Readers of agreed with the three celebrity-entrepreneur judges presiding over Tuesday night's Inc. + TOMS Pitch for Good competition. We asked our website visitors to vote for their favorite among six socially minded for-profit companies contending for a $100,000 investment from the virtuous shoe company, TOMS. By a large margin, readers chose LuminAID, a Chicago-based business that makes ultra-lightweight inflatable lanterns that recharge in the sun, for use by disaster victims.

But the Pitch for Good judges--who included TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie; Danae Ringelmann, founder of Indiegogo; and Chinedu Echeruo, founder of Gigameet--were less decisive than's readership. So they named two winners and awarded each $50,000. LuminAID shared the laurels with ConBody, a New York City fitness company that fights prison recidivism by hiring ex-inmates as trainers. Each will receive $50,000.

Below are descriptions of all six finalists, chosen from an applicant pool of roughly 275, as well as the final tally of reader votes.


CommuniGift founders Thomas Doochin, Jake Bernstein, and Jack Wohlfert, who met as freshmen at the University of North Carolina, came from families that taught them early on the importance of giving back. Chapel Hill, NC-based CommuniGift makes it easier for families to demonstrate generosity by transforming birthday parties--exhibitions of exorbitant acquisition in many households--into donation opportunities. The company's platform matches each child with another child living in need who shares the same birthday. The "birthday buddy" submits a wish list, and guests, who RSVP through CommuniGift's platform, buy that buddy a present. In the first four months following CommuniGift's 2014 founding, guests purchased $90,000 worth of presents for needy children.


Incarcerated in 2005 on drug charges, Coss Marte used his time behind bars to create a series of workouts that helped him lose 70 pounds in six months, significantly improving his health. With ConBody, launched in 2014, Marte offers a version of his prison fitness routine through his own studio to out-of-shape consumers. It's a tough workout in a community-based, supportive environment. And the staff and trainers are ex-offenders, who have a notoriously difficult time finding jobs. The New York City-based company is eyeing national expansion, hoping to create more jobs and reduce recidivism in the process.

DayOne Response

Finding clean drinking water is the No. 1 challenge in disaster zones. A civil engineer, Patricia Compas-Markman worked on creating a water-treatment system for a village in Thailand that had been hit by a tsunami, and soon after created the DayOne Response Waterbag, a 10-liter unit that enables users to collect, transport, purify, and hygienically store water. The product, which has been used in more than 20 countries, provides clean drinking water for a family of four for up to two months. The San Francisco company, which launched in 2010, sells to NGOs, governments, and through retail. It also distributes water and sanitation products to relief organizations and invites consumers (who can buy the bags for personal preparedness) to "sponsor" waterbags for disaster locations.


Inspired by the Simon Sinek book Start with Why, Douglas Scott, Jay Lipman, and Roger Toor launched Ethic in 2015 to take impact investing mainstream. The San Francisco-based company is an automated investment platform that enables users to create diversified portfolios representing organizations that reflect their values. It captures data about ethical issues that affect customers' purchasing decisions and uses it to suggest public and private companies and charities that compete on social, environmental, and governance performance as well as on financial performance. It charges a fee based on assets under management and employs a "pay what you feel is fair" model. Companies that behave better perform better, research shows.

Lucky Iron Fish

More than 3.5 billion people worldwide suffer from iron deficiencies, which can cause everything from weakness to cognitive impairment to delayed physical development in children. In response, Christopher Charles, a biomedical student at Canada's University of Guelph, created an iron ingot cast in the shape of a fish (considered lucky in Cambodia, where Charles got the idea). When added to cooking pots for 10 minutes during food preparation, the "Happy Fish" increases iron levels up to 90 percent, testing shows. Charles is now on the board of Lucky Iron Fish, which his fellow University of Guelph student Gavin Armstrong launched in 2012. For every fish purchased, the company donates one to a community in need.


After the Haiti earthquake of 2010, architecture graduate students Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork considered the plight of victims living in dangerous tent cities without light. They designed and patented LuminAID, a compact inflatable solar lantern that can be cost-effectively distributed after disasters. The Chicago company, which was founded in 2011 and is backed by Mark Cuban, has a one-for-one program in which customers who buy a light for, say, backpacking in the wilderness, can buy an additional light for $10 more and donate it to one of LuminAID's partner charities. The lights have been used in more than 70 countries, after disasters including Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and the earthquake in Nepal.

Published on: May 11, 2016