TBT: Who Applies For a DCSIP Grant

We know–it’s Tuesday. But TBT is coming a little early this week because we are really excited to find the next great grantees who will pilot new approaches to tackle poverty in DC. (Have you applied for a grant yet? We strongly encourage it!)

As we are stretching out across every media outlet, blog, and social network that we can find, we went into the vault to find this gem of a blog post from the Notebook about who applies for a DC Social Innovation Project grant. And the answers may surprise you.

Did you know:

  • Our applicants are deeply rooted in DC. 50% of applicants report having lived in DC for 25 years.
  • New ideas start by filling out our application. Nearly 1 in 5 applicants report that filling out our grant application motivated them to start something new.
  • Lean startups are the norm. More than half of our applicants have full-time or part-time jobs outside of the new venture they are applying for support.

Are you ready to launch something incredible to tackle poverty in the District of Columbia? Apply today!

Join Our Team

helloSummer is in the air! We are looking for a few good grantees and now are happy to announce that our annual fellowship cycle is open! Every year we hire fellows to help us fulfill DC Social Innovation Project’s mission and provide leadership in the social innovation space. This year, we are looking for a new team member to help us engage our community of supporters, volunteers, and partners. Our Strategic Engagement Fellow will be responsible for helping develop quality educational programming, networking events, and find the best people to help light up the District of Columbia.

We are recruiting a highly talented and committed individual who gets how to support and build incredible communities committed to change. The Strategic Engagement Fellow will be responsible for connecting and supporting our rock star volunteers and grantees, our partners who are helping us raise the profile of social entrepreneurship and innovation, and our donors and community investors who make our work possible.

We provide mentoring, the connection to our leadership team, and a small monthly stipend; you provide the initiative, energy, and brilliant ideas.

You in a nutshell (AKA–our ideal candidate):

  • You love to design opportunities to cultivate and engage game changers
  • You have an abundance orientation and value collaboration to create powerful results
  • You know and use the magic words “please”, “thank you”, and “how can I help” often and to great effect
  • You deliver what you promise with flair and no drama
  • You are a people person who loves volunteers because together we can make GREAT things happen
  • You get the power of philanthropy–asking someone for a gift is energizing
  • You embody the social entrepreneur and believe that every challenge is an opportunity to innovate

If this is you, we can’t wait to meet you! Step up and apply today! All candidates have until July 17, 2015 to apply for this annual fellowship. Please send a 200 word note describing why we should choose you and your resume to info@dcsocialinnovation.org.

What We Look For: Sharks for Social Innovation

daymond johnOur Summer 2015 grant application is open and we are looking for the next DC Social Innovation Project grantees who will win a $25,000 social capital grant to launch a new idea to tackle poverty in the District of Columbia.

As you mull over your application, we wanted to drop some wisdom about what we look for in excellent grantees. The truth is, we look for more than people who tick off boxes on our application. We look for signs of grit, we look for passion, we look for great ideas, and we look for partners who need our help to find new paths to bring solutions to market. Our role is to help community-based innovators bring new solutions to light who aren’t served by traditional philanthropy. We want to broaden the entrepreneurship pipeline by investing in a new generation of leaders that are developing community-based strategies to eliminate poverty in the District of Columbia. We want to be great partners to pilot small, but smart prototypes that test big ideas. We want to turn good intentions into great ideas that can transform lives together.

But don’t take our word, take a brief listen to Shark Tank expert Daymond John or read this new insightful Inc. article on how he spots winners, because that man knows what he is doing. People, passion, grit, and a willingness to work together. Step up to the plate, apply today, and show us what you got!


Open For Business: Apply for a $25,000 Grant Today


–Nelson Mandela   

Today we are announcing the opening of our Summer 2015 call for applications. For the next 30 days, we will solicit as many ideas to find our next grantees that will join the DC Social Innovation Project Innovation Family. Will you be among them?

