Former gubernatorial hopeful Benjamin T. Jealous (D) is launching a new investment firm that focuses on social impact. Called 20X, it will be based in Baltimore, the city where he worked during his years at the venture capital company Kapor Capital, which he left last week.
“The idea is that social impact investing is twenty times more powerful than philanthropy when it’s done well,” Jealous told Maryland Matters on Tuesday, “because you’re putting all your capital toward the goal of actually improving the world.”
Jealous, who lost to incumbent Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in November after a surprise win the Democratic primary, will serve as chairman of the new company. He said he will be able to disclose the names of his partners after they complete the process of leaving their current employers.
Among the companies Jealous has been advising since the election is citizen.com, a public safety app now available in New York and San Francisco. Baltimore becomes the third Citizen city this week, with residents able to download the app starting Wednesday.
Citizen.com takes information from police radio traffic and official social media reports, and pushes it to people in the immediate vicinity, so they can learn about a shooting, fire or other threat within moments and take precautions, Jealous said.
“When a call goes out over the police scanner about an [incident] that’s a human life or safety threat, it pops up geocoded to where you are. You don’t get everything, you get it from areas that are important to you — where you work, where your kids go to school, where you live.”
Peter Donald, director of communications and policy at Citizen, said more than 600,000 people have downloaded the app in New York and San Francisco.
“ER nurses use it as a radar, to predict when the emergency room is going to get flooded in the next 10 minutes,” Jealous said. “Mothers, rich or poor, of every color, [use it] to keep an eye on the park or their kids’ school.”
In a follow-up call with a reporter, Jealous acknowledged that citizen.com was first called Vigilante, a name with an entirely different — and potentially unsavory — connotation.
“I had a very frank conversation with the founder,” he said. “It was actually the first time I ever yelled at a founder. … I said, ‘With a name like that, you’re going to attract the wrong crowd. You’ll attract [Trayvon Martin assailant] George Zimmerman .’ I was just very frank with him.”
The company subsequently changed its name.
As for revenue-generation, Jealous said the focus now is to get the app into the hands of as many people as possible, because of the potential it has to alert people to safety threats in their neighborhood, then go from there.
“The model is very similar to Facebook, which is just to get massive amounts of downloads and then figure out how to monetize it.”
He insists that the app will always be free to users.
In addition to socially-conscious investing, 20X, Jealous’ new firm, will also do real estate work (“We’re working on a new model to take a social-impact approach to workforce housing in Baltimore”) and will provide guidance to corporations that need to “course-correct.”
“We’ll be fixing companies that may have lost their way or just want strengthen positive social impact,” he said.
Having worked for years in Baltimore during his tenure as head of the NAACP and at Kapor, Jealous said it felt natural to locate the new firm there.
“We’ve got to get the innovation economy into our city more deeply. I see great possibility. … I’m a proud part of the Baltimore tech scene and I believe that we can go much further.”