Dahna Goldstein, Philantech, Woman Entrepreneur

Images-1If there is one thing you can take away from this blog post on Dahna is she confirms that the 19th century proverb, "if at first you don't succeed, try try again" can sometimes be a good mantra for an entrepreneur. PhilanTech was the first company funded by Pipeline.  Pipeline trains women to become angel investors aiming to change the investor pool and PhilanTech was the first group of fellows choice.  Bravo. 

PhilanTech is working to solve a problem in the non-profit sector.  There are over $43 billion in grants awarded each year.  Yes, that is correct, $43 billion.  13% is spend on administering the grant which is one of my biggest pet peeves.  Hugely inefficient.  If 2% of that 13% was spend on the service delivery that would be quite an impact.  Wouldn't it make sense if there was a company that had an online platform similar to the common app for colleges to apply for grants.  Foundations really don't want that but PhilanTech has created something that at least helps the applicants.  But let's go to the beginning of how PhilanTech got to this place.

Dahna grew up in Montreal.  She speaks French, went to a Jewish Day School and grew up in a family that spoke English.  Her father is a lawyer and her mom had a background in advertising.  When the kids came onto the scene her mother chose to stay home but was involved in several charitable activites.  When Dahna graduated high school she went to Williams in the states to go to college. 

In college she majored in English and did an internship at a literary agency as well as a software company in Boston.  After graduating Dahna worked for a company doing cdroms for k-12 and then moved on to work for the Global Education Network.  GEN was trying to democratize colleges like Brown, Wesleyan and Williams by bringing steaming video across the country for people in rural areas that couldn't afford to go to these schools.  There mission was a bit before its time.  Dahlia loved the software business and decided to go to Harvard for graduate school to get a masters in education with a concentration in technology. At one point she went on to get her MBA at Stern Business school. 

She will tell you that she always had an entrepreneurial bend particularly with a bend towards social good working in venture philanthropies such as Ashoka and Blue Ridge Foundation.  While at Harvard, she did work in a middle school in North Adams volunteering her time.  The school was in need of funding and Dahna was always into playing guitar and songwriting.  She had a musicial cd made and took the proceeds of that cd and gave it back to North Adams.  That experience sold her on the entrepreneurial creativity to give back.

After getting her masters she got funding from the social network fund at NYU in 2004 to build the grant making product she wanted to create for the non-profit world.  She plugged away at this for seven years.  She started putting her product in front of people and the response was that the product didn't make sense.  So back to the drawing board getting money from friends and family to relaunch in 2007.  Dahna changed the model to a profit model that helps non-profits.  Grantees of the non-profits who pay an annual service fee get to use their service for free.  Foundation are beginning to use their grant making tools and they pay for that too.  Online grant management tools are changing the way these foundations are doing business.  They are also building out a research component as they evolve like giving companies the ability to troll through their data base to look for possible companies that would match their mission.

Timing is everything.  Having people build technological platforms to help businesses that have historically been found through introductions and also run very inefficient organzations, PhilanTech is changing the way these companies do business. She is helping them get into the 21st century. 

Dhana has learned one very important thing as an entrepreneur…listen to your market.  She built a product that no one wanted.  I give her serious cred for not giving up and pivoting the product but not the idea.  She is super smart and obviously driven.  I am looking forward to see how the group of women at Pipeline help Dahna grow her company over the next year.  The good news is that Dahna is getting traction. It is now about getting more companies to use PhilanTech products so they can be more efficient with the grants they give.