PORTAGE, Mich. (AP) - Runners want their running to count for something, said Magali Mathieu.
They run for fun, for health or for competitive reasons. But Mathieu and friends thought it would be great if all that sweat had a larger benefit.
So the former Portage Northern High School student and two classmates from graduate school developed a social media application that connects runners with nonprofit organizations that need to raise funds and companies that want to make donations.
“I’m a co-founder of a running and social media app that promotes social good,” Mathieu told the Kalamazoo Gazette . She is now 25 and a resident of San Francisco.
The app is called Atlas and was promoted here last Saturday as thousands of high school students from Michigan and surrounding states participated in the Portage Invite Cross Country Race.
The app uses GPS tracking to log each mile a runner completes. That amount is tabulated to validate how much a donor company will give to a nonprofit.
Atlas has the capacity to connect nonprofit organizations and philanthropic companies with runners throughout the United States and in many parts of the world. Any runner or walker can start the process by using the Atlas app (iOS or Android) to choose whatever organization or cause they want to benefit.
Participating companies typically donate 25 cents for each mile logged by a runner. At Saturday’s event, the app was used to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo-based industrial recycling company Schupan & Sons Inc. sponsored a challenge fundraiser to donate $1 for every mile that was run by any athlete who agreed to participate - up to $10,000.
At the end of any run, runners agree to take pictures of themselves using an online Atlas template and post those images on whatever social media platforms they choose. The images of usually sweaty runners are stickered with the Atlas logo and the name of the company that donated for their run.
“Any cause that you can choose from is already linked with a corporation and has a dollar amount that you need to run for,” Mathieu said.
Marc Schupan, chief executive officer of Schupan & Sons, said he met Mathieu and her family when they lived in Portage and decided to invest in Atlas based on his knowledge of them and his expectation that Magali will do well.
“She comes from a great family,” said Schupan, who is a longtime member of the Big Brother Big Sisters board of directors.
The Atlas app has the potential to help solve a big problem for nonprofits, she said. It matches them with companies that want to help.
“A lot of nonprofits are relying on donations, which is a big thing,” she said.
The app benefits donor businesses by providing them with greater recognition for their charitable efforts, something that doesn’t always happen when businesses have traditionally made donations, she said. Along with the social media traffic from participating runners, banners with a company’s name are also prominently displayed at meets and other events.
The app benefits runners by giving them a way to help others by simply doing what they would normally do.
Mathieu’s company, Atlas Unlimited Inc., makes money by charging participating companies a fee that is above and beyond the amount they donate. She said that allows 100 percent of each donation to benefit a targeted nonprofit.
The fee is typically an extrapolation of the amount the company donates. Twenty percent, or $2,000, would typically accompany a $10,000 donation, for instance.
The scope of the app is worldwide, allowing runners here to help generate funds for causes and organizations anywhere. It also allows companies to rally their employees to run in private challenges, with the company agreeing to match its workers’ performance as runners.
That has the potential to build camaraderie and pride in the workplace, Mathieu said, while building a company’s reputation as a socially conscious organization.
Mathieu said all that resonates with the Millennial generation (born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s), of which she is a part. She said they want to know the full story on businesses they patronize and they want to know they are involved in helping make things better.
“They’re such a generation that wants to make a difference and feel like they’re involved in their community,” she said. “They want to know that a business is more than just a product but has a whole story and you are a part of that story.”
Mathieu said Atlas spun out of work she and two classmates - all of whom are runners - were doing in 2015 at Hult International Business School in the North Beach section of San Francisco. It was part of their course work to earn master’s degrees in social entrepreneurship.
Social entrepreneurship links business with social good.
“After undergrad, I worked in London for two years and I was learning a lot,” Mathieu said. “But I wasn’t satisfied anymore. I wanted to do something in social entrepreneurship.”
She said she wanted to have a business that is sustainable but has a positive impact on people’s lives. So she and others founded Atlas Unlimited, where she works as chief marketing officer. Her fellow co-founders are Thomas Querton, 25, who is now the company’s chief executive officer, and Olivier Kaeser, 30, who is its chief financial officer.
“We met and started playing with the idea,” Mathieu said.
The Atlas team now include them and one other full-timer - Seo Townsend, 25, who is chief technical officer - as well as four other part-time employees.
The app was launched in iOS on March 30 and on Android on the July 4th weekend.
She and her partners’ efforts over the last two years have been supported by $500,000 in funding from private investors in the Silicon Valley area, Kalamazoo and abroad. International connections go hand-in-hand with Magali’s life growing up.
Her family is from France and lived about three hours southwest of Paris. But she was born in Singapore and relocated with her family every three to five years with her father’s career in the automotive industry.
Mathieu lived in Michigan from 2002 to 2008. She attended Portage Northern High School but relocated from here in 11th grade. She completed high school in Seoul, South Korea, and did her undergraduate work in college at Royal Holloway-University of London in England.
She has lived in the San Francisco area for the past two years. She is fluent in French and English and conversant in Spanish.
This past spring, she was among 14 young entrepreneurs to participate in the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center’s 2017 Milestone Makers Program. It provided participants with classes, resources and mentorships to help them move their companies forward.
Information from: Kalamazoo Gazette, https://www.mlive.com/kalamazoo
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