This startup uses global volunteering opportunities to help companies retain top talent

by Michael Hines
November 10, 2017

Ignite group trip Chicago

Employee burnout and job hopping are two challenges all startups face. Tech companies typically address these problems by upping the ante on pay, perks and benefits.

But Ignite, a Chicago-based startup, doesn’t think the solution to these challenges involves pay bumps or a day off to celebrate the birthday of the boss’s dog.

Their suggestion? Company-sponsored volunteer travel.

“We believe that an experience can change your world,” said co-founder Ryan Jeffery. “Our carefully designed global experiences combine cultural engagement, personal and professional development and team building.”

It’s an experience Jeffery knows first hand. A Chicago tech industry veteran, Jeffery co-founded Belly, spent time as an analyst at Lightbank, and launched Builders Studios. But startup life eventually began to take its toll, and Jeffery said he found himself looking for inspiration and purpose.

That search led him on a trip to Nicaragua organized by Spark Ventures, an international nonprofit that provides human and financial resources to grassroots organizations. While there, he met one of the nonprofit’s leaders, Rich Johnson. The pair began talking and realized that excursions like a Spark Ventures trip could make a powerful impact on the corporate world.

With that idea in mind, they launched Ignite, which mixes personal and professional development with different kinds of trips tailored toward objectives like team building and leadership development. The company also organizes volunteering trips designed to reward long-time employees with a change of pace.

“Companies are facing talent wars and issues with retention and productivity along with the demands of the millennial workforce,” said Johnson. “They need to find a way to build a thriving and diverse culture if they’re going to succeed, and these experiences provide a really unique way to do that.”

All itineraries include opportunities to engage and work with community organizations. This collaboration varies by trip and can involve serving as a child’s reading partner or helping to facilitate adult development programs. According to the co-founders, all engagement opportunities are carefully crafted so that travelers make a real impact.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing activities and exchanges that local community members are asking for and that they need and which lead to long-term support and empowerment,” Johnson said.

Ignite currently offers trips to Mexico, Nicaragua and Zambia. Trips vary in length from four to nine days and all in-country costs are covered by Ignite. A donation to the startup’s community partners is included in the cost of each trip, and companies are able to make further donations at their discretion.

Jeffery said Ignite is already working with a number of companies, including MillerCoors and Chicago-based startup Benchprep, which is using the trips as a way to reward long-time employees for their loyalty.

“Employees aren’t just looking for an increase in salary or a bonus,” said Jeffery. “They’re looking for inspiration, purpose and meaning.”

Ignite launched in mid-October and has a full-time team of five. The company’s immediate plans include hiring for its sales and marketing teams and developing new domestic and international partnerships to broaden its range of trips.


Image via Ignite.

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

Jobs at Ignite

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