Aron Shelton, 28, and Alyssa Snyder, 29, are of the generation known as "Millennials," young men and women who came of age in front of a computer and prefer to text their friends rather than make a call. When they want to know something, they turn to cyberspace, and when they learn something they pass it on through social media.
So when Shelton and Snyder graduated from the University of Arkansas's Walton College of Business they knew their market. But they also knew they wanted to use their education "in a way that is meaningful," Snyder said, rather than solely remunerative. How, they wondered, could they create a business that would help their generation get involved and provide a new tool to fund-raisers?
How to get younger people involved in philanthropy is a question that non-profits everywhere are asking. There's no substitute for the cultivation of personal relationship — that is the prime way major institutions get their significant support. But reaching a new audience? For that, non-profits large and small are getting creative. For Shelton and Snyder, it turned into a business.
Shelton and Snyder let their business idea bubble in the back of their brains while they got involved in their own charity work — tackling the problem of hunger in the area.
Fayetteville is booming; the fact that one in four adults and 37 percent of children live in poverty goes largely under the radar; it was certainly a surprise to Shelton and Snyder, who'd studied a variety of community needs before deciding on hunger.
They began with an awareness campaign, Seeds that Feed, setting up at the Saturday Farmer's Market at the square. That evolved into CareCropping, which Shelton described as "the antithesis of sharecropping." They met with farmers and home gardeners to find surplus harvest — fresh produce that the farmers could neither use for their animals or themselves — that they could distribute to the hungry. "It was a huge learning process for us," Snyder said. Over six months, CareCropping grew to involve 40 suppliers whose surplus was enough to supply 10 to 12 food pantries on a regular basis and others irregularly. The vegetables "were exactly what [farmers] were selling to people shopping," Snyder said. "They were so generous."
Those who regularly sign up for local-food baskets will not be surprised that their first donation was 130 pounds of sweet potatoes, from Summer Kitchen Family Farm. Now they get "every vegetable you can think of."
Six months into the project, they've distributed more than 16,000 pounds of food, or 47,000 servings.
With their experience in mind, Snyder and Shelton began to see how they could build a business that would help other community projects. Their idea: SpareTime, a website that would allow young adults — the Millennials — wanting to help but not quite knowing how find the groups that need them, from non-profits to school groups needing donations of time or money.
"If you're not plugged in, into a community, there's a barrier to getting involved," Snyder said. SpareTime is an "interface that is attractive to young people. Young people tend to want to get involved visually, through social media networks" and easy-to-navigate websites.
At the suggestion of Fayetteville designer Will Collins of Archetype Productions — himself a Millennial and entrepreneur — Shelton and Snyder decided to apply for a grant from ARK Challenge, a tech business accelerator that would fund 15 startups. There were 83 applicants from 14 countries; SpareTime was one of the winners. The $18,000 grant allowed them to quit their day jobs and focus on SpareTime, sharing workspace with other entrepreneurs in The Iceberg at 509 W. Spring St.