Over this long hot summer, we will explore some of the coolest cutting edge ideas to tackle poverty. We cannot wait to be bowled over by great ideas. If you’ve never started something but have always wanted to–now is the time. If you are sitting at your computer, reading this and wondering if you have what it takes to change a life–give us a shot. If your organization has always thought, wouldn’t it be great if we tried something new? This might be your moment to find out.

Our role is to incubate GREAT ideas and community-based innovators. We do that by providing unique social capital grants valued at $25,000 to provide seed funding and expertise that give good ideas a running head start. We don’t require a track record, we don’t require a big bank account. We require ingenuity, grit, and the courage to step up and try something new. For once in DC, it’s refreshingly not about who you know but about the great ideas inside of you.

Maybe you’ve never gotten a grant before, or never even written a grant. It didn’t stop Malcolm Woodland, founder of Young Doctors DC who used our grant to put in motion his incredible idea to build a bridge to college for young men of color while delivering life saving health clinics. Don’t let it stop you.

Today, on the 150 anniversary of Juneteenth, we will get to sit down with dozens of incredible organizations making a difference in communities of color. It will be wonderful to spend four hours at today’s My Brother’s Keeper Probono Lab to dive in, dig deep, and do good with some great organizations. But we want more.

We have 30 days to be astounded by all the good ideas in our community. Help us light up communities in the District through the power of innovation. Apply today or share this post with a friend to encourage them to apply.


Melissa Ann Ehrenreich, Executive Director

Three Things You Can Learn from Our Early-Stage Entrepreneurs


Click to listen to DCSIP participate in DC Young Entrepreneurs podcast

Recently, I sat down with Kat Colvin of DC Young Entrepreneurs to record their very first podcast. Kat invited me to share the lessons we have learned from some of the finest people on the planet–our DC Social Innovation Project grantees (download the podcast for free today!). Our incredible family of innovators includes people who embody the grit, the creativity, and the genius necessary for success.

Here’s the thing: There is no tougher time in an idea’s life cycle than the first terrifying year of early-stage incubation. All of our innovators—successful or not, have learned the hard way about what it takes to crack the first stage of success.

As we gear up to announce our next grant cycle to make two new social capital grants valued at $25,000, I want to share with you three of the many lessons our grantees have taught us about what it takes to make a successful leap into social enterprise:

  • Write Your Way to Success. Our entrepreneurs (or treps in DCYE’s lingo) have taught me that the leap to innovation starts with a very cheap tool: a pen. I have heard over and over again from our grantees how the act of completing our application created a powerful experience. It made it real. It required our grantees, some for the first time ever, to strategically identify what they wanted to do and how it was different. If you’ve ever had an idea, consider our application process a tool to help you crystallize your great idea.
  • Unique Questions Create Great Solutions. There are good ideas and there are GREAT ideas. The best ideas are created when we use the power of curiosity to ask open-ended, specific questions. Good questions like these, help us explore problems as opportunities to innovate. Our grantees are developing new solutions because they are thinking smartly about the power to combine two ideas in new ways, developing new bridges to link new trends to tough problems, or redefining a challenge as an opportunity. Great open-ended inquiries can lead to specific, innovative ideas that can transform how we tackle common and pressing problems to change the equation.
  • Be Lean Together. For so many early-stage successes, their staying power is inextricably linked to their connection to their innovation tribe. Particularly in the prototyping stage, finding good partners who can link, amplify and build on your service model is one of the best investments in success that you can make. It may feel like a lonely world out there, but the DC space is crowded with a capital C. So find your tribe of organizations working on a similar issue or in your local community, articulate how you can be a good partner to fill a niche in the solution supply chain and then partner, partner, partner. Even better, include these folks in your ideation process to make sure you are asking the right questions and understanding what has worked and what has not on your issue. You will be amazed at how it can double—if not triple—your impact in the first year alone.

We hope these ideas and even more shared in the podcast helps get your creative juices flowing to develop bold, unique approaches to tackle poverty in the District!

