Each week we’re profiling one company that has been selected for Boost – our early-stage startup growth program. Catch up with these companies in person at The Next Web Conference in New York on November 18.
With technology constantly improving our daily lives, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole other part of society that can’t afford an iPhone, much less daily meals.
Spare, a new startup based in New York City, is hoping to make a difference with an app that lets you donate less than $0.99 when you dine out. It’s similar to programs like Bank of America’s “Keep the Change,” or the Acorns investment app which round up your purchases to a whole dollar and put the change to other uses.
This time, of course, the change will go to support a worthy cause. The iOS app will also incentivize you to help by working with partner restaurants for rewards each time you donate through Spare.
We caught up with Spare’s founder Andra Tomsa to learn more.
Tell us what you do in two sentences
Spare enables users to round up their dine out bills to the nearest dollar to support local hunger relief efforts.
Our goal is to engage 10 percent of New Yorkers to each round up for a total of $6 a month – the cost of one beer – to collectively raise $58 million and close the meal gap in NYC.
What’s your origin story? How did the company get started?
I’ve always been passionate about social justice. I was born in Romania just a few years before Communist dictator Ceausescu was assassinated, and though I grew up in the States I summered abroad with my grandparents.
At a young age I was exposed to both wealthy northern New Jersey and Romania, a country struggling to get back on its feet. I grew up wanting to better understand equality so that I could ultimately do something to fight it.
SPARE came about when I asked myself, what are my skills? I knew Economics and I knew bartending as I’d worked in the NYC hospitality industry through college. I knew how much money was being spent at bars and restaurants and I wanted to find a way to capture a piece of that monumental capital flow to benefit the community.
As for fighting hunger, for me it was the clear choice. From the user perspective, you go out to eat and you help someone less fortunate have a meal. As for the need, it’s huge and growing worse and completely unnecessary in a city such as NYC. I worked for the next year with my son by my side and then began to build a small team.
Now, two and a half years later my son is turning 3, our product is set to go to market and we’re closing on half a million dollar round. It’s been an incredible journey.
Who’s your biggest rival and why are you better than them?
We don’t have a direct rival so to speak in our field, though if I were to approximate one I would say Acorns. We actually launched with them in Las Vegas last year, we were two of 15 companies presenting to an audience of 7,000+, it was intense.
Acorns automatically invests your spare change. I like to say they’re the other side of the coin. We automate round ups for social benefit and they do so for personal benefit.
Get rich or change the world – which is more important and why?
Change the world – because everyone deserves a chance at a happy healthy life and 2 billion people out there in the world have little chance at either because they live on less than $2 a day. It’s hard to reconcile the wealth of the developed world and the abject poverty of some developing nations. I choose to fight for greater equality.
Tell us one weird fact about a member of your team
This may sound sort of gross, but I was born with two baby teeth with roots and so they never fell out. I’m probably one of a few people out there walking around with two baby teeth as an adult. They’re not a different size or anything so no one can tell, but there you have it.