New Orleans expat Nathan Rothstein, co-founder of NOLA YURP (Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals) Initiative and one of Gambit Weekly’s “40 Under 40,” has teamed up with Boston businesses to support local community projects. His newest startup, Swellr, helps connect community members to the needs of education projects by shopping at local businesses.
The students of Somerville High School, a 1,300-student public school in the suburbs of Boston, love to play soccer. But recent growth in the program, paired with budget cuts, have left them without enough soccer balls to go around. To support this need, community members can log onto Swellr and purchase, for example, a $30 coupon to Jose’s Mexican Restaurant. 10% of the voucher’s price will go to Somerville High Schools’s soccer program or any of the other educational programs chosen by the buyer.
“Our target demographic is parents who contribute to their kids’ schools and shop locally,” Rothstein says. “So if a parent knows that every time they go to a specific restaurant, a percentage goes to their kid’s class, then they’re going to keep going. That’s the idea we’re looking for.”
In the spring of 2007, Rothstein co-founded the New Orleans Young Urban Rebuilding Initiative. Working with community leaders and young professionals, NOLA YURP strove to create a network of resources to support young people in New Orleans in finding jobs, attending networking events, and helping their local communities.
“A lot of what I learned about creating a startup, I learned in New Orleans, really asking people what they wanted. We made a focus group, asking people what kind of programs would keep them in New Orleans, what they wanted to see, what kind of organization did they want. We built [NOLA YURP] out of those conversations. The same thing applies to a startup like Swellr,” Rothstein explains. “To figure out something that will work in the market, you first need to validate and ask a lot of questions. We’ve been spending the last 6 months talking to a lot of business owners, PTA groups, teachers, and sports groups on what needs to happen and how we can help fix that problem.”
Rothstein hopes to come back down to New Orleans and take his new startup with him.
“We ended up starting it up here [in Boston], but we want to take it to different cities around the country,” he says. “We think New Orleans is a perfect place to have a program like this. I still know a lot of people and I really want to get down there as soon as I can.”