Startup helps nonprofits become efficient in a 21st-century world

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Russ Oster, founder and CEO of Grassroots Unwired, is helping nonprofits become more efficient with his GPS-enabled technology that tracks, reports and analyzes the activities of canvassers.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Russ Oster, founder and CEO of Grassroots Unwired, is helping nonprofits become more efficient with his GPS-enabled technology that tracks, reports and analyzes the activities of canvassers.
Posted: July 10, 2014

R USS OSTER, 42, of Yardley, is founder and CEO of Grassroots Unwired. The Bristol-based startup provides real-time, GPS-enabled mobile canvassing and fundraising solutions for nonprofit and political clients. Oster previously had a 15-year consulting career organizing field campaigns across the U.S. on behalf of political candidates.

Q: How'd you get the idea for Grassroots Unwired?

A: I was in a meeting with the campaign manager for [then-New Jersey Gov.] Jon Corzine in 2009, and she said, "We're about to spend thousands of dollars on people going door-to-door and we have no idea if they're doing what they're supposed to be doing and, if they are, we've got to enter all that data into a computer." I researched it and pitched the idea to build a prototype of the app we have now, and Corzine was our first client.

Q: Where'd you get money to launch?

A: I applied to DreamIt Ventures a week before their application deadline in fall 2011. They gave us $25,000, plus the four-month accelerator program. After we exited DreamIt, we got $30,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners and a match from an angel. Then we went to two venture-capital firms and had about $700,000 by June 2012.

Q: What's the biz do?

A: We leverage a GPS-enabled mobile device to allow for tracking, reporting and analytics of a nonprofit's field-organizing activities in real time. Behind the mobile app is a platform that integrates the app with a mapping system and Web portal. From the field, canvassers can use our card swipe to raise funds, collect digital signatures and send emails.

Q: Value proposition?

A: There are more than 2 million nonprofits, who combined raise and spend $1.5 trillion. When they fundraise and organize, they still use clipboards and data entry. Our technology saves money and allows clients to better execute and analyze field efforts leading to more donors with higher average donations.

Q: The biz model?

A: We charge a flat monthly fee of $80 per person in the field. It gets them our app and back-end system allowing them to run all their reports.

Q: Your customers?

A: We have political clients, mostly Democrats. Some nonprofit clients are Clean Water Action, the Fund for the Public Interest and two labor unions, SEIU and the AFL-CIO. Anybody going door-to-door or selling in the field is a potential client.

Q: How big a biz is this?

A: We'll have about $1.2 million in revenues by the end of the year. We have six full-time employees, including myself.

Q: What's next?

A: We'll have more nonprofits, because we can make a difference.


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