities. “We still intervene in order to foster a long-lasting relationships so that the NGO can get the most out of what they receive and the business can see their impact.”
Companies and NGO’s can find each other on the SmileyGo website, but the SmileyGo team understands how important it is to advance with technology and is currently revamping their website. With plans to re-launch in March, the new site will offer more ways for companies and NGOs to find each other including a key word search that will help locate NGOs with specific goals.
“With technology, we know that we can connect more companies and NGOs in a more efficient manner,” Alvarado-Leon says, “we have a Google app that people can register through, and we’ve used Skype to conduct meetings with CEOs and presidents.” This focus on technology has helped students, companies and NGOs find SmileyGo on their own and join up. Social media has also served an important function in broadening the company’s accessibility and Facebook has provided free advertising to boost visibility. Millennials are the first generation to have global-reaching technologies at their disposal and SmileyGo is taking full advantage of that increased communication and accessibility.
With smartphones in people’s hands wherever they go, the tech division of SmileyGo is working on a company app to merge into the mobile technology platform. The app is projected to come out by April, and they are currently working on a game app set for May, which will both educate about the environment and serve as a revenue stream for the company. The company’s strong emphasis on technology and push into the Silicon Valley is also a great opportunity to include more Latinos in the tech industries. With Alvarado-Leon and Espinoza coming from Mexico and Peru, respectively, the team sees SmileyGo as a great way to make a change in the sectors demographic landscape and to highlight the value of diversity.
Alvarado-Leon explains that the goal for 2015 is to become recognized globally in order to get more operations going and to make smart investments to make a long-lasting global impact. With a stronger platform and increased visibility, SmileyGo is on track to continue fostering positive relationships around the world and inspire students to achieve their dreams. “SmileyGo is more than connecting companies and NGOs. It’s also about empowering students,” Alvarado-Leon says, “we’re inspiring them and we motivate each other. In the end we want our generation to dream big and have an impact.’
LAM is partnering with Latino Startup Alliance to showcase a series of twelve Latino Entrepreneurs in the next few months. The Latino Entrepreneur Series is presented by Verizon Wireless and written by LAM member and journalist Alice Bauer.