Smashing Boxes is raising $82,000 to build a home with Habitat For Humanity in Durham.
We aim to change the way companies in general, and especially tech, interact with their local community.
Entrepreneurs tend to dream big. Commoditization of space travel comes to mind. Other dreams, while not always as bold, include things like building a lasting brand, making a difference in the world, being a pillar of the community, and changing the way things are done.
I have similar dreams (non-space travel) for Smashing Boxes, the software development and design company I cofounded in 2010. We have three big pillars of our 20 year vision:
- Build a company that will be around for the next 50 years;
- Set an example of what a forward thinking workplace culture looks like; and
- Make a difference in our local communities where we operate.
Until recently, number three – making a difference in our local community, has always felt fairly straightforward. We hire local people, we host tech community meetups, we work with a good deal of local startups and corporations as clients, we buy local food and beer, we support local businesses, we live locally, we invest in other local companies, and so on. We even brought the triangle’s first Code School to market to infuse talent into the marketplace. We were, and still are, helping contribute to the growth of our business and tech community in Durham. However, we realized we were leaving out a large contingent: the people in our community who make our towns, cities, and communities what they are.
We look to Silicon Valley for leadership and inspiration on a number of fronts in the tech world. While that ecosystem and community has had tremendous successes, innovation breakthroughs, and wealth creation, it became apparent that these wins were coming at the expense of the local community that made a city like San Francisco such a cool, edgy place to start a company.
Similar fates have fallen upon other great communities like New York City.
Inclusion within technology has been a source of constant conversation for a while now, and it doesn’t just start and stop at hiring. Communities are frequently left out of the opportunities that exist in cities like Durham and are pushed out due to the increased cost of living.
Essentially, cities are working to bring tech companies and startups to their community to boost jobs and revenues, but in the end, the city’s identity can be lost after locals are driven out. To me, that gives tech and startups a bad wrap and needed to change. We want to change that trend through terms of how we hire people within companies like ours, and also by addressing the housing needs of other members of the community.
At a CEO Build for Habitat For Humanity Durham last April (April 12th, my birthday, to be exact) it dawned upon me that our market, while maturing and growing, is still malleable enough to interject and not suffer a similar fate. It was at that moment that I realized I wanted to ensure that the people in our community, the fabric of the dynamic and creative culture that helps cities like NYC, SF, and Durham NC thrive, would be put front and center in our long term mission. So, we set off to change the world!
THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY
There are an unlimited amount of ways we could attack this problem, and our minds were spinning. Local education programs, building a portable IOT classroom for kids, working with the city on worker retraining, and more. As an entrepreneur, I wanted to design a scalable and repeatable process and system to help address community building. Let’s change the way we approach ecosystem building on a global level. How to do that? A wise person (shout out to Phaedra Boinodiris!) gave me the advice “think globally, act locally”. So, instead of spending time figuring out how to do it all, I decided to focus on a clear, specific local outcome: build one house. I hope this scales to one house per year. Then, I hope it scales to other companies taking on a similar challenge. If we can model the way for others, then this one local act can in fact make a global impact.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
We have several fundraising events planned throughout the next year such as a Ladies in Tech Tea, Gamethon, and an inaugural Habitat for Humanity of Durham Gala. Please check out our fundraising link for more information on how to get involved.