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Good idea: Crowdfunding teachers

posted Nov 22, 2014, 9:52 PM by J Shaw   [ updated Nov 22, 2014, 9:52 PM ]
Idea person: Andyshea Saberioon, 26-year-old co-founder of PledgeCents.

Idea: Use crowdfunding to help teachers.

Where the idea came from: In the summer of 2012, Saberioon and his father, Ali, were watching a CNBC show about crowdfunding.

The model excited Saberioon. He'd learned the importance of giving back from his dad, who at the age of 18 arrived in Louisiana from Iran without knowing any English. He thrived in the U.S. Less than a month after a 2003 earthquake leveled Bam, Iran, killing thousands, Ali Saberioon organized a grass-roots relief effort in Houston, raising funds to rebuild schools, hospitals and housing.

That evening, after watching the TV show, Saberioon called Ricky Johnson, his best friend since eighth grade. The two brainstormed until they came up with a market that crowdfunding hadn't yet transformed: education.

"Did you know that teachers in the U.S. spend $1.6 billion annually out-of-pocket buying things for their classrooms and students?" Saberioon asks. "The average teacher spends about a $1,000 a year of her own money to pay for things for her kids. That's just wrong."

Although neither man had a background in education, they decided to try to create a site for teachers. "If you don't try your idea because people think it is crazy or stupid, then you will never get the chance to prove them wrong," says Saberioon.

Next steps: Saberioon and Johnson studied existing crowdfunding sites for education. They asked teachers what was working and what wasn't. They found that teachers wanted a crowdfunding source that gave them the money they raised regardless of whether they achieved their fundraising goal. Also, teachers didn't like it that existing sites imposed restrictions on the money's use.

PledgeCents won first place in a Lift-Off Houston competition in December 2013; the win came with a much needed $15,000 check. Another check for $25,000 followed after PledgeCents become one of 14 teams, out of 400 applicants, accepted into Tech Wildcatters (one of the United States' top ten accelerators).

Saberioon's background is in hotel and restaurant management, but in April 2013 he left a job with Starwood Hotels and Resorts to work full-time for PledgeCents. In February 2014, Johnson left the Royal Bank of Scotland, where he was a financial analyst, to become its PledgeCents' chief financial officer.

Now Saberioon spends his days trying to turn PledgeCents into a movement. Often finds himself writing Facebook posts like this:

"$135 may not seem like a lot for most people, but it does for a Special Ed teacher in South Carolina. She has 2 hours left and almost at her goal of $800! I encourage anyone to check out her page and, if you feel obliged to, make a contribution that will make a difference for her classroom. Thank you in advance."

With PledgeCents, teachers can raise money from all around the country. To date, the company has raised over $120,000 for some 30,000 children in 210 schools in 27 states. Even teachers who fail to meet their goal raise, on average, $575. "Some call our site, 'Bake Sale 2.0' because we've supplanted the car wash and bake sale and put them online,'" Saberioon says proudly.

Favorite photo: Saberioon grew up dreaming of becoming the first basketball player of Iranian descent to play for the NBA. He ended up playing basketball for four years at Rhodes College in Memphis Tennessee. Perhaps that's why a simple pizza-party story resonates with him.

A teacher from Memphis posted on PledgeCents about a winning boy's basketball team. She wanted to raise $50 for a surprise pizza party. Saberioon treasures the teacher's photos of the pizza-eating kids eating.

"Teachers love the site," he says. "It says to them: 'We believe in you. We'll invest in you.'"

Urgency: "We've found a great solution for taxi-cabs and grocery stores. We need to fix education," Saberioon says. "We are not stopping until we can help every student in the world have access to more resources."

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