Building a social stock exchange for social work

For Startups

Grand Challenges FundS (GCF)

GCF is a signature program of CYPHER X. GCF is the first financing platform (an aggregator of startup social entrepreneurs in need of funding) designed by and for social workers. GCF exists to support tech startups focused on the Grand Challenges of social work. We collect info on startups via GCF, analyze them, and present them to investors and lenders. Investment takes the form of equity or quasi-equity (convertible debt, debt); pre-agreed SROI, social, and/or environmental impact targets are used to select startups we incubate and decide a post-incubation exit strategy.

GCF is made up of Venture Seed and Venture Grow, both of which are premised on deep mentor engagement, high quality technical assistance, rapid PDSA cycles, intensive fundraising support, and linkage services to social movements and existing social impact initiatives.

Venture Seed is an operating fund that supports pre-seed stage innovators who have an idea for a tech-enabled social work practice tool around which a for-profit business could be built and scaled up for commercial viability and social impact. Innovators who get this funding are eligible to access:

  • professional support in preparing a business plan

  • professional support in strengthening their innovation’s evidence base

  • professional support in planning, developing, and validating a prototype

  • one-on-one mentorship and professional coaching

  • technical assistance (TA) to ensure a successful first seed round

  • TA on designing an enterprise fit for impact investing

To graduate from Venture Seed, a startup must:

  • have a tech-enabled practice tool validated by the market

  • be earning revenue

  • be poised for their first seed round

  • meet CYPHER X investment readiness metrics

Venture Grow is a program fund that supports seed stage community-oriented impact enterprises (e.g., start-ups and public/private sector SDG/ESG initiatives) that are ready for growth into impact investment. Impact enterprises that get this funding are eligible to access:

  • support in validating their admin/support systems

  • training in extensive market research

  • guidance in making strategic new-hires

  • TA on organizational capacity-building

  • TA on impact management

  • support in governance restructuring

  • TA on the due diligence process used by investors

  • TA to ensure a successful first Series A round

Application Process: For both Venture Seed and Venture Grow, we will vet a potential candidate through a two-step process.

Venture Grow Only: Phase 1 will be a review of the following documents: pitch deck, executive summary, subscription agreement, private placement memorandum, and/or convertible note document. Those who pass Phase 1 will be invited by email to Phase 2, which links them to the following TA services:

• Situation Assessment
• Market Research
• Strategy and Implementation Planning
• Leadership, Board and Advisory Structure
• Financial Review, Valuation, and Validation
• Commercialization/ Strategic Partnerships
• Investor Readiness/ Funding Assistance
• Legal/Tax Support

Venture Seed Only: Phase 1 will be a review of a founder’s slide deck (i.e., pitch deck presenting DSW capstone project or startup ), focusing our attention primarily on the system change potential of your startup idea, its scalability, and its revenue model. Click the Inspiration tab for some food-for-thought on which technology to use; also click the button below (“Online Resource for Formatting Your Slide Deck”) for slide deck templates used in the tech industry.

Those who pass the first step will be invited by email to Phase 2, which is to complete a podcast interview. Those who rock the podcast interview will be enrolled in the incubation program.

Anticipated Size of Venture Seed 2021 (Cohort 4): Two startups will be awarded a spot in Cohort 4, which will run from Spring 2021 to Spring 2022.

Venture Seed 2021 Deadline: Date TBD toward the end of Fall 2020

Venture Seed 2021 Submission Procedure: Details to come soon

Questions? Please email us at


#MyKnowledgeCounts campaign

The #MyKnowledgeCounts Campaign is a signature programs of CYPHER X. It exists to market our mission and firms we list on the social stock exchange. Social marketing and movement-building can transform social work practice into a breeding ground for technology innovators.

With #MyKnowledgeCounts, we tackle three objectives for startups we list on the social stock exchange:

  1. We co-design marketing efforts that highlight their social impact in local communities,

  2. We jointly develop measurable objectives for raising their regional, national, and/or international profile, and

  3. We market how their tech-enabled solutions advance the Grand Challenges of social work.

With #MyKnowledgeCounts, we tackle three objectives tech startups we incubate:

  1. We co-design MVP validation and deployment efforts with local communities,

  2. We raise the regional, national, and/or international profile of our innovators, and

  3. We market their tech-enabled Grand Challenge solutions.

We use music, podcasts, events (e.g., hackathon, demo day), social media, and short documentary films to tell stories of how social workers harness technology for social good and how communities actively put technology into creative and meaningful use. We work with independent artists, writers, practitioners, and filmmakers to envision the promise of tech-enabled social work.

Get a taste of #MyKnowledgeCounts by listening to our theme song posted in Our Focus page.

Questions? Please email us at


Impact managemenT

Impact management is vital to the maximization of social impact and in attracting impact investors. We link startups working on technology-enabled sustainable development to cloud-based impact measurement and management, including the calculation of their SROI ratio.


We pair the insight of social workers with the promise of technology and impact investing to solve intractable global social problems.

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In January 2016, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare launched the 12 Grand Challenges (GCs) of Social Work to “improve individual and family well-being, strengthen the social fabric, and create a more just society” within a decade.

