The Advancement of Underrepresented Entrepreneurs, Promoted Through Microsoft’s Nonprofit Tech Acceleration Program for Black & African American Communities

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“Genius is equally distributed. Opportunity is not.”

This statement is the core of the mission of Camelback Ventures. As an accelerator that identifies, develops, and promotes the advancement of underrepresented entrepreneurs, Camelback Ventures’ goal is to increase individual and community education as well as generational wealth. Ultimately, this organization’s goal is to contribute to “a nation of livable communities, where everyone has the opportunity for a quality education and a good life.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this organization in some way? No surprise that we were delighted when Camelback came to us for assistance.

The challenge: Addressing mission-critical areas with updated technology

Annually, Camelback offers an open application for underrepresented entrepreneurs to apply for a competitive fellowship. This six-month program supports the development of both founder and venture. Since 2015, Camelback has supported hundreds entrepreneurs of color and women—many of whom have been recognized in Forbes 30 Under 30, received fellowships such as Echoing Green and Richards Draper Kaplan, and on these individual’s behalf, gone on to raise over $50 million.

Seven years in, Camelback is no longer a “scrappy start-up,” but a middle-range non-profit with significant funding to drive the Fellowship in addition to other programs. Now that funding is no longer a chief concern, they can concentrate on their mission; the advancement of underrepresented entrepreneurs—beginning with software tools that can help the organization scale and become more organized and efficient. This enables them to provide more opportunities for more underrepresented entrepreneurs.

However, Camelback was managing data as if it were still that start-up, in multiple spreadsheets, making it challenging to report on progress and take appropriate action. With only 30 or so available slots and 300-500 applicants per year, Camelback was having to turn away many qualified candidates that they would have liked to accept. In addition, managing volunteers was a cumbersome process…necessitating a significant amount of IT overhead. With no IT department, it was problematic for the organization to deal with the resulting issues.

So far, Camelback has done a stellar job of recognizing and addressing the issue, understanding the need to build a proper database, and do a better job of managing it. They have done exceptionally well in being organized with their data, regardless of technology and resource limitations. Fortunately, because they were “new”, they were only dealing with a handful of spreadsheets containing a fairly manageable amount of data, and had no old databases to integrate into their new system.

The technology solution: The Microsoft Nonprofit Accelerator

To improve on how they serve their applicants, fellows, alumni, and others who are aided and/or partner with them, Camelback decided they needed to enhance their software infrastructure to address specific areas:

  • Advance management and tracking of Fellows—entrepreneurs who are recipients of the Camelback Fellowship
  • Grow outreach and impact
  • Create infrastructure for scalability

Microsoft’s Nonprofit Tech Acceleration (NTA) for Black and African American Communities program, is just one of the ways in which Microsoft utilizes their technology and partnerships to provide minority centered non-profits with critical services and support at a local level. This program, which is how HSO was introduced to Camelback, increases technology support for non-profits that serve people of color through a variety of services. HSO is working with other organizations that participate in the program, and we were thrilled  to play a role in Camelback’s story.

Once we had an appreciation for  Camelback’s challenges, we suggested the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator, which helps eliminate data silos, facilitating powerful insights and delivering a uniform platform that allows any organization to better connect, embed, or extend Dynamics to support their mission-critical processes.

Microsoft’s Nonprofit Accelerator, built entirely on the Nonprofit Common Data Model, has this ability. An open-source data schema, it helps cut the cost of development, freeing up funds for building more solutions and assisting  other efforts.

Having experience with the Microsoft platform, Camelback’s technology manager  saw that the Nonprofit Accelerator could help realize his vision of integrating all their current data sources. With this,  they have one single database of “people interactions”—with the functionality to easily work with that data.

This new system will also integrate with SurveyMonkey, which Camelback utilizes for candidate applications and will employ to survey the program’s alumni, so that all the data  captured via that tool will seamlessly flow into the new system automatically and be linked with the existing records for the corresponding constituent.

Additionally, the new system will integrate with Google Sheets. The new system certainly has the capacity to handle what is done in Google Sheets, but since Google Sheets is used by outside parties, Camelback wants to effectively share with them. The important takeaway here is that the Microsoft solution integrates seamlessly with any tool. This removes the need to replace something that’s working well, eliminating unnecessary interruptions to the flow of business. The added bonus: less effort around change management, which is always a good thing.

A comprehensive yet cost-effective solution

With the Nonprofit Accelerator as the foundation, Camelback will have a system that enables process consistency, which will lead to improved relationships with the community. Additionally, success metrics will more clearly emerge from the data collected. This will enable Camelback to achieve their mission goals, identify additional opportunities, and as a result, help more underserved entrepreneurs reach their potential.

You would think a comprehensive solution such as this would come at a hefty price, but that’s just not so. One of the goals was to regulate costs by keeping customizations to a minimum. The fact is, this lift-and-integration project is being accomplished with no customizations at all to the Nonprofit Accelerator because the required connectors are already available in the Nonprofit Dataverse. There may be a few custom elements needed, but there will be no need for custom integrations.

The non-profit future potential: A 360 view of those you serve

This 360-degree view of program participants is what is needed to uncover the potential of programs. With siloed data—spreadsheets, databases, applications, and the like—it’s simply not possible to get the entire picture of the participant, which causes poor communication, lost opportunities, and a less effective program.

From basic demographic information to a history of interactions—you have the ability to find everything you need in a centralized system. Once you have all that data in one place, you can  use reporting tools like Power BI to put that data to work for you providing metrics that help improve programs, secure funding, and strategically plan for the future.

Like any non-profit, Camelback is deeply committed to the mission and desires growth so they can serve more people. As of today, the team has the ability to sustain two “cohorts” per year. A cohort consists of  10-20 Fellows. They aspire to to run 3 to 4 cohorts per year but would also like to offer other avenues for applicants who do not qualify to be Fellows. Bottom line, they need scalability through continuous improvement, as do most other non-profits—and that’s what having a foundation like the Nonprofit Accelerator can facilitate.

Would your organization find benefit from being a part of Microsoft’s Nonprofit Tech Acceleration for Black and African American Communities Program? Do you know of an organization that would benefit? Sign up for Microsoft’s Onboarding Concierge to find out more.

The next step: Watch this on-demand webcast to see how a non-profit technology solution can advance the mission of your non-profit

The Microsoft Tech for Social Impact (TSI) team and HSO joined forces for a digital on-demand webcast: Advancing Your Non-Profit’s Mission: How a Connected Technology Platform Can Empower Your Organization to Do More Good. Throughout this interactive session, solution experts from both Microsoft TSI and HSO walk through how non-profits can imagine, design, and build solutions to focus on the areas they need to address to advance their mission. The webcast features an interview with Felicia Lemons, Director of Training and Strategic Initiatives at BronxConnect, who speaks about the organizations digital transformation.


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