Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Giving back to Give Forward, Woman Entrepreneur

Give-forward-logo-300x83 Kickstarter is a disruptive idea.  Not sure that anyone would have thought that people would give dollars to people who are trying to kickstart an idea five years ago.  Maybe it is this particular generation that grew up with the Internet and understands that this medium is an extension of their day to day life and should be used creatively, socially and intelligently.  It is inspiring and creates community in ways that we had not thought about.

Yesterday I spoke with Desiree Vargas Wrigley who launched Give Forward in 2008 although she had been thinking about this idea for awhile.  In 2009 Give Forward pivoted because of the community using the site to empower friends and family to give money to patients for a medical crisis.  Desiree and her partner, Ethan, have stumbled on to something because this month Give Forward might raise as much as half a million dollars. Pretty impressive.

A Kansas City girl who returned home after graduating from Yale where she fell in love with corporate social responsibility.  Waiting tables at home while trying to figure out how to get onto that career path she happened to wait on someone who worked at the Kaufman Foundation.  He took her resume and gave it to Judith Cone who was the VP of Entrepreneurship.  She was managing $20 million that she was giving away to liberal arts schools to spur programs around entrepreneurship.  She hired Desiree to help roll those programs out which would teach students how to boot strap a company, write a business plan, etc.  While she was watching students, not much younger than herself, create start-up companies, she herself got bit by the bug.

She originally came up with an idea for raising money on line around anything while waiting for friends at her birthday party.  Individuals give so much money to corporations to disperse at times of crisis ( such at Katrina ) so why couldn't individuals give money directly to who they want to give money to.  Around this time she had walked into a convenience store to see a picture of a small baby with a card attached asking the customers to help donate to this kids need for a heart transplant.  She thought to herself that this should be done on the Internet instead of a spaghetti dinner or bake sale or just a plea in the convenience store.   Now she started thinking about medical fund-raising.  It took a few years to drill down on the exact idea. 

She was introduced to a guy at University of Illinois and followed him to Chicago. She was in Chicago doing some consulting programs for Arabella while continuing to think about her idea.  Desiree and her boyfriend took a six week trip around Costa Rica and the entire time she kept thinking more and more about her idea.  This was 2007 and while on vacation she grabbed the url and kept it.  When they returned from Costa Rica she realized she was more passionate about her idea than she was about the boyfriend. 

After returning from her trip she went to visit her Grandfather who had been sick for a very long time.  She was well aware of the emotional and financial angst you go through watching her grandfather get sick.  She told him her idea and when she returned to Chicago she found a check from $5k in her mailbox from her grandfather.  She decided to forge ahead with her idea while still being a waitress.  She had watched launch as well as the but none of them were doing exactly what she wanted to do.  She figured if they can do it, why not me. 

Desiree started to talk about her idea with friends.  A friend recommended she talk to her friend Ethan who had a similar idea.  They met and spoke for hours.  He believed that Desirees concept was a much better one.  He brought $25K to the table and she raised a total of $25k from credit cards as well as $10K on  where she raised the money in 3 days and Give Forward was born.  She only wishes that Kickstarter had been around when Give Forward was concieved.

Both her and Ethan pitched the idea through the program at Excelerate Labs in Chicago and they were given $250K.  Her waitress career ceased and with the $250K they raised another $250K to get to a $500K angel round. 

Originally Give Forward was not all about the medical give back at the start but the community pushed them there.  When the site was about six months old a young 24 year old girl got on the site and to raise money to give one of her kidneys to her 22 year old sister.  Her sister had heart issues when she was 10 and the medication she took wreaked havoc on her kidney.  Due to the insurance being basically tapped out due to her medical issues as a kid she needed her own cash for the transplant.  This woman raised $30K in 30 days on their site and all of a sudden they began to see more more people raising money around medical issues. 

Many people have insurance but that doesn't always cover everything.  The biggest crisis of your life is when you find out a friend or family member has cancer.  So far, Give Forward has raised over $4 million dollars towards communities giving to people who are in need of financial help based on a medical crisis.  Even paying for a funeral or a memorial is not in the budget.

I really love what Desiree and her partner Ethan have created.  Hearing about how she had this idea ruminate in her head for quite a while before it became a reality is what makes a really good entrepreneur.  She has created a business that not only built a community using tech as a platform but a community around one of the most difficult issues that face our country today which is the huge toll that medical services take on each individual family when someone we love gets sick. 

Bravo to Desiree and her partner Ethan.  I will be watching Give Forward and the impact they will make in the years to come. 


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Comments (Archived):

  1. Erin Newkirk

    $4MM is impressive!It’s always interesting to watch what happens when passion meets a good cause.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Totally impressive

  2. Katrina

    I had the pleasure of meeting Desiree last year at a seminar and she’s just as smart and kind as she is passionate about what she does. Looking forward to see Give Forward grow even more too!