By Melissa Simpson

There’s no question that the world would be a better place if more people were able to positively (and efficiently) give back to their communities. Often, many shy away from volunteering because of fears that the tasks will be dull or even intimidating. In other cases, finding opportunities to participate civically proves to be a task in and of itself.

Chicago’s GoCivic aims to make civic engagement more accessible by providing the public with both web and mobile-based community engagement platforms. Here, users can find and interact with area civic organizations and nonprofits that align with their schedule and favorite social causes.

As the managing director of GoCivic, Beth Bond is responsible for highlighting the various civic engagement opportunities that are available in Chicago.

“In this climate of increased demand for civic engagement, more and more people are looking for ways to participate in meaningful ways, where they can contribute to shaping the future of our city— whether that’s attending a public town hall meeting to voice their ideas to elected officials, pitching in at a local shelter or even attending a happy hour that supports a local nonprofit,” says Bond.

On the GoCivic website, users can identify various social good organizations where they have the ability to make direct donations or log volunteer hours. Plus, users are able to search for events by category through numerous organizations in the city.

GoCivic was founded in 2017 when Bond and other members of the Chicago Leadership Alliance, a collective of entrepreneurs from Chicago’s nonprofit, corporate, government and startup communities, saw that Chicago needed a centralized hub that could advance civic engagement in their city.

“Since our official launch in July of 2017, we’ve worked with 50 corporate and professional groups to support partners like Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Parks Foundation, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, city officials and community-based groups across all 77 neighborhoods,” says Bond.

“Through our partnership with Chicago Ideas Week this past October, empowering audiences to take inspiration from the stage to action in their neighborhood, we’ve had over 12,000 Chicagoans engage with GoCivic to find ways to get involved.”

After creating the platform, the next steps were tracking how users were engaging with both the application and website. When the purpose is to increase engagement in areas of civic and social good, it is important to make sure that the public is receiving the information in the most efficient and effective way possible.

“In developing any digital platform, tracking user adoption and determining the effectiveness and usage of your tech is always an exciting experiment,” Bond says.

“Seeing how users engage with our neighborhood map and event searches has made us pretty intentional about curating public-based events that anyone can opt into, reducing most of the common barriers to getting involved.”

Bond, who has more than 10 years of startup experience, knows the importance of understanding your market when creating a new business venture. She says that knowing the ecosystem that your product will exist in and pulling insights and resources from that ecosystem are the steps that should be taken before beginning to develop a product.

Research and a firm understanding of the market landscape are overarching themes when discussing best practices for new businesses. Danielle Cohn, Executive Director, Entrepreneurial Engagement and Head of LIFT Labs for Entrepreneurs at Comcast NBCUniversal, also believes that research helps to create solid foundations for businesses.

“Every entrepreneur should do his or her research to know if there is a need for that particular idea; what does the competitive landscape look like; is there a similar product or idea already available and so on,” Cohn says.

Comcast NBCUniversal was once a startup itself, and continues to value and support that entrepreneurial spirit, The company recently launched LIFT Labs for Entrepreneurs, a collaborative learning environment where startups serious about developing the next generation of media, entertainment and connectivity innovations connect with Comcast NBCUniversal product teams.

A primary component of this is the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars, kicking off this July in Philadelphia. Startups selected for the 13-week accelerator program will receive one-on-one mentoring from Techstars, a worldwide entrepreneur network that supports entrepreneurs through access to mentorship and capital, and will work directly with mentors and product experts from across Comcast NBCUniversal’s businesses, including the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, film studios, and cable networks, and Xfinity products and services.

The goal is to help founders, like Bond, elevate their ideas even faster.

“For those looking to get into the civic startup space, or any startup space, my advice would be to talk to everyone about what you want to do,” Bond adds. “Find out who is doing something similar, where the gaps are in the current market and then figure out how to differentiate yourself—and most importantly, provide value”.

GoCivic is currently working on some innovative tactics to increase civic engagement in Chicago. One of these tactics includes GoCivic Brew, a beer created by local microbrewery, LoRez. The beer will be piloted in 20 bars, and a dollar from each sale will go toward the GoCivic grant program, which awards funds to nonprofit organizations that experience the most engagement on the GoCivic platform.

Additionally, Bond and the rest of the GoCivic team are in the process of launching GoCivic Perks, an initiative that will allow the public to earn experience based incentives from local businesses based on their level of civic engagement.

“This spring we will be launching a new mobile version of our tech and announcing some pretty major partnerships,” says Bond. “By December 31st of this year, our goal is to track $10 million in donated time, dollars and goods across the city.”

If you’re a startup focused media, entertainment, or connectivity, you can apply for the Comcast NBCUniversal Accelerator, powered by Techstars now through April 8.