GC 1 - Ensure healthy development for all youth

GC 2 - Close the health gap

GC 3 - Stop family violence

GC 4 - Advance long and productive lives

GC 5 - Eradicate social isolation

GC 6 - End homelessness

GC 7 - Create social responses to a changing environment

GC 8 - Harness technology for social good

GC 9 - Promote smart decarceration

GC 10 - Reduce extreme economic inequality

GC 11 - Build financial capability for all

GC 12 - Achieve equal opportunity and justice


At CYPHER X, we decipher how to harness the potential of each GC for tech-enabled practice innovation.

To harness this potential purposefully, we build a technology practice and a stock exchange for social work where tech-enabled solutions are scaled for maximum social impact and traded as investment assets.

Thank you for your support! Please note that Special Service for Groups (SSG), our nonprofit sponsor, manages all donations.

Clicking the donate button takes you to their donation page. In the Donation Information section, there’s a Designation menu where you can donate to us.


Investors looking for both ROI and impact, and social sector stakeholders looking for evidence-based practice tools should know your tech-enabled social work solution exists.

We make sure the dots between you and them connect.

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Who we’ve inspired so far

These three cohorts come from the previous business model when we were called Conscious Youth Promoting Health & Environmental Resilience (CYPHER) and our work was premised on widening STEM education in urban and rural regions, resulting in idea-stage innovations in climate change adaptation by high school and college students.

In contrast, the transition to CYPHER X gets us focused on building a technology practice for social work by incubating well-researched practice tools for social work by doctoral students. The forthcoming Cohort 4 will be based on the new business model of searching for use-cases for IoT, AI, VR/AR, and blockchain in the eight health/human service and two development sectors of social work.


Cohort 3

AgriTech PAKEMA of Jaramonggi Oginnga Odingga University of Science and Technology created a mobile app, Mavuno, to address sustainable farming and food security in Kenya. It uses MSM and a mobile app to promote sustainable practices in small-scale farming and irrigation.

Heartwork* by students at California State University, San Marcos, is a centralized online resource for people to access information about ways to address food security and other needs in their community or around them. Heartwork provides the opportunity to align individuals to take action on food justice and other related health equity and environmental justice issues.

Integrated Aquaculture by students at Kisumu High School, Kisumu, Kenya, is a youth-run project to address food insecurity in Kisumu County. It addresses the overlap among food production, water use, and energy (fertilizer) management by integrating technology into poultry, fish, and vegetable farming in communities ravaged by drought conditions.

WasteNot App by students at Shanghai Institute of Technology, China, is an app that coordinates waste collection and recycling in rural areas of China. Consumer rewards (e.g., tree-planting credits) and products that generate renewable energy (e.g., fertilizer from solid waste) are integrated in the app to change consumer behavior.

* Grand Prize winner at SED2017.


Cohort 2

Creative-ive,* a CleanWeb innovation that sells carbon credits along with its lifestyle products.

Local Landscape,** a mobile app designed to help people transition to sustainable landscaping using augmented visualization.

Look&Listen, a mobile app designed to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of light and sound pollution.

#InvasivePlants_CA,*** an innovative social media project to modify behavior against invasive plants spurred by warmer weather.

思 源(SI-YUAN), a mobile app that conditions water conservation and innovative use of folk strategies in water management in northern China. 

Solar Estimator, a mobile app that helps condition public use of solar by providing targeted information to prospective users about the potential savings of adoption. 

Sully, a mobile app designed to promote recycling on- and off-campus using tech-enabled social cues.

VSAR 330 Environment, a project to reduce the level of carbonic acid in the ocean using chemistry.

* Grand Prize winner at SED2016.

** 1st Runner-Up at SED2016.

*** 2nd Runner-Up at SED2016.

Cohort 1

AquaTeam, a mobile-enabled device based on the evaporation process that turns salt water into useable water.

H2Grow*, a mobile app that helps gardeners and farmers wirelessly manage their irrigation system.

SizAlert, an energy-conserving kitchen tool with an integrated lifestyle app designed to lower the carbon footprint of any household.

Team Erosion, a game app for learning about coastal erosion and companion app for a permanent exhibit informing youth of the changing coastline in Ventura County. 

The DROUGHTINADORS**, a mobile-enabled desalination device that transforms ocean water into usable water for agriculture and human consumption.

YouthEJ Freight Corridor***, a concept for a zero-emission freight corridor along a busy highway in Southern California to reduce the human impact of diesel truck emission pollution.

* 3rd Place Winner at SED2014. Pursuing a commercial venture based a refined version of their original idea.

** 1st Place Winner at SED2014

*** 2nd Place Winner at SED2014. Engaged in a campaign to mobilize community and stakeholder support to implement their idea.


Special Service for Groups (SSG), our fiscal sponsor, manages all donations. This button takes you to their donation page. In the Donation Information section, a designation menu enables you to donate specifically to us.


Our Grand Challenges podcasts cover how technology is integrated into professional social work practice to help you take flight as a tech-innovator. Once we launch the podcast series, you will be able to subscribe here.

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