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Startups Find Ways to Give Back – Austin Business Journal

UShip moved precious cargo a few weeks ago from New Orleans to Virginia for free.

The Austin-based technology startup with an online, eBay-style platform for shipping services moved 28 cats and two small dogs from overcrowded shelters in New Orleans. They were feeling the pinch more than usual from the oil spill in the Gulf.

UShip saved People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals about $4,000 in transportation costs. The charitable shipment was part of the startup’s new Help on Wheels program, in which UShip provides vehicles and drivers to nonprofits that need transportation services.

“Over the years we had seen a number of charities use our site to try and transport things. They were oftentimes looking for truckers and transport companies to help assist at a low cost,” UShip CEO Matt Chasen said. “We decided to purchase a truck to get into the mix as well.”

UShip is one of many Austin startups using nonmonetary resources to give back. As new businesses often lack budgets for charitable contributions, some are giving through in-kind donations of goods and services — and that’s just fine with nonprofits.

“It’s innovative for anyone to come forward and say, ‘I can’t give you money, but I can give you this,’” said Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of PETA. “It doesn’t have to be a tangible thing. It can be a service.”

Newkirk thinks there ought to be more in-kind giving among businesses, saying it’s still a novel idea for many.

“I think people say, ‘Oh well, I just have to reduce my giving or stop my giving,’ and they haven’t thought it through,” she said.

UShip and its Help on Wheels program is