What’s Lean, Green and Red all Over?

Last week we celebrated our birthday. It’s been five years since our co-founders filed the paper work to start DC Social Innovation Project. And what a ride it has been propelled by our extremely lean staff and YOU. Our supporters and volunteers.

What started as a small idea has turned into a movement in DC that you have helped create. We’ve supported 13 early-stage projects and entrepreneurs through our unique social capital grants that provide $25,000 in seed capital, pro-bono services and expertise. Your gifts of time and expertise have been pooled to contribute more than $325,000 to tackle poverty right here in our City. That’s a lot of green.

Earlier this month, we were OVER THE MOON, when our current grantee, Street Sense, was featured in a long-story piece on PBS Newshour. National attention, most certainly deserved, for their work to re-invent themselves to more effectively tackle poverty, an initiative we are proud to support.

Stories of reinvention and new solutions have come out of the woodwork in the past eight months. Our impact can be read all over. Whether it was the CNN Money piece on leading start-ups in DC tackling poverty that featured our grantees Young Doctors DC and Food For Life, the Washingtonian article on why we think social enterprise is booming in DC, or the Washington Post article about hyper-local sensation DC UrbanGreens and countless others—our grantees are getting the recognition for pushing the innovation envelope.

We are gearing up to announce our next grant cycle to invite a new generation of innovators to join the DC Social Innovation Project family. But we can’t do it without you. Please make a small gift today to become a Community Investor and ensure we can keep the lean, green start-up machine going to tackle poverty. Just three coffees a month can help power leadership and new solutions to tackle poverty. You won’t find a better more delightful deal in the District.

Grantee, Street Sense, Takes the National Stage

street sense bog post

The best thing about being an incubator is seeing the ideas that start with the tiniest spark become big solutions that take the world by storm. This week, we were overwhelmed by pride that one of our grantees, Street Sense, did exactly that and was featured on a long story piece on PBS Newshour. If you missed it, watch it now. Seven minutes is all it will take to be inspired by an innovator in our backyard who took a brave leap into the new world.

What would you do if you woke up one day and realized your core product was not good enough? Would you close your doors or would you roll up your sleeves and head to the whiteboard to find your competitive advantage?

The reason why I am bowled over by Street Sense is because they are refusing to stand still. So many of us who have bought a paper from one of their vendors have been inspired by the dignity that the Street Sense model represents. But it is not enough. In the high-cost DC metro area, Street Sense realized that they need to help their vendors find higher-paying jobs that are relevant in the digital economy. So quite recently they asked the question—what if we were not just a newspaper? What if instead we became a new media company built for the 21st century?

That’s a heady question for an organization who is known as the people who make a newspaper. It sparks a re-invention process that can be scary, that has a lot of risk because it is stepping out into the unknown. Like any great entrepreneur, Street Sense is looking to develop a diversification of products to move the dial on homelessness. One of those products, a micro-blogging jobs program, is where DC Social Innovation Project is partnering to develop a clear standard that will position their product in the market so their vendors can be more successful. Street Sense might seem on its face like a traditional nonprofit but they are a shining example of a social entrepreneur who sees a barrier and discovers an opportunity. You can hear me talk about more about what it takes to be a social entrepreneur on our recent podcast with DC Young Entrepreneurs.

Earlier this week, the chair of our Board of Directors, Darius Graham, was remarking that we have the cuties babies. Over the past five years, we’ve bet on 13 organizations just like Street Sense. So many ideas that come to us are not quite ready to walk. They may have a big strategic challenge, they may be just a kernel of an idea, or they may seem like a leap of faith. But we see the potential and invest our strategic capacity to and helped them to get up and run.

Together with your help we are helping grantees turn big ideas into solutions. So join with me today to congratulate Street Sense on taking a running leap into success by sharing this story and celebrating the power of social innovation. Good things are happening in our amazing City.