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Fab Labs, AirBnBs and DonorsChoose all begin as somebody's bright idea.  What's yours?

By Ben Feuer



If you are planning to apply to graduate school, you are probably spending some time thinking about how to bolster your non-profit experience on your resume -- perhaps incorporating some elements of leadership, international service, or something scalable that can persist after you go off to school.

You see, volunteering doesn't just mean strolling down to the local Big Brothers, Big Sisters and giving up a few hours of your day anymore (although if that is what you are into, aggregator websites have made this easier than it has ever been).  The rise of dynamic internet startups mean that nearly anything can be experimented with on a small scale.  These days, what starts as a volunteer business can grow into a real one, and it can define what type of role you see yourself playing in your community.

You might be a raiser.  Take Donors Choose -- what amounts to a Kickstarter for teachers.  The founder, who is listed on the website as earning about $240,000 a year from his small business, was a teacher who decided one day to create a webpage promoting all the projects teachers wanted to do for their students and asking for funding from the local community.  It started small and grew from there.  The fact is, an entire economy of giving to new products and causes is evolving, and there are many opportunities outside of Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and Kiva to have an impact.

You might be a maker.  The maker economy is growing fast thanks to the rise of 3d printers, which allow practically anyone to make a product without resorting to factories or assembly lines.  This Bloomberg article talks about a 'fab lab', founded in Detroit for $250,000, that gives inner city youths an opportunity to make their own bikes.  These labs can be built anywhere in the world (India, for example) and cost relatively little to initiate, but can provide both entertainment and employment for locals.  Of course, you might want to make something in the lab instead of making the lab itself.  There, too, you can find volunteer opportunities, collaborating to create a new product like this Nifty Minidrive mentioned in the article.

You might be a sharer.  The sharing economy is getting so big that the (non-sharing?) economy is getting a bit nervous and trying to squelch it, but this way of life is not going away anytime soon.  Beaucoup websites and apps such as Uber, AirBnB and Taskrabbit have each wound up creating disruptive micro-economies of their own.  Not only are there opportunities out there to create local, small scale versions of these types of services (like a neighborhood share shed for power tools or a group time share on boats or a pier) in your own neighborhood, you just might come up with the next big idea that blows up into something much bigger.

So think about which of these roles best suit you -- or come up with one of your own -- our very own founders, David Thomas and Evan Forster, did just that when they created Essay Busters.  One thing's for certain -- there are no shortage of people out there who need your help.

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