Three months ago, InLieu won $10,000 in prize money for being the best RVA start-up. How have they spent that money?
In January 2012, Geoff Weathersby and Kailey Raymond had an idea: create a new way for people to raise money for nonprofit organizations. In June, this idea, which they call InLieu, won $10,000 and the i.e* Start-Up Competition, a contest that pitted them against RVA’s best new businesses. That money has helped fund its operations, positioning InLieu to become a force for nonprofits all over the world. “We’ve had so much success. It’s very surreal,” said Geoff. Sadly, it began with a death in the family.
Geoff Weathersby’s father, Terry, a psychology teacher at Eastern University, died in October 2011 from throat cancer. Geoff and his family created a scholarship fund in his name that would award $1,000 each year to one psychology student at Eastern. But to continue the scholarship indefinitely, the family needed to raise $20,000. It was an amount beyond their resources.
Some time later, Geoff’s mother watched a segment on the NBC show Rock Center with Brian Williams. The segment reported on the rise of internet crowd funding, which aggregates a large number of small monetary donations to create a large, single fund for a specific cause. Could the family use crowd funding to endow the scholarship?
Geoff kept this in mind during his senior year at the University of Richmond, when he took an innovation and entrepreneurship class. One of the class projects was titled: $14, 14 days. Geoff said students had two weeks “to raise as much money or create as much value as we possibly could” from $14. Geoff seized the opportunity to use the crowd funding platform RocketHub to create a campaign to fund the scholarship in his father’s name. In two days, the campaign raised nearly $3,000.
Geoff kept the campaign open for 60 days and raised over $20,000, enough to fund the scholarship at Eastern University. Geoff thought crowd funding could benefit nonprofits in the wake of someone’s death: “In lieu of flowers, give to (a particular) fund,” explained Geoff.
Geoff’s classmate, Kailey Raymond, suggested that the would-be service could incorporate gift-giving beyond funerals. Events such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations could also inspire financial gifts to nonprofits. The two thought they could create a business around this idea.
In April, the two pitched their proposal to a panel of 11 entrepreneurs at a UR start-up competition. InLieu beat out 25 start-ups to win a $3,500 prize. “This was euphoric. It was unbelievable,” said Geoff reflecting on the win. One of the biggest benefits of the grand prize was not just the money, but the validation from experienced entrepreneurs. “People who did this for a living were excited about our business.”
In June, InLieu continued its winning ways by taking first place in the i.e.* Start-Up Competition. Geoff and Kailey were so sure that the two had botched their 90 second pitch, they thought the judges had made a mistake by announcing them the winners and awarding InLieu $10,000 in prize money. The question on many minds: how would InLieu spend that money.
Most immediately, Geoff and Kailey needed a website. With no coding experience between the two, they first spoke with local development firms to price an InLieu site. They were given estimates ranging from $10,000 to $40,000, effectively sacrificing all of their start-up capital.
The two later discovered Launcht, a young company that sells customizable crowd funding websites. It would cost InLieu $1,500 to set up, along with a $300 recurring monthly service charge and a 1% fee on income. The two did the math: “We could sustain ourselves for over a year” by using the service compared to creating a custom website.
InLieu officially launched last week with three campaigns, all of which benefit local nonprofits: Child Fund International, SPARC, and World Pediatric Project. One more campaign has since been added. Geoff said that the company is excited to “dig our hands in the nonprofit community.”
The initial goal is to create 15 campaigns in the first month, adding five to the site in each succeeding month. Although InLieu has started with local nonprofit organizations, InLieu wants to help nonprofits beyond the Richmond Region. “We want this to be a national and international website,” said Geoff. That global reach will come from RVA.
Another benefit of winning the i.e. Start-Up prize is that InLieu will receive six months of free office space at 18th and Cary streets. Geoff said that there is no other place that InLieu would rather be than RVA: “There is a support network here that we would not have anywhere else.”