March Summit Preview: Goodie Nation Hacks Gentrification

In 2016, Goodie Nation co-founder and executive director Joey Womack and his tribe of changemakers and entrepreneurs brought some of the city’s best and brightest tech socialpreneurs together to do what had never been done before: #HackGentrification.

Goodie Nation Co-Founder and Executive Director Joey Womack.
Goodie Nation Co-Founder and Executive Director Joey Womack.

Inspired by Google’s X Moonshot Factory, Goodie Nation created Goodie Innovation – a six-month social impact incubator designed to invent and launch big idea technologies that help raise basic need averages of under-served communities, combining contributions from passionate and committed people, subject-matter experts and skilled professionals.

With help from a grant by Google, Goodie Nation’s 2016 Cohort focused on economic development with the goal of producing ten tech startups to build products to connect people that live/work in areas affected by gentrification to emerging nearby economic opportunities.

At our March 3 Transform Westside Summit, Joey will talk about the Social Impact Incubator that spawned not 10, but 11 start-ups, including one of which we’ve featured below.

Aton Bridges, founder of Acrefy – the AirBnB of Urban Farming, shares his Goodie Nation journey and his hope for the Westside.

Acrefy founder Aton Bridges preparing for his Goodie Nation Demo Day presentation.

1. How and why did you get involved with Goodie Nation and it’s #HackGentrification Incubator?

I’ve been volunteering at local hackathons since 2012 to learn more about Atlanta’s startup ecology. Gradually, I begin thinking about ways to apply lean startup thinking to social problems. When I found out Goodie Nation was already experimenting with this, I began volunteering at their events. I learned about the incubator from their newsletter and thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase how coding and farming can help solve long standing social problems.

2. What is Acrefy and how did the idea for Acrefy come about?

Acrefy is a product built by my company, Mashamba. It’s an online platform that connects property owners with surplus, unused land to the city’s growing number of trained urban farmers. Think of it like AirBnB, except the stays are longer and the end result is high quality local food that’s delicious!

Before applying to the incubator, I was living in Dixie Hills and constantly thought about all the land (including people’s lawns, vacant/blighted properties, and space under power lines) that sat idle yet could be generating income and tax revenue for the area. I was a HABESHA Works urban agriculture training graduate so I was keenly aware of how much opportunity was wasted by not connecting land to farmers when “urban agriculture” was such a buzz word.

3. What was the Goodie Nation experience like? (What did you gain from it? What were some of the challenges? What was unexpected about the process?)

The process really helped us see that there are multiple food tech and ag tech opportunities in the city. It sharpened my skills as a presenter and helped me overcome fears of public speaking. We are learning that two sided market places are difficult and this remains an exciting engineering challenge for us.

Video: Goodie Nation Hack Gentrification Demo Day Highlights – featuring Acrefy

4. Now that you’re a Goodie Nation graduate, what’s next for Acrefy?

Currently, we are working with local partners to establish several multi-plot incubation farms of several dozen acres to help growers develop urban farming business and production skills.

We continue to focus our engineering efforts on building a SAAS solution that makes it easy for institutions to partner with local urban farmers who to practice organic, sustainable, and/or restorative agriculture on land that would otherwise generate only expenses for the owner and track those assets under cultivation.

We also want to help small scale growers more easily collaborate to fulfill bulk purchase orders from larger entities such as anchor institutions, grocers, and restaurant chains. The future of food is local, but it’s going to take some tech to help growers synchronize their efforts to serve market needs.

Climate change and local resiliency is also a real concern for our company. The Department of Defense testified before Congress that global climate change will “degrade living conditions, human security and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations”. To help get in front of this huge problem we will be launching a global collaboration to bring together growers, hackers, makers, and scientists to develop open source source technology able to empower cities and their citizens to produce more of their own food. We think Atlanta is primed to become a global leader in this area.

5. How do you think Acrefy can help revitalize and spur growth and progress on Atlanta’s historic Westside?

We can certainly help facilitate the process of connecting willing property owners to willing growers to create positive economic results for all parties involved (including tax revenue for the city, county, and state). Urban farming is a viable business model and the ATL metro has an ideal climate. We see urban farming as an emergent 21st century trade right along with coding. We are going to continue to do our part to promote it as a solution to under/unemployment and food insecurity while leveraging it to build community wealth.

However, a single entity, or even a cohort of startups, can’t solve these problems by themselves. Atlanta has sixteen Fortune 500 companies and a number of private foundations but is ranked 2nd most unequal city in the United States according to Bloomberg. It’s important to recognize that the #HackGentrification Incubator produced a sort of special forces A-Team with each member of the cohort possessing a different piece of the puzzle to create a revitalized Westside. This first #HackGentrification cohort is the team that can help solve some of these big problems but others need to step up and support them and Goodie Nation.

Acrefy team during a Goodie Innovation session.

The problems faced by this region go beyond the Westside. Hopefully, we can leverage revitalization interests to develop concrete solutions to structural inequality in the city and also the nation and world. There is a tremendous opportunity for Atlanta to become a global leader in this area as well. Whether or not we are up to the task will be requisite on our ability to come together, have frank conversation, and coordinate our immense resources to be a leading global city in tackling these difficult areas.

Inspired? Intrigued? Want to learn more? Click here to RSVP for the March 3 Transform Westside Summit. For additional information on Joey Womack, Goodie Nation and the 11 teams that hacked Gentrification (listed below), click here.

2016 #HackGentrification Cohort:

  1. GOODR: The food rescue platform designed to scale – connecting food surpluses to those in need.
  2. BUILD UNITED: Connecting youth to opportunities by building bridges between workforce development nonprofits and businesses.
  3. SPEKTRA: Affordable, accessible pregnancy planning for women displaced by gentrification.
  4. VNGLE: Community story sharing – crowdsourced local coverage that allows for better engagement and controlled influence of public message.
  5. RESURGE: Creating community power plants with homes fueled by solar energy.
  6. CIVIC DINNERS: A platform for building empathy through connection and conversation around the dinner table.
  7. MINI CITY: Social enterprise that offer tech-enabled, cost saving solutions to government agencies and nonprofits seeking to reduce homelessness.
  8. NAFASI: Transforming ideas into opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs in emerging communities.
  9. WEDGE FINDER: Connect people with affordable housing, accessible transportation, and empowering work opportunities.
  10. URBAN TECS: Helping local business grow revenue and build relationship within their communities via brand storytelling, social media and digital trends.
  11. ACREFY: Connecting institutional land managers to urban farmers to improve local economy in gentrification threatened communities.