Start-ups from another type: non-profit tech at FastForward

Shannon Farleyis is founder & executive director at FastForward, an accelerator for technology nonprofits start-ups. She tells us more about what this new kind of accelerator is trying to achieve.

1) Mission and scope

What is the mission of FastForward?

Shannon Farleyis: Improve the world by accelerating tech nonprofits.

Can you define what non-profit tech are?

SF: Wikipedia, Mozilla, and Khan Academy are all tech nonprofits. Tech nonprofits look like a typical tech start-up – they build products using technology – and have selected a nonprofit structure because they build for impact instead of profit.

How does it compare with Kickstarter benefit organization status?

SF: Tech nonprofits are charities. They exist for the benefit of the general public without a profit motive. B Corps like Kickstarter have a profit motive. We work exclusively with nonprofits because we believe there are some problems that markets can’t solve.

FFwd accelerator

What was ‘the reason why’ you started FastForward (what is the story which triggered Fastforward)?

SF: We believe technology has the power and reach to be a force for good. From poverty, to education access, to improving health, to environmental degradation—technology can impact lives at scale unmatched in human history.

But there’s a gap in support for tech nonprofits who, in the early stages, need to build their product and prove their model. We look for product­-driven nonprofits that leverage open source software, always connected mobile devices, open APIs, and inexpensive variable cost web infrastructure to solve education, environmental, health, and human rights issues. Fast Forward then provides financial and human capital to help scale these technology solutions and maximize impact.

2) Acceleration program and fundraising

What specific support do you offer to accelerate non-profit tech start-ups?

SF: Fast Forward provides the organizations in our accelerator with funding, mentorship, and training. Additionally, we have resources for tech for good organizations outside of our accelerator — like our directory of tech nonprofits and blog.

How does fundraising for non-profits differ from traditional for-profit fundraising?

SF: There is no equity in tech nonprofits so fundraising is different. Tech nonprofits raise funding from foundations, corporations, governments, individuals, and earned revenue. Even though the sources of funding are different, the way one fundraises is not that dissimilar. Nonprofit founders must convince their funders to invest in their vision, their product, and potential for scale.

3) Exemplary non-profit tech start-ups

Your acceleration program is in its second year. Can you pick-up for us some of your most exemplary /advanced start-ups out of the directory ?

Nexleaf – SMS-based monitoring of vaccine storage

Stellar – Financial infrastructure for the unbanked

CareerVillage – Crowd-sourced career advice for 14-25 year olds

4) Business model

What is your business model? Regarding investors, how can they value their initial investment over time? or is it more a donation-type of funding?

SF: Fast Forward is a charity. We measure impact instead of profit. Our funders like and BlackRock invest in us because they believe we are growing the ecosystem for a vibrant, tech for good sector.

5) Team

Tell us about you and your team: who are you and where do you come from?

SF: Kevin is a software entrepreneur. Prior to founding Fast Forward, Kevin was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Matrix Partners, an early stage venture capital firm. Prior to Matrix he was a Senior Director in Adobe’s Strategy and Business Development group after the social marketing company he founded, Context Optional, was acquired by the firm.


Shannon is a social entrepreneur. Prior to founding Fast Forward, she was the founding Executive Director of Spark, a philanthropic network investing in grassroots women’s organizations, and co-founder of W. Haywood Burns Institute, a juvenile justice reform organization.

6) What’s next

When is the next application period? How can we help you develop your ecosystem?

SF: Our application will open up in March 2016. Please spread the word.

We are always looking for new tech nonprofits to add to our directory. If you come across one, send them our way.


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