C3 PORTRAIT: Andi Dankert and Ali Procopio of FWD.US
WHO: Andi Dankert and Ali Procopio
WHERE: Dankert: hometown: Fredonia, NY; current resident: Somerville. Procopio: hometown and current residence: Warwick, RI.
EDUCATION: Dankert: SUNY Fredonia and New School (graduate), NY. Procopio: Dartmouth College, NH.
TYPICALLY FOUND IN C3: The area formerly known as Fitness (What they dub “The artist formerly known as Prince”)
CELEB THEY’D LOVE TO HAVE LUNCH WITH: Both claimed “Jeff Buckley,” whom both agreed was a “brilliant singer.” In fact, the two bonded over their admiration for the artist during Ali’s job interview, which clinched the deal. Ali says the only celebrity image in her room growing up was a poster of Buckley.
FAVE CIC/C3 KITCHEN FOOD: For Andi it’s the Pirates Booty White Cheddar Puffs; “I’m gluten free free,” she says, “so it’s really good.” For Ali it’s the peanut M&Ms. “You take 6, and it’s super satisfying,” she says.
FAVE THING ABOUT C3: Everyone’s so friendly and supportive.
“It’s a political, non-profit, startup,” says Andi Dankert of FWD.US. That’s a lot to take in, she admits. But she does a great job of explaining it.
As director of the Boston office, Dankert and her colleague Ali Procopio set up shop at C3 last month to spread the word that immigration issues need to be a priority concern for all startups. And that political action is necessary.
Why? Says Dankert: Because every company that expects to grow will eventually require talent that immigrants can provide. Because research shows that each immigrant innovator creates three new jobs for the American economy (Consider that HubSpot’s CEO is an immigrant). And because roughly 50% of Ph.D.s granted by Massachusetts universities are given to immigrants, many of whom, because of current policy restrictions, are forced to leave the country, thereby bleeding America of talent that has been nurtured locally.
Dankert further explains that Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, became painfully aware of how the immigration issue affects the future of technology in America when he was teaching a class in California and asked a group of talented students about their plans for the future. One of the responders expressed fear of not being able to attend college because of undocumented status and lack of in state tuition help. Zuckerberg wanted to know how many others were affected by the same problem, and several additional hands shot up. Zuckerberg called up his former Harvard College roommate Joe Green, who had experience in organizing social movements, and solicited his help in taking on the issue for the technology community. FWD.US was born in April 2013.
Dankert joined the New York City office of FWD.US last August, after working for several social causes, including for former NYC mayor Bloomberg, Americorps, and in Kosovo. When FWD.US needed someone to rally Boston to the cause, Dankert jumped at the opportunity.
Two weeks later she hired Procopio, who studied immigration issues as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
The duo have been organizing at tech companies, rallying public support and getting the word out all over New England ever since.
New England and New York sport very different entrepreneurial cultures, according to Dankert. “Boston’s tech community is so modest compared to NYC,” she says. “Brilliant people here are doing amazing things, but generally people aren’t talking about it. In New York, there’s a lot of talk.”
Dankert and Procopio say they’ve been doing a lot of talking. They’re trying (1) to get the tech community to know thatFWD.US is in Cambridge to work with them on advocacy efforts, (2) to acquire stories about successes and challenges of dealing with immigration issues to share with politicians, and (3) to facilitate more communication among tech colleagues concerning immigration.
They have been speaking at and hosting various engagements and events.
As a startup, they have an app, #BuiltByImmigrants which uses social media to circulate stories through and help people connect with their legislatures.
Their advice for social startups:
(1) really understand the community you’re in;
(2) capitalize on efforts that have already started;
(3) create community;
(4) invest in the community; “we are in Boston to stay,” declares Dankert;
(5) talk to people who are excited and reinvigorate them.
Dankert and Procopio’s biggest challenge has been following up with people who are motived and excited about the work, but are so incredibly busy. Andi tells the story of someone who responded to her 9th e-mail, who thanked her for the persistence.
Dankert and Procopio have one last thing to say to everyone at CIC and C3: “Come talk to us!”