How a dilapidated school building inspired this Bunker Labs startup

by Andreas Rekdal
May 10, 2017

Neighborhood fundraisers are a time-tested method for funneling additional resources to schools for new projects and equipment. But raising money can be a lot harder for schools in underprivileged areas.

HowDoWe, a startup working out of 1871, has built a crowdfunding platform that lets those schools tap into a bigger pool of resources.

“The immediate community in certain areas may not be able to afford certain projects that can benefit their children and their local schools,” said co-founder and vice president Brian Letzter. “Our idea is to reach out to the broader community and strengthen cities as a whole.”

Founded in 2015, HowDoWe works exclusively with public schools to raise money for upcoming and ongoing projects, including initiatives that promote energy efficiency, new programs and advanced curriculums. Donations can also be used for equipment and infrastructure upgrades.

“Our focus is on larger-scale projects that cost $2,000 or more,” said co-founder and president Michael Anderson. “We believe that to make a difference in education over multiple years, that has to be done at the administrative level with larger projects.”

Anderson said the idea behind HowDoWe came about when he was picking up a friend who worked at a public school on the South Side of Chicago from work.

“As we pulled up, we noticed that there was a building outside the school that was broken down and boarded up, and she told me it’s been that way for many years,” he said. “That used to be a cafeteria, and it could be refurbished to be used by students again.”

If there were a transparent way for schools to educate the surrounding community about the kinds of resources they needed, Anderson thought, more people would probably be donating money to local schools.

In addition to expanding the reach of an individual school’s fundraising projects, HowDoWe can help schools keep up with documentation requirements. Many schools are required to track the exact amount of funds raised from each individual donor for a project to ensure money goes to the right place. The company also helps schools generate the tax forms donors need to deduct such gifts from their taxes.

A former U.S. Army Cavalry Scout who served in Iraq, Letzter was honorably discharged in 2013 and enrolled at Illinois State University to pursue a business degree with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. When he and Anderson started working on HowDoWe, the pair checked out Bunker Labs at the recommendation of a fellow veteran and decided to join its incubator program that day.

“They’ve been a tremendous help, and it’s a great place to work out of as well,” Letzter said.

HowDoWe added its first school, Logan Square’s Salmon P. Chase Elementary, to the platform this week. In addition to adding new schools, the startup is currently expanding its platform’s functionality with features like matching donations for local businesses.


Image via HowDoWe.

What's your company's story? Let us know with a tip or a tweet @BuiltInChicago

Chicago startup guides

Best Companies to Work for in Chicago
Coolest Offices in Chicago Tech
Best Perks at Chicago Tech Companies
Women in Chicago Tech