English and sustainability junior Kyle Underseth and computer science sophomore Ryan Maloney were named the student winners of this year’s Social Venture Partner Fast Pitch competition for their start-up company Pull Up a Chair.
Pull Up a Chair, which is scheduled to launch in the coming weeks, is an online fundraising marketplace where nonprofit organizations can put together affordable, charitable dining events. Traditionally, charities raise money through gala events that are expensive to host and to attend.
Underseth said there is a shift among nonprofit organizations going from the big gala event to a smaller event and the the duo realized there was an opportunity to create a platform to make that happen.
“That leaves people like me and like Ryan, who want to help out but can’t,” he said. “What Pull Up a Chair does is that it allows these organizations to host smaller events that are affordable for everyone.”
People who use Pull Up a Chair would be able to host events of any size at home or at restaurants to raise funds for organizations of their choice.
“We are democratizing the charitable dining framework and making it accessible and affordable for everyone,” Underseth said.
Maloney and Underseth have always been interested in working with charities. When Underseth was 15 years old, he created a nonprofit organization, OneLove, which helped raise money for students in El Salvador.
“It was the best and worst experience for a number of reasons,” he said. “Dealing with the IRS when you’re 15 years old is very challenging.”
Three El Salvador students are attending college with scholarship money provided by the nonprofit organization. OneLove has now partnered with the Family to Family Foundation.
The Pull Up a Chair project began early last semester after Underseth interned with California venture capital firm Emergence Capital Partners and realized he was interested in becoming an entrepreneur.
Underseth told Maloney about his idea. They decided to enter ASU’s Innovation Challenge, but they did not make it to the finals.
Maloney said he was not sure exactly what Pull Ip a Chair would become when Underseth pitched the concept.
“I remember going to his house, and he had already started working on a PowerPoint presentation, and he had my picture up on the thing,” he said. “I was like, ‘I can’t back out now.’ I knew deep down it was a good idea.”
The startup did not originally focus entirely on nonprofit organizations. Instead, it was a way for people to open their homes for people to eat at for a nominal fee.
“I wrote the application back in October,” Underseth said. “It sounded nice, but it didn’t really connect the dots.”
Pull Up a Chair has now partnered with the Boys and Girls Club and Cantina Laredo, a Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale. Underseth said they expect other restaurants and charities to join their venture in the near future.
Although Underseth and Maloney did not win the Innovation Challenge, organizers of the challenge asked them to represent ASU in the statewide competition Social Venture Partner Fast Pitch.The two-month workshop connects startups and mentors who help them develop their pitches.
Carefree Institute President Cheryl Horton was one of Pull Up a Chair’s mentors during the Fast Pitch workshop. She said the startup has the potential to help nonprofit organizations around the country.
“It’s a fantastic idea,” she said. “It will help charities have another tool to be able to raise money.”
Two weeks ago, right before the workshop was about to culminate in an event at the Tempe Center for the Arts, Underseth received a phone call telling him Pull Up a Chair was a student winner while at a friend’s house.
“I’m on the phone, and I’m right outside the window,” he said. “All they see from me is my hand up in the air, and I’m really excited … yelling ‘yes’ over and over again.”
Maloney said he was very surprised to hear the news.
“This whole time Kyle hasn’t said too much about it,” he said. “And then he told me one day that we won ($2,000), and that he was going to be presenting in front of 500 people.”
That same week, they found out they had been accepted to the Clinton Global Initiative in April. The event, established by President Bill Clinton, aims to gather leaders from around the world to come up with innovative solutions to the world’s challenges.
“That week was make or break for us,” Underseth said. “It would have been really hard to be turned down from two competitions. The reason we are here is because of that week.”
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