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Innovation and ChangeMachine

December 10, 2010

Creativity need not be a solitary process.

It can happen in a network. It can happen when talented people get together; when varied ideas and perspectives merge. This is a major problem for traditional micro-volunteering engines in which micro-actions are performed by individuals acting alone. ChangeMachine addresses this issue by introducing an innovative system of organization where volunteers are members of user-managed “task-forces” that utilize live, online collaboration to solve problems that nonprofits may lack the resources to tackle in-house. In order to establish a socially conscious, open source ecosystem, ChangeMachine will provide a publicly accessible interface for developers on multiple platforms while also supporting related open source projects in addition to publishing ChangeMachine code.

In addition to making the volunteer more connected to the final product or “big picture” of his or her work, this system greatly increases the variety and scope of tasks that nonprofits can outsource to volunteers. The feeling of belonging to a team motivates volunteers to stay involved in a task and goes a long way to compensate for the lack of interpersonal connection inherent in other forms of  micro-volunteering. Instead of volunteers completing one-time tasks for nonprofits, the nonprofits can send tasks to specific task-forces that have done good work for that nonprofit in the past. In this way, volunteers build meaningful relationships with nonprofits that simply do not exist in micro-volunteering today.


This is an excerpt from our proposal to the University of Chicago, we are competing in the CCI Entrepeneurship and Innovation competition. Don’t worry, I’m not begging for votes, that is a totally judge driven contest.IF you like what you see AND feel like voting on something, we are currently #4 in the Dell Social Innovation contest. The competition is stiff however, and our place is shifting rapidly, so we could use every possible vote


Introducing Annina and Social Psychology

December 9, 2010


I am Annina, one of the co-founders of ChangeMachine and a second-year at the University of Chicago. My life dream is own an environmentally-friendly theme park and right now I’m learning about the business world through ChangeMachine.

Social Psychology is a huge field that I have just started to get into. Our textbook has a lot of good advice/supporting evidence for the success of ChangeMachine. The chapter titled Group Influence discusses brainstorming alone or in groups. (The best plan is to 1st do group brainstorming then solitary brainstorming) To enhance group brainstorming sessions, Vincent Brown and Paul Paulus (2002) suggest incorporating electronic brainstorming. Using computers solves the problem of waiting for your turn during group brainstorming sessions and forgetting your idea. Also, in order to fit in with the group, sometimes people will not voice disagreeable thoughts. ChangeMachine plans to create enhanced brainstorming with our online innovative communication interface. (Learn more in posts from Sean Clemmer)

Helping is at the heart of ChangeMachine. People help for several reasons. Rewards, external (like money or free flannel pants) or internal (feeling powerful, or relieving guilt) drive helping. Fun fact: people are more likely to help if they are happy. People also help because of social norms, like “to those who help us, we should return help” and “give people what they deserve.” A twist on this is the social responsibility norm, which is the belief that people should help those who need help without regard to future exchanges. This can happen as relationships progress. As people become deeper friends or lovers, they stop worrying about doing equitable favors for each other, and start doing things just because they care about the other person. ChangeMachine’s group model for completing tasks will promote deeper relationships between individual volunteers and between volunteers and the non-profit organizations they’re doing tasks for. Interestingly, when people see other people doing good, they are more likely to also help. Further, people prefer others who are similar to them, even in trivial ways. When people are placed in groups dependent on whether they overestimated or underestimated the number of dots in a group of dots, they prefer those in their own group (even though the basis of the group is so inconsequential). ChangeMachine will also utilize this knowledge through the group model, which will promote liking within the groups. When people experience people they like helping on ChangeMachine, they will also help out.


Don’t forget to please vote for us in the Dell Social Innovation Competition!


An Introduction to Micro-Volunteering: Part 1

December 8, 2010

We here at ChangeMachine gladly give credit where credit is due. We know that many people don’t even know about what Micro-Volunteering actually is, and if they have heard of it it’s just another gag worthy buzz word. But, being the center of our new business, it is important to show people that it isn’t just a fad. Micro-Volunteering is here to stay. In fact I am positive that it will revolutionize the way volunteering is done.

But giving credit where credit is due, ChangeMachine is not the inventor of micro-volunteering, the Extraordinaries are. They created, a network open to the public which is basically just a forum board for people to help out non profits by doing small tasks or just giving some advice. This is obvious inspiration for us, however we are actually quite a bit different. But for a brief introduction to micro-volunteering, I defer to Ben Rigby, co-founder of The Extraordinaries, at TEDxNASA

Social Return on Investment

December 8, 2010

So the twitter universe has spoken to us, and given us some advice to look into. First there is the L3C, a type of low profit LLC whos main focus must be on social activism. This sounds like a great fit for ChangeMachine because it allows us to have a profit-marketable product and investors which is very important as angel investing and donations to nonprofits are down in this tumultuous economic period. L3C’s have been used primarily for social entrepeneurship (that’s us!), but have garnered some skepticism. This article, The L3C: Innovation or Gimmick from the blog State of the Art reviews this problem fairly well.

The skepticism runs deep because an L3C blurs the line between for-profit and NFP. This is a problem because of one major reason

Investors expect to be paid back! An investment is not a donation.

This seems obvious, but from a nonprofit point of view it is a foreign concept. It means that your company cannot simply do social good, it needs to actually turn some money to return with interest and hopefully some profit to investors. Obviously the classical picture of a nonprofit which simply rakes in donations and distributes them either directly or indirectly to a community does not fall into this.

However, ChangeMachine might. There is obvious profit potential (ads, local businesses and a few methods we still have wrapped up from the public, stay tuned for updates), but is it enough to get investors interested. These wouldn’t be classical investors just looking to turn a buck, it takes a special kind of investor to invest in an intentionally low profit business (as this article explains).

