Type: Early stage social enterprise
Refugee investment category: R3
SDGs addressed: 5, 8, 9, 10
Headquarters regions: San Francisco, CA, USA
Sector: Mobile technology
Summary: sparrow was founded in 2014 by a group of social entrepreneurs determined to end digital poverty and connect people across the globe using the company’s product-as-impact model. When customers switch their mobile services to a sparrow, they are supporting someone in need with a smartphone and/or wireless service every month they are a sparrow customer. With sparrow’s wireless service, customers can either bring their own device or purchase one from sparrow’s website. In addition, they receive competitively priced services via the Good Plan with unlimited Talk & Text for $20 per month with $10 per GB of data used. Across its focus areas of women, youth, refugees and the homeless, sparrow has partnered with organizations such as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Black Girls Code, Larkin Street Youth Services, Rush University Medical Center, and others to provide over 7,400 donations and almost 4,000 beneficiaries to date. sparrow has also created a specific impact program, RefugeeMobile, to deliver mobile technology and resettlement services to new refugees within the United States.
Potential refugee impact: sparrow created RefugeeMobile as an impact program to provide mobile technology and services to recently resettled refugees within the United States with the goal of improving lives via better connection to the local communities, higher paying jobs and enhanced connection to their case workers. As part of Phase One of RefugeeMobile, sparrow provided phones, services, specialized apps, and training for an 18-month pilot with refugees in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth, showing that refugees who received a smartphone upon resettlement were "45% more likely to interact with someone from a different culture, 38% more likely to visit their child's teacher at school, and 28% more likely to have internet at home" (source). sparrow and its partners received a Discovery Grant from the MacArthur Foundation to help deliver the Phase One randomized control trial (Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities performed the measurement and analysis and was the independent review board). In addition, they received a supplemental grant from Vodafone Americas Foundation for Phase Two of the project, which is still in progress with the goal of creating a scalable platform that could be used by resettlement agencies to provide services more efficiently to refugees. Currently, sparrow is a founding member and the only telecommunications company active in the Tent Corporate Partnership for Refugees.
Investment thesis: sparrow has already established strong, scalable relationships with underlying networks, device providers, fulfillment, billing, and customer care. With registered trademarks, and core IP, sparrow has established a high-quality brand with a clear mission and value proposition. The company already has approximately $1 million in revenues to date, retail customers in over 40 states, and a competitively priced plan to target a large potential consumer base - 250M postpaid U.S. mobile subscriptions. Currently there are no other mainstream impact players at scale in this market.
Structure: sparrow is a Delaware LLC, in the process of becoming a certified B-Corp. The company has established two funds with Tides. The first is a $1 million MRI designed to turn traditional charitable dollars into investments such that a potential investor can invest either traditional or charitable tax-fee dollars into the sparrow Seed Round. The second is a Corporate Action Fund which is used solely to fund RefugeeMobile activities, and thus geared towards grants from philanthropic or corporate partners.