Demo Day 2023 - Fast Forward

Demo Day 2023

Ten teams. Ten headquarters. Ten solutions. Tenth Demo Day. 

For the last decade, Fast Forward has showcased the world’s most innovative tech nonprofits on the Demo Day stage. Watch Demo Day and meet the newest class of leaders. All have personally experienced the problems they’re solving. From Indonesian forests to Indian villages to American classrooms, their solutions have enormous reach. Your support can help launch them — donate here.

Meet the 2023 Startup Accelerator Cohort





The Opportunity: Classrooms sit on the frontlines of the youth mental health crisis. But teachers, schools, and districts have lacked reliable ways to monitor student mental health needs in real-time and at scale. Until now.

The Solution: Closegap built a free, daily mental-health check-in for K12 students. Schools using Closegap have prevented suicides and uncovered cases of self-harm, sexual assault, and bullying that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.

The Founders: Rachel Miller is an entrepreneur who has spent her career supporting youth. Rachel received life-changing mental health support from her teachers as a young student. She built Closegap to make that same support available to all. | | @closegap_org

The Opportunity: Medical debt is the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. The big secret? If you are within a certain income range, hospitals have to waive your bills thanks to a policy called Charity Care. But millions of people have no idea how to reap the benefits of this policy. 

The Solution: Dollar For surfaced and aggregated the Charity Care policy of every U.S. hospital. Its tech-driven tool informs patients about eligibility, completes their paperwork, and submits forms to the hospital to advocate on patients’ behalf until the bills disappear.

The Founders: Jared Walker launched Dollar For after he and his family experienced a medical debt crisis. When he learned about Charity Care, he posted a TikTok about the policy that went viral overnight. Dollar For was born. | | @Dollarfor_

The Opportunity: 1 out of every 5 students has a language-based learning disability. Tutoring can help, but low-income students often lack access to this support. Many are left without a solid reading foundation to set them up for success in high school and beyond. 

The Solution: Joy Education provides virtual literacy tutoring for students struggling to read at grade level. During after-school hours, trained volunteers deliver a proven, science-backed curriculum in bite-sized lessons to teach students reading fluency and comprehension.

The Founders: Demetrius Lancaster is an educator with a decade of experience teaching and leading schools. At a young age, Demetrius joined a reading program that changed his learning trajectory. Now, he’s scaling his experience to all students, no matter their zip code. |

The Opportunity: India has 230M poor people, more than any other country in the world. With the rise of mobile phones in rural India, digital work has the potential to move more Indians out of poverty sustainably. But the digital work landscape is exploitative.

The Solution: Karya reimagines digital work. It empowers rural Indians to train AI models through data annotation tasks. Karya is worker-first: its datasets are worker-owned, it pays workers 20x the Indian minimum wage, and tasks don’t require connectivity. 

The Founders: Manu Chopra and Vivek Seshadri dreamt up Karya after meeting at Microsoft Research. Later joined by Safiya Husain, the three technologists & researchers are committed to closing the wealth gap in their home country of India. | | @karya_inc

The Opportunity: In the past year, 13% of young people in the U.S. reported attempted suicide. Those same young people are reaching out for help on social media platforms, but these platforms weren’t designed to treat mental health. What if they were?

The Solution: Koko meets young people where they are – on social media – and intervenes when they need help. It uses AI to detect when a person is struggling with a mental health challenge. Then, it connects this person to Koko’s evidence-based clinical interventions.

The Founders: Founded by Rob Morris, PhD and Kareem Kouddous, who bring deep experience building technology for mental health. Rob Morris first started working on Koko while facing his own mental health struggles as an engineering student at MIT. | | @koko

The Opportunity: Two-thirds of immigrants can’t afford an attorney in the U.S. This leaves some of the most vulnerable people without legal support. As a result, many asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants are forced to return to the humanitarian crises from which they fled.

The Solution: Mobile Pathways’ product, MyCamino, connects advocates with underserved migrants via text. The platform delivers information about case updates, legal rights, and policy changes. Plus, it leverages data insights to improve the immigration system. 

The Founders: Led by Ana Ortega-Villegas, Jeffrey O’Brien, Bart Skorupa, and Poesy Chen, a team of committed lawyers, technologists, and immigration advocates. | | @MobilePathways

The Opportunity: The destruction of nature is a key contributor to climate change. Restoration is an antidote. It’s simple: actions like planting more trees remove carbon from the atmosphere. But to unlock the power of restoration, we must act together.

The Solution: Restor is a digital hub empowering local communities across the globe. It connects restoration activists with resources like land-use data, advice on who to work with, and visibility to get the work funded.

The Founders: Founding CEO Clara Rowe has spent over a decade designing and implementing equitable sustainability solutions in communities across the world. Restor founder Tom Crowther is a leading expert on ecosystem restoration. | | @Restor_eco

The Opportunity: The college admissions process is complicated and confusing, especially for first-generation, low-income high school students. But access to the right guidance would give more students greater academic and economic opportunities. 

The Solution: Road to Uni democratizes college admissions support. Its chatbot guides students through each stage of the application process, from where to apply to how to apply. With Road to Uni, every student will have access to a college counselor.

The Founders: As a first-generation college graduate, Cielo Villa experienced the challenges of the college admissions process. Motivated by her own struggles, she became a private college advisor, then built Road to Uni to scale support to those who need it most. |

The Opportunity: Adolescence is hard, especially for LGBTQI+ youth in the Global South. Take South Africa, where queer youth suffer from depression at 4x the rate of their peers. But a virtual lifeline is here, thanks to the spread of mobile phones and affordable data plans.

The Solution: SameSame built a WhatsApp chatbot in partnership with local queer youth, to help them access safe, affirming support. At its core, the chatbot offers a self-guided, identity-affirming therapy course. Plus, links to vetted services and contextually-relevant stories.

The Founders: SameSame is built by queer engineers, designers, and clinicians. They’ve run national-scale mental health programs, built digital health systems, and created award-winning content for youth. | | @justsamesame

The Opportunity: Over 500M smallholder farmers across Africa don’t have access to cooling systems that would preserve the food they grow. As a result, almost half of yields go to waste before reaching the market. This means half of possible income disappears, too.

The Solution: Solar Freeze helps smallholder farmers preserve food and increase income. It builds – and rents out – solar-powered refrigerators, like an Airbnb for vegetables. Plus, it leverages SMS to text farmers with up-to-the-minute market information so they can get the best price for their crop.

The Founders: Dysmus Kisilu grew up in a family of smallholder farmers in Kenya. After studying renewable energy at UC Davis, he returned home to solve the challenges he saw growing up. | | @freeze_solar



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