Awesome Foundation, Spreading Awesomeness Across the Universe, Expands to West Coast

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Philadelphia, and Australia. Some of these might take a few months to get together, and some might be ready to go next month.

X: How did the opening of a San Francisco chapter come about?

JP: Three of the people that are doing it are Boston expats who I’m friends with. They knew about the Awesome Foundation and they reached out very early and said they would like to do this. But we wanted to hold off for a few months before we started expanding to other cities, so we had an idea about what works and what doesn’t. We started with Providence, and then New York City, and now San Francisco—but a few of the trustees in San Francisco were expressing interest in doing this back in July or August, when we started in Boston. You’re right, it’s a natural place to do it. There is so much creativity out there. They may need to have a few chapters.

X: Who are some of the people involved in San Francisco?

JP: It’s a good cross section of the community. Mitch Altman runs the Noisebridge hackerspace. Jesse Taggert is the manager of Citizen Space [a coworking space in San Francisco]. Amit Gupta started Jelly [a casual series of coworking get-togethers in over 100 cities] and wrote Photojojo and was an early BarCamp guy in New York City. Raffi Krikorian is one of the lead writers of application programming interfaces at Twitter. Brynn Evans does social search stuff and is the girlfriend of Chris Messina, the open Web standards proponent and BarCamp co-founder. Ivan Kirigin was a founder of TipJoy and is at Facebook now. Rod Begbie used to work in Boston for Bose and moved out to San Francisco to work for Slide. Kevin Adler is a co-founder of BetterGrads, a company that one of the Boston trustees started. Jesse Farmer built one of the early Facebook analytics apps.

X: Forgive me for saying this, but the description you gave a minute ago, where you have a dozen trustees who contribute $100 a month and pick their favorite applicants, almost makes the Awesome Foundation sound like a social club or an excuse for having a party every month rather than a serious effort to fund impactful projects. It reminds me a little bit of an investing club where the members each put a small amount into the kitty and invest together in stocks—more for fun or education than to make money.

JP: I would actually say the exact opposite. Certainly it’s great to get together with friends, or strangers who are interesting, and have a party. But really it’s about wanting to be of some help. It’s true, $1,000 is not a huge amount of money, but for some projects it can be all that somebody needs. Also, just as in the case of Y Combinator or TechStars, sometimes it’s not really about the money. It’s about the endorsement and the recognition and the awareness that is built around something. I’m not saying we have the world’s attention right now, but for a lot of people who apply to the Awesome Foundation, the validation and the awareness that get created around their work is actually very valuable. I think it can make a difference.

And as we find more ways to get the community engaged around this—and I’m not sure what we’ll do to do that—hopefully we’ll see a lot more stuff happening. There’s already been at least one other organization modeled after the Awesome Foundation that has started up in Chicago, called ScaleWell. It’s exactly the same model as the Awesome Foundation, except that they fund startups and businesses. It was started by a couple of guys who were in the TechStars Boston program last summer. They have a bunch of trustees in Chicago, including Harper Reed, the former CTO at Threadless.

X: That’s interesting. Going back to what you said about the absence of any legal structure—I assume that means you don’t own the Awesome Foundation trademark, and that the Chicago group or any group could call themselves the same thing and you wouldn’t be able to stop them.

JP: Sure, I guess they could call themselves the Awesome Foundation, but they wouldn’t be on the site, where we have the chapters listed. As long as we make it clear that we expect chapters to be formed through us, with our blessing, I would hope that it wouldn’t really be an issue. There is a broad goal that we want to make sure is preserved. We’re okay with every chapter having autonomy around which grants are selected, but we want to make sure that everyone who starts a chapter is doing so within the broad-stroke framework of funding awesomeness.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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