How Boston’s Entrepreneurs Are Giving Back

Paris Wallace
“People in this city are altruistic in a way that I don’t think they are anywhere else,” says Paris Wallace (above).

When you think Los Angeles you think movies; with D.C. it’s government; New York has finance. Every city has its defining field. “Boston is just smart.” So says Paris Wallace, Co-Founder and CEO of the women’s health and fertility startup Ovia Health. Wallace never had a specific plan to make Massachusetts home. After completing Harvard Business School and a fellowship at the Kennedy School of Government, the California native stayed here because Boston is the best place for something he did always have a plan to do: work that provides a social good.

InnerCity Weight Lifting
Zoe Anetakis and Jeff Fagnan at Inner City Weightlifting, which is supported by both Accomplice and TUGG.

He is not alone. Many things come together to boost Boston’s economy, and overlapping networks of smart, ambitious and creative people are among them. In addition, many of Boston’s leading professionals and rising entrepreneurs identify with the millennial tag. They represent a new wave of wealth creation and a new approach to philanthropy.

Paul English is a role model for many of this generation’s entrepreneurs. His successful journey from founder of the travel startup Kayak to philanthropist was chronicled in Tracy Kidder’s book A Truck Full of Money. “When you meet people you believe in, throw money at them,” English said in a December 2016 event at the Boston Foundation. “But if you give, get involved. Be a part of the change you are supporting.”

Jeff Fagnan’s practices align with that. As Founder of the venture firm Accomplice and the nonprofit Technology Underwriting the Greater Good (TUGG), he is constantly connecting action with resources, and getting involved. (He serves on at least a dozen boards of startups and nonprofits.) “As investors, we get behind companies when we see a signal that things are going well,” he says. “We assess a nonprofit the same way, and invest similarly.” Fagnan’s approach to building a healthy economy includes enabling people who have been disadvantaged by circumstances of poverty, race, immigration status or other factors to become strong contributors to the business ecosystem.

Two organizations that both TUGG and Accomplice support are InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW) and Resilient Coders. Each in its way helps young people cross boundaries into new opportunities, expanding their skills and their network of contacts. TUGG does more of that boundary crossing as it creates community and opportunity for profit/nonprofit cross-pollination. It organizes social gatherings and volunteer events that link Boston area professionals, entrepreneurs and nonprofits. Executive Director Zoe Anetakis says, “We don’t prescribe how entrepreneurs, founders or companies get involved, only encourage them, and provide awareness, opportunities and access points to do so.”


Pledge One

TUGG is the Foundation’s lead partner in Pledge 1% Boston, a new joint-initiative that is the first city-based chapter for Pledge 1%, which rallies companies and individuals to pledge one percent—of equity, profit or whatever is most appropriate—to nonprofits.

Accomplice’s pledge of support of ICW and Resilient Coders is through Pledge 1% Boston, and Anetakis calls it a natural extension of TUGG’s work connecting local tech entrepreneurs to the broader community.

Anetakis says, “Through Pledge 1% we can offer an equity pledge as a way of giving back while the Boston Foundation can help companies and entrepreneurs execute on their pledge through not only infrastructure but also education.” Rich Palmer, CTO and Co-Founder of Gravyty, a data analytics company, adds, “By partnering with and funding accelerators such as MassChallenge and launching ambitious programs such as Pledge 1% Boston, the Boston Foundation has not only made itself highly relevant to the startup community; it has given us a chance to succeed, and therefore be in a position to give back in a way that is meaningful.” Gravyty and Ovia Health were the first members of Pledge 1% Boston.

Building on his experience with AmeriCorps and as a personal trainer, Jon Feinman founded InnerCity Weightlifting to engage young people at greatest risk of violence.

Ovia Health’s Wallace says, “I’ve been very fortunate. I went through my entire education in private schools on full financial aid. It gave me an opportunity to transcend my background, which has been incredibly meaningful. So I absolutely wanted to try to do that for others. When my wife and I learned about Pledge 1% Boston, I knew the Boston Foundation was an organization I wanted to be involved with.” Besides everyone mentioned in this story, 25 other people or companies have made pledges.

“People in this city are altruistic in a way that I don’t think they are anywhere else,” says Wallace. “They care deeply about doing work that reflects their values. Being surrounded by so many smart people who are doing so many diverse things makes it really interesting here.”