And finally there is the title of the post, social return on investment. SROI may sound like hocus pocus, trying to attribute monetary value to things which aren’t obviously just cash equivalents, but there really might be something there. How can a startup business take SROI into account when it is structuring it’s business model, and how does it relate to being an L3C?

There is a great article introducing SROI here from the Harvard Business school, if you have any ideas please feel free to leave a comment!

Groupon and Chicago Startups

December 7, 2010

If you like what you see here, remember to vote for us in the Dell Social Innovation Contest!

But for all the fairytale elements of Groupon’s journey, the Chicago tech community doesn’t see the company as a one-off success story that gets all the attention while other startups languish under the radar. Instead, local investors and entrepreneurs say Groupon’s visibility brings fresh attention to startup activity that already was humming, bolstering Chicago’s reputation as a place that nurtures new ideas from their earliest stages through maturity.

Apparently all the news surrounding Groupon has garnered Chicago quite a bit of respect! We here at ChangeMachine couldn’t be happier, we have received a couple calls already about being a Chicago startup which excites me to no end! We are about to finish finals week here at the University of Chicago, and in retrospect finals week was probably a bad time to launch our blog/social media campaign. But as Tom Szaky, founder of TerraCycle (a company he started at Princeton) said at TEDx in Princeton,

Just begin. There’s no advice. It’s not about having a good idea; you just start. People over think a little bit. People may think it to death and never begin.

You can see the whole article about TEDx Princeton here.

He is right, we have a good idea and we just need to dive right in. And apparently there is no better place than Chicago for a startup, so we are very excited!

On that note, stay tuned for many exciting announcements from ChangeMachine in the coming weeks. They will be numerous!

The Death of Creativity

December 7, 2010

So much of all the education in our lives is for the sole purpose of “getting ahead in life.” And sure, it is obviously important to get a headstart, if you don’t get a high score on your SAT/PSAT/ACT/AP/GRE/LSAT/GMAT/AHHHH! then some other kid will and you will “lose your spot at _____ University”. But this is such a short sighted view of things. What schools should do is make kids into critical thinkers, able to parse through the increasing amount of data floating around the universe today and make sense of it. Schools should develop childrens sense of curiousity, creativity and yearning for something more.

The video above, a truly inspirational talk by Ken Robinson entitled “Do schools today kill creativity” is a moving case for educational reform. It is interesting to look through the comments underneath the video, and really are some gems. One of my favorites, which is a view I hold, goes like this:

I think most people after watching this have been jolted back to memories of early/mid schooling and found moments where a little part of them has died, and it wasn’t them who put it to death. I was told I couldn’t write and that music was not a career. Although in my case I have become successful in spite of these comments, I still harbor wounds from them.  -credit to jimmyjimmyshortcakes

There are  some who do not share this view, however:

No, I do not belive that schools hinder creativity. With all of the clubs and extracuricular activities that the school provides almost everyone should be able to find something to express there own idividual creativity. Art, music, sports, and even academics, there are many orginazations that schools allow for students to do what it is that they like.  -credit to RyanAR

But I have to argue with this point. My high school (keep in mind this was only 3 years ago!) had an unbelievable amount of extracurriculars. We had volunteer clubs, language clubs, music clubs, arts clubs etc… There were the sports and academic clubs (I myself was in the unbelievably dorky Physics and Math clubs). But save a few choice examples, these were not creative outlets. Even my pride and joy, my drama club which I participated in for 4 years, was just a springboard for college. No creativity was encouraged, you just held the party line and did exactly what “colleges wanted you to do”.

The problem in my opinion is that there is no way to go back and do it again, no way to know if those 200 volunteering hours you fudged for your college apps were worth it. If there was a more integrated creativity support system from colleges, high schools might be better off. I don’t know about Harvard and Yale, but I know UChicago students are excepted based heavily on just how creative their essays can be. I have friends who just drew pictures, 8 pages of pictures, and got in here. If that isn’t both creative and ballsy for a college app, I don’t know what is.

All in all, conformity in schools, declining teacher ratings and the pressure to succeed will just cause the death of creativity!

Introducing Paul and the L3C vs. Nonprofit Debate

December 7, 2010

Hi, I have been posting on here for a while now, but since my other teammates are writing bio posts I guess I should too. My name is Paul Kaplan, I am a student here at the University of Chicago double majoring in Math and Physics (minor in Comp. Sci?). I am one of the founding members of ChangeMachine, the brainchild of our amazing housing arrangement this year (Colin, Sean, Anish (who you will meet when his finals are over) and we all have an apartment together). I love everything about the creative process which almost explains why a Math and Physics major is making a socially responsible organization, but not quite… I’m sure there is plenty of time for self pontification later, but lets move on to Corporate Structure.


Corporate Structure?

But we are college students!

Yeah, that is actually why I am writing this post. We have been throwing ideas around trying to find a legimate structure for ChangeMachine, but we are being hampered by conflicting reports, finals week (back to the college student thing) and our lack of knowledge.

L3C or a nonprofit?

If you have been reading the twitter account, I have been getting a lot of feedback and some good links and info about the ‘Low-profit Limited Liability Company’ which means it enjoys some of the rights of an LLC and some of the rights of a nonprofit. This all needs some clarification:

  • What parts of an L3C are tax exempt?
  • How different is the fundraising?
  • Do you need to guarantee profit (which is notoriously difficult for websites)?
  • Is it really worth it for the possible funding boost, or are there too many strings attached?
  • Conversely, is it much more difficult to become a nonprofit?
  • Is the ‘social’ boost from being a nonprofit worth it?
  • Will there be less respect for a for-profit business, even a low-profit one?

Any help in these areas is very much appreciated, especially because there seems to be a lot of conflicting reports on these things. If you have any experience/advice, please comment on this post!