The members of London’s recently launched version of the Awesome Foundation may appear to be just ordinary people, but the truth is, they might just be the Forest City’s very own superheroes.
The Awesome Foundation — which started in 2006 in Boston, Mass. — offers up $1,000 grants to individuals who bring forward unique ideas that need a little financing to get up and running. Each of the foundation’s 40 trustees offer up $100 apiece, three times a year, to fund the initiative that will provide monthly $1,000 grants to individuals throughout the community.
Put another way, the 40 trustees of Awesome Foundation London could be called Adventure Capitalists of Awesome — a heroic name no matter how anyone looks at it.
“We are in this because we don’t have a lot of money, so the risk piece is huge, $100 could mean a lot,” said Chris Moss, one of those 40 trustees. “There is a lot of talent and skill among us as well, so even if some of the people don’t win the money, there might be those who would be willing to help out. So it goes beyond even the $1,000.”
Moss said she became aware of the Awesome Foundation two years ago and talked with some people about starting it up in London at that time. Shawn Adamsson, from the information technology firm rtraction, even purchased the website name www.awesomelondon.ca for use.
Although the initiative didn’t get off the ground then, Moss said momentum would spring up again in September after the Pillar Nonprofit Network held its Community Collaboration Forum. During that event, Tonya Surman, from Awesome Foundation Toronto, shared her experiences and people started getting excited for a local version of the idea.
“The people on Twitter started going a little bit crazy about it,” Moss said. “In three days we had 56 people. As of today, we have 40 signed, ready to go, committed people.”
In addition to those 40, Moss said there is already a three-person waiting list to join Awesome Foundation London. For now, however, the 40 trustees will look forward to helping spread awesomeness throughout the community — as any good superhero would look to do.
“It really allows those kinds of awesome, joyful kinds of things that you might not necessarily get support for if you went through a more formal process, the government or a foundation,” said trustee Lee Jones. “This allows for the funding of things that are more loose and not necessarily practical.”
Dave Mitchell, who coined the phrase “adventure capitalist,” said he likes the idea because he has always rooted for the underdog and that, sometimes, big things really can start with small ideas.
“The idea that there is less of a barrier to entry for someone who has a great idea, but wouldn’t have a clue how to write a grant or go to a bank and get laughed at,” Mitchell said. “That it is just some crazy idea that needs a bit of money to see if it could become something bigger. “
People applying for an “Awesome grant” must first apply in writing online at www.awesomefoundation.org, which can be reached through the still-developing Awesome London website. A team of 10 trustees will read all applications and choose their top three to move forward.
Applications must be submitted on the second Monday of the month in advance of pitch night, which takes place the fourth Monday. The trustees — along with the public — will convene at Joe Kool’s to watch as the top three candidates vie for the $1,000.
The trustees will come to a consensus and jointly give all their money to one winner. There are no strings attached, Moss said, and also no tax receipts. And unlike CBC’s popular Dragon’s Den TV show, no ownership by trustees in the initiative.
There are just three rules; the grant money can’t go to an individual for personal use, it can’t go to a charity or non-profit and you have to be specific.
The simple nature of the grant process, along with the fact it is open to literally anybody, is something that appealed to many trustees.
Maureen Spencer Golovchenko said she was inspired by what Awesome Foundation Toronto has achieved and feels London is ready for the same types of awesome ideas. Katie Van Den Berg said she was inspired by not only the efforts achieved by the 61 Awesome Foundations around the world, but by the opportunity “to support potential awesomeness in our city.”
Megan Cornwell and Michelle Baldwin were similarly inspired. For Cornwell, the element of risk was key. “The idea that if someone is going to be brave enough to take a risk and put their idea out there — and we are in a very risk-adverse culture — I am excited to support someone who is willing to try.”
Baldwin said London itself provided her with all the inspiration she needed. “Part of the attraction is that London is awesome. We are going to meet people we never would have met before and maybe inspire people to some really crazy ideas.”
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