CIW: Entrepreneurs Can Change the World

This session focused on three social entrepreneurs who are using their companies to make a difference in the world.

SETH FLAXMAN–Democracy Works

Seth created a voting app that increases voter turnout and focuses on educating people who they are voting for, not just how to vote. They develop alliances with colleges and other organizations.

They have raised over $15M already on their way to a $20M round of financing. As a non-profit entity, they earn money from for profits, with approximately 1/3 of their money coming from partnerships. The balance is split between individuals and other foundations.

They are a source of all polling place data to help people find out where to vote and want to be part of the evolution of the foundation of trust.


Perhaps the most impressive speaker of any of the Chicago Ideas Week sessions we attended was Micaela Connery. Her mastery of the topic and her ability to articulate her vision and achievements set her well above even much more accomplished speakers.

The Kelsey creates housing for people with developmental disabilities. The challenge most of the 6.1 million developmental disabled people looking for housing are the issues of affordability, accessibility and inclusivity. She spends her time organizing the process and securing funding for new projects. Typically, she has found that it is more efficient to build new units than to retrofit older units. In each development, she targets the following distribution of units:

  • 25% at market rate
  • 25% for workforce/middle income housing
  • 25% for affordable housing
  • 25% for residents with developmental disabilities

Micaela emphasized how underserved this market is and that most of the residents want to live in integrated housing. She feels that those with developmental disabilities are completely left out of the housing discussion. She thinks this is an important role of philanthropy because it allows someone to push the envelope and take risks that others will not take.


Jason’s product helps prevent infections in hospitals by “highlighting” areas that haven’t been properly cleaned because his products turn the cleaned area blue for a few seconds. The statistics are staggering when you look at the fact that 1 in 25 people in a hospital get an infection and there have been 99,000 deaths which most of us would classify as a preventable death.

As with all start-ups, Jason talks about the struggle of how to make the company sustainable and how to develop the relationship that are needed to make the organization successful.

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