We automate a fresh start for folks buried in debt who are too broke to hire a bankruptcy lawyer.
I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
I am over 18 years of age
My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States
Where are you making a difference?
Across the United States. Every state in the country!
Focus Areas (required)
Business & Social Enterprise
Development & Prosperity
June / 18 / 2016
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)
Website or social media URL(s) (optional)
1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.
Rohan just graduated from Harvard, where he was a researcher at the law school's Access to Justice Lab. He was working on physical packets for people to get through the bankruptcy process before realizing that people should be able to use a digital product to help themselves. So he set out to create TurboTax for bankruptcy. Jonathan was a bankruptcy attorney for 10 years, and he realized that millions of low-income Americans were priced out of the court system. He decided to quit his job in corporate law and start a tech nonprofit that would make bankruptcy free and easy to access for everyone.
2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
We will help 20 million low-income Americans wipe away their debts using Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Personal bankruptcy is one of America's most important social safety nets, but it's inaccessible because of complex law and regulations. And lawyers cost too much money for almost everyone who needs it.
3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
We're making the technology tool that allows these 20 million Americans to do the process themselves without needing to be represented by a lawyer. No consumer technology product ever has provided the same average financial ROI per user as Upsolve: $40,000 for 3 hours of use. We spun out of a five-year RCT at Harvard Law School. We’re the first Turbo Tax for bankruptcy.
4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.
Linda’s 45 years old and she lives right off the C train in Brooklyn. Two years ago, Linda was doing just fine. She had a staff job at a local public school and a steady stream of income. But in early 2016, tragedy struck. Linda got into a bad car accident and broke her leg. She lost her job during her long recovery. As a result, she fell into over $30,000 in debt. Suddenly, the things she took for granted, the food on her table, the house over her head, came into question. She started getting calls at all hours of the day from debt collectors and she couldn’t see a way out.
The government is supposed to have a lifeline for Linda. It’s called Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It erases debt from sudden financial shocks like job loss, medical illness, and divorce. It’s a powerful poverty fighting tool.
Through our product, however, Linda was able to get back on her feet and get a job.
5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?
We will help 20 million low-income Americans buried in debt from medical illness, job loss, and divorce obtain a fresh start using Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Personal bankruptcy is one of America's most important social safety nets, but it's inaccessible because of complex law and regulations. And lawyers cost too much money for almost everyone who needs it. We're making the technology tool that allows these 20 million Americans to do the process themselves.
5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:
age - elder
6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?
There are for-profit and nonprofit bankruptcy lawyers, but they don’t scale because they handle cases on an individual basis. Regulations stop for-profit companies from being consumer-facing like us because it’s illegal to charge the end user for a software product that automates bankruptcy. There are a few software companies that build products for bankruptcy attorneys and some predatory companies that charge users for access to the fillable PDFs the government provides for free. But no nonprofit has built software to tackle this problem because they don’t have technical expertise.
7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
In the last 5 months alone, 1200 people have used our product to see if they qualify for bankruptcy and 250 people have entered our pipeline. We've erased over $5,000,000 in debt.
Our favorite stories: the elderly woman who gave us mugs with our initials because she loved our product so much, the woman who sent us a beautiful card, and, of course, the elderly man who sent us a $100 check one year after he filed and got back on his feet.
8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?
We’re looking at 3 channels to find folks in financial distress who need our help: (1) tax prep sites that help 3.3 million people each year, (2) bankruptcy court websites that direct 30 million Americans each year, and (3) fintech companies like Lending Tree that have tens of millions of users in financial distress. We recently signed an LOI with Lending Tree.
8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?
Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
Large Scale Partnerships
Lobbying, Policy Change
9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?
We have a great balance of reliable government funding and private foundations. We're fortunate to have gotten a 6-figure grant from the Legal Services Corporation (federal government) and be funded by the Blue Ridge Labs/Robin Hood Foundation, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and Harvard University. We also earn revenue from licensing our product to paying legal aid organizations.
10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
No one in the bankruptcy space has our mix of domain expertise and tech skill. Jonathan Petts, our legal lead, has ten years of experience as a bankruptcy lawyer. Rohan Pavuluri, our product lead, spent two years testing the paper prototype of our product with Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab. Kristin Turner recently graduated from Harvard Law School, where she was president of the Black Law Students’ Association. Finally, our CTO, Mark Hansen, has years of experience building tech.
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