Values

Scaling Up in Baltimore: Why a Nonprofit Helped Found a Startup

Thread is ready to grow.

The Baltimore-based nonprofit helps connect at-risk students with a group of volunteers that serves as a powerful support network. Students partnering with Thread volunteers — more than 500 to date — are much more likely to graduate high school, and more than 8 in 10 Thread alumni go on to earn four- or two-year degrees or finish certificate programs.

But Thread founder Sarah Hemminger says the group has further to go. In deeply segregated Baltimore, forging human connections across the city is key to helping students succeed despite opportunity gaps. Hemminger believes Thread can bring together thousands more students, volunteers and other collaborators — as much as 5% of Baltimore’s population. That, she said, “is how you bring sustained change.”

Achieving that sort of scale takes determination … and technology. In particular, Thread needed a tool to track volunteer-student interactions and identify when students need more support. So Thread teamed up with Baltimore-based entrepreneur Vince Talbert, who posed an intriguing suggestion: Thread could invest in a new startup dedicated to developing an app the nonprofit needed in order to grow.

And it did.

Talbert founded the startup Thrive in collaboration with Thread under the guidance of attorneys at V&E.  V&E helped ensure the innovative arrangement protected Thread’s interests in the technology that Thrive would create while providing a pathway for the fledgling startup to potentially commercialize that technology for uses that would be separate and apart from Thread.

Thread rolled out the app just recently, and leaders say it’s already improving communication between students and volunteers. Hemminger, meanwhile, is envisioning what Thread, with the help of the new app, will be doing in five years: creating a civic network that transforms the city.