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April 7th, 2020

Why We’re Expanding the Open Call

By Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman

These are scary and uncertain times, but this moment of unprecedented crisis is giving rise to unprecedented innovation. The entrepreneurs and activists driving that innovation forward need funding immediately. That’s why I’m so excited that we’re expanding our 2020 Open Call.

In order to move money quickly, we’ll evaluate applications on a rolling basis for the first time ever. And while we’ve never expanded an open call after it closed before, that’s what this moment demands. Here's how we’re thinking about it and how you can get involved.

Entrepreneurialism surges during crises.

As I wrote in an op-ed for Worth, history shows us that the thinkers, doers, and makers among us find it hard to sit still during a crisis, and new necessities birth new inventions. That’s what NMV saw after the 2016 election, and it’s what we’re already seeing now.

Challenges we hope to see tackled include campaigning in a world without canvassing, the administration of the 2020 election, organizing low-wage workers, advocacy around paid sick leave, healthcare, and much more. We’re eager to find, fund, and support the entrepreneurs tackling these issues – especially those from vulnerable communities who will be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Social distancing makes digital innovation even more crucial now, and NMV has more experience evaluating digital startups than anyone else in the progressive movement.

Over the last decade, we’ve reviewed thousands of pitches at the intersection of technology, media, and politics. After the 2016 election, we funded 17 projects including Indivisible, Mijente, Swing Left, OutreachCircle, and Stay Woke that have transformed the progressive movement. 

That experience matters for several reasons. First, many groups from across our portfolio are now extremely well-positioned to respond in this moment and grow their impact, if they can get an infusion of quick capital. That’s why, in addition to accepting new applications, we’re also inviting our existing portfolio members to pitch us on any COVID-related initiatives they’re spinning up.

Second, ~500 of the most inspiring and brilliant social entrepreneurs in the country already pitched us by our original deadline of March 2. We’re reaching back out to them to ask how they’re adapting their plans – and we expect to fund many of them along with the new projects that have sprung up since then.

Third, we have the most experience in the progressive movement of finding, vetting, and funding critical innovation coming from founders outside the “usual circles.” We are proud to say that over 70% of our in-scope applications so far this cycle have been from groups we had not heard of before. In a moment like this, when business as usual is no longer an option, our open call model is perfectly suited to find the most innovative and impactful new projects.

In a few years, the progressive companies and organizations we support now, many of which have launched in only the last few weeks, will be household names – just like those we funded after the 2016 election.

We need everyone involved, including you.

COVID-19 will be one of the biggest economic, political, and cultural turning points of our lifetime – but what the future holds depends entirely on our collective actions in the coming months and years. We must act now. Yet we’re all having moments of feeling overwhelmed by troubling news and conflicting messaging, and uncertain about how to help in this crisis.

NMV’s expanded Open Call is an extremely high-leverage way to move all of our work forward in this moment. If you’re an entrepreneur or activist spinning up a new project or adapting an existing one, please consider applying. If you’re a donor or investor who’d like to support this initiative, please reach out to Shannon Baker, NMV’s vice president of programs and partnerships, for more information. And if you have people in your network who might be interested, please send them an email and help us spread the word on Facebook and Twitter.