Members of the SpreadKarma team, from left: Love Joyner, Sherman Barksdale Kellie Brown and LeMar Moore.

Meet the Entrepreneur: SpreadKarma

SpreadKarma is a member of the 2020–21 cohort of the Social Innovation Lab (SIL). The SpreadKarma team includes Kellie Brown (CEO and co-founder), Sherman Barksdale (chief operating officer and co-founder), LeMar Moore (chief compliance officer), Love Joyner (director, culture and communications) and Adrienne Coverdale (chief financial officer).

Tell us about SpreadKarma. What are you working on?

SpreadKarma is an online funding platform empowering positive social impact in underserved communities through crowdfunding.

Why did you decide to start this? Where did the idea come from?

SpreadKarma came from witnessing the lack of recognition or support for many social impact initiatives in communities of color, including in Baltimore. Kellie Brown, our CEO and co-founder, worked for more than 12 years in business management, donor relations, civic engagement and fundraising. During that time, she saw three trends happening. First, there were consistently brilliant people with great ideas trying to raise money for children and families in the Baltimore area. Second, this talent and dedication were often unseen or ignored. Third, these projects were also being denied institutional funding. They couldn’t get the grants or other funding they needed to survive, and so their brilliant ideas fell apart.

After doing some research, she noticed that this problem was nationwide. Brilliant change-makers and social entrepreneurs all over the country were trying to address the needs of low-income communities, communities of color, LGBTQ communities and communities with mental health disorders, just to name a few. And just like in Baltimore, these projects were being shut out of grants and underexposed to the public.

What would you consider success for SpreadKarma? How will the world be different when you are successful?

SpreadKarma will change the world by changing culture. We will create a social community around group giving and collective impact. We intend to draw in the brightest, coolest, most unique and cutting-edge fundraisers worldwide — people and organizations who connect to the culture of the communities we are serving.

Our big picture and vision is to be the leading crowdfunding site for those communities and projects that are too often neglected, especially communities of color, LGBTQ populations and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. We plan to build a sustainable, long-term network within and among these communities in a way that they support themselves and one another in meaningful ways — financially, socially and politically.

What have you accomplished so far?

Our team has reached the following milestones since October 2019 with no marketing budget:

  • More than $80,000 raised in donations through the platform from more than 1,900 donors, of whom 12% are repeat givers
  • Forty hours of live fundraising coaching
  • Secured partnerships with organizations including Baltimore Homecoming, the Warnock Foundation Social Innovation Fellows, MOVE Maryland and the National Nonprofit Minority Association, as well as a data partnership with GivingTuesday.

How can people get involved in supporting you in your venture?

There are three ways to get involved. We invite people to start a campaign, to help an underserved community, donate to one or more of our active campaigns and spread the word among their networks. We are also seeking social impact investors to help us scale and serve more change-makers and their beneficiaries.

What do you like most about the Baltimore entrepreneurial community? What would you like to see more of?

The Baltimore entrepreneurial community is innovative and very well connected. There seems to be a sense of community and shared resources among the business community. The Baltimore entrepreneurial community has grit and determination, and we see that more than ever amid a pandemic.

However, we’d like to see more resources spread into the disenfranchised areas of the city or to  businesses of underrepresented founders. Many founders lack the funding, exposure and know-how to stay in business. An ecosystem of support for founders that includes funding, education, resources and a social community would benefit the Baltimore entrepreneur community. Accelerators like SIL and Innovation Works are great. However, there are so many businesses in Baltimore that we need to create more accelerators for up-and-coming entrepreneurs so that they are set up for success.

What advice do you have for would-be social entrepreneurs thinking about starting a venture?

Social entrepreneurs should apply for every accelerator, incubator or mentorship program available to them in the Baltimore area. This SIL accelerator has helped our company tremendously, not just from valuable information but also from the connections. The phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is truly relevant and needs to be shared with would-be entrepreneurs. We would advise up-and-coming social entrepreneurs to get out there and network, ask questions and become an expert in your field.

Why did you apply to SIL? What attracted you to SIL?

SpreadKarma aims to empower positive social impact in communities through crowdfunding, and we want to start right here in Baltimore, where our company was born. When we were introduced to the Social Innovation Lab accelerator by our mentors, we found that the SIL mission aligned with our mission as a startup. SpreadKarma also seeks to enhance the impact and connect with the Baltimore community.

Learn more about SpreadKarma here. To learn more about the Social Innovation Lab and the 202021 cohort, click here. Applications for the 202122 will open later this summer.