State Policy Network
SPN’s LaunchPad accelerates innovative ideas to strengthen communities, reform local institutions, and improve Americans’ well-being

On a cool weekend in November, a group of entrepreneurs, innovators, and transformative thinkers—from all backgrounds and viewpoints—descended on Orlando, Florida with the shared goal of refining innovative solutions to address some of the most pressing problems faced in our communities today.   

This group participated in SPN’s LaunchPad, a unique event where idea entrepreneurs collaborate with a Brain Trust of experts to refine both policy and private-sector solutions designed to expand individual liberty and human well-being. The name says it all: The aim is to launch those ideas into scalable projects with personal, state, and national impact.

In the intense, two-day event, project owners—the people bringing forward the innovative ideas—present their ideas to a group called the Brain Trust—experts, entrepreneurs, and transformative thinkers from all industries. The Brain Trust analyzes the project owner’s game-changing idea, helps them determine the real problem, challenges their assumptions, finds their blind spots, and works with them so they leave the event with a measurable action plan.

Brain Trust member Paul Farago, a successful entrepreneur and business owner, reflected on his experience with LaunchPad this year, noting: “I appreciate both the youthful vision and energy of the project owners, the experience that they necessarily lack, and therefore the needed extra perspective they needed to really figure these ideas out. I am so impressed with the diversity of the Brain Trust. The temperament they presented, and the substance they had to offer. It was satisfying to be among them.”

An important characteristic that sets LaunchPad apart from any other event is its commitment to eagerly search for solutions with new eyes. Each LaunchPad participant is encouraged to come to the event with an open mindset, an awareness of their own confirmation bias, and a willingness to challenge their deeply held assumptions. State Policy Network’s CEO, Tracie Sharp noted:

“LaunchPad asks participants to see paths to solutions by challenging their assumptions and dislodging confirmation bias. This is the key to seeing reality as it really is, not as we wish it would be. Not being in touch with reality can lead to suffering, and it keeps us from succeeding in our mission. When we see the world as it truly is, then we can figure out better solutions for human flourishing.”

SPN’s 2021 LaunchPad accepted projects dealing with a wide range of issues challenging our communities: foster care, education and preparation for the workforce of the future, law enforcement, and poverty.

Sharp added: “The seven project ideas, if they come to fruition, can create transformational change to directly improve human flourishing. The ideas were tremendously in touch with the needs of today.”

Below is a snapshot of the 2021 projects and their innovative approach to solving some of the problems that underserved communities in America often face.

Cultivating an extended family network to keep children with their families and out of foster care

More than 7,000 children in New York City live in foster care. Most of these children are put into foster care because of parent neglect, or “the failure of a parent or caretaker to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and wellbeing are threatened with harm.” Research has found that one way to prevent child abuse and neglect is through social connections, but many parents lack these relationships.

Safe Families for Children is an international organization that works to increase protective factors (such as social connections), in parents and prevent unnecessary removals of children into foster care. The organization mobilizes community volunteers to provide extended family-like support for isolated families. The organization has made great strides in both New York and Chicago, but their volunteer base does not mirror the parents who they serve. Safe Families for Children believes parents who have walked through challenging circumstances of their own have compassion and understanding to empower new parents joining Safe Families—but the organization did not have those parent volunteers. Safe Families for Children came to LaunchPad to develop and refine a clear pilot model to increase parent engagement. Safe Families hopes that with increased parent involvement they will improve their model to prevent cases of neglect and unnecessary removals of children into foster care.

Empowering ordinary Americans to fight for their legal rights without an attorney

Quest for Justice, an organization that empowers ordinary people to fight for their legal rights, brought their new product, JusticeDirect. Our nation’s legal systems and services are growing more expensive, time-consuming, and complex, so JusticeDirect helps everyday Americans resolve small claims disputes without having to hire an attorney.

JusticeDirect is the only technology platform where self-represented users can organize their case and build their trial presentation just like an attorney would. Like guided software for filing your taxes online, the system takes people defending themselves through a step-by-step process to prepare their case, create a professional trial presentation, and file in civil court. Users can simply and quickly build a complete case that won’t be thrown out before it’s even heard.  

Quest for Justice came to LaunchPad to gather input for building distribution channels, launching strategic partnerships, and expanding into different states.

Giving parents, students, and educators a tool to prepare students for the 21st century workforce

There is no shortage of attention on how to engage and retain workers for the 21st century

economy. But there’s still a great need to align the essential skills in today’s workforce with the K-12 education students receive.

Naomi Lopez, a mother of two, sought to address that gap with Prodigy Grail, an online platform that will allow parents to assess students’ foundational skills and evaluate their developmental progress. The platform, still in development, is founded on the belief that education can and should reveal and cultivate every child’s unique gifts, while preparing them for today’s workforce.

Prodigy Grail is an assessment tool for the 56 foundational skills that fall into four key areas: cognitive, digital, interpersonal, and self-leadership. It evaluates students’ progress in these areas so that they are prepared to add value beyond what can be done by automated systems and intelligent machines; operate in a digital environment; and continually adapt to new ways of working and new occupations. During LaunchPad, Lopez collaborated with the Brain Trust to refine the scope of her project and create an action plan to launch and scale it.

Giving think tanks and nonprofits a more effective way to navigate the legislative process

It’s no secret that powerful special interest groups have outsized control over which policies become law. It’s an unfortunate dynamic since many state- and community-based organizations have policy research and recommendations that lawmakers can use to pass reforms that truly meet the needs of their constituents. Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy organization, sought to address this problem with a new tool called Legiscape.

Legiscape provides data-driven actionable insights to advance good policy ideas and stop bad legislation. With this tool, policy organizations and government affairs professionals can identify the most effective and influential sponsors for any issue; mitigate committee uncertainty by predicting which committees a bill could be assigned to; and ascertain each legislator’s position on a new bill to help educate the persuadable ones. With their data-driven approach, Legiscape delivers insights at a fraction of the cost than would be obtained from only the most experienced and connected lobbyists.

By lowering the costs associated with legislative education and lobbying activity, Legiscape can level the playing field and help organizations counter powerful special interest groups. The Illinois Policy Institute participated in LaunchPad to get advice on developing a viable business model around this software.

Empowering Americans to overcome poverty through a tax credit solution

The Commonwealth Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania, believes government programs can fill a temporary need for poverty relief, but they can never fulfill a permanent need to belong and to overcome helplessness. That’s why the organization developed a unique strategy to break the government monopoly on social welfare programs and unleash Americans’ renowned philanthropic generosity.

The Human Services Tax Credit (HSTC) bolsters fulfilling, transformative private alternatives to state-run welfare programs. The tax credit offers these private alternatives an incentive to “graduate” those they help to employment and independence. Here’s how it works: To receive assistance through the HSTC, individual applicants would apply to the Department of Human Services (DHS) for housing, disability relief, rides and childcare, food stamps, Medicare, or whichever services HSTC will cover once implemented. Then, DHS will be required to provide them with the option of state-run services or privately administered nonprofit services. Because nonprofits receive most of their revenue from charitable donations (a competitive funding structure) and have fewer bureaucratic expenses, they are more likely to successfully move applicants from welfare dependence to work and independence.

Commonwealth hopes to enact an HSTC program in Pennsylvania to better serve families and individuals who need help and shrink Pennsylvania’s bloated DHS. The organization came to LaunchPad to polish this concept into a campaign that changes lives.

Strengthening law enforcement accountability at the local level

Many organizations have rightfully called for greater accountability for law enforcement in recent years. Their goals are often compatible with classical liberal values, such as ending racism, advancing criminal justice reform, supporting community-based institutions, and building opportunities for prosperity within traditionally underrepresented communities. Yet their ideological frameworks are irreconcilable with a free society. Organizations with an explicitly Marxist agenda, such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), do not represent the ideological perspectives of most people protesting the death of citizens at the hands of law enforcement. But with no other focal point, marching under the banner of BLM has become a proxy for the anger and frustration many Americans feel.

CantWait is a new organization that will help Americans channel their anger and frustration into a concentrated, principled effort to enhance both personal freedom and the accountability that’s essential for law enforcement to maintain both safety and trust within communities. The project will provide education and policy reforms focused on creating safer communities and trustworthy police forces. The founder of CantWait, Gordon Cummings, came to LaunchPad to refine their strategy and learn from individuals who have run successful marketing campaigns designed to influence public opinion.

Expanding education freedom for Black Americans

Students need more high-quality education options, and lack of access is felt more severely by some groups than by others. Too often, Black K-12 students are trapped in government schools that don’t meet their needs, which leads to overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

Enter Black Minds Matter.

Black Minds Matter wants to become the nation’s most prominent voice for education freedom for Black Americans. Their work serves families and educators who have benefited or can benefit from school choice by changing the narrative of education reform. Black Minds Matter promotes true empowerment: families choosing their own schools, and educators becoming school founders.

The project brings attention to the inequities in the education system that eerily resemble the institutional injustices of our criminal justice system. It will encourage and empower elected officials, community members, and families to demand excellence in education and increase the number of schools founded by Black educators. Black Minds Matter came to LaunchPad to refine their focus and audience and to learn how to engage volunteers in their effort.

Do you have an idea for an organization, product, or other solution that addresses a need in today’s society? Learn more about SPN’s LaunchPad and how it can help you take your idea from concept to action plan. Applications for our next LaunchPad event will open in early 2022.

Organization: State Policy Network