Building a social stock exchange for social work

For Tech Startups & SMEs

Grand Challenges FundS (GCF)

GCF is the first of two signature programs 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 and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) 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 incubation programs premised on deep mentor engagement, rapid PDSA cycles, intensive fundraising support, and meaningful engagement in social development movements and existing social welfare initiatives.

Venture Seed is a 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 maximum social impact. Innovators who get funding from Venture Seed will benefit from:

  • startup incubation (approximately 18 months)

  • 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

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 fund that supports seed stage for-profit tech businesses that are ready to grow. Innovators who get funding from Venture Grow are those who graduate from Venture Seed. If funded, innovators will benefit from:

  • support in validating their admin/support systems

  • training in extensive market research

  • guidance in making strategic new-hires

  • TA on organizational capacity-building

  • support in governance restructuring

  • 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.

Phase 1 will be a review of a founder’s slide deck (i.e., slide deck presenting DSW capstone project or startup idea with a well-defined and vital technology component), 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 the second of two signature programs of CYPHER X. It exists to market our mission, firms we list on the social stock exchange, and tech startups we incubate. Social marketing and movement-building can transform social work practice into a breeding ground for technology innovators.

With #MyKnowledgeCounts, we tackle three objectives for SMEs 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 for 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


Special Projects

Special projects deepen our engagement in the social welfare use-cases of emerging technologies and to support investment in tech innovation in the social sector. As the lead of a team in the Climate Chain Coalition, for example, we have a technical workgroup exploring how blockchain technology could more effectively address the social welfare dimension of UN SDG implementation. Promoting UN SDG implementation is an important strategy for advancing the Grand Challenges of social work.


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, the puzzle we decipher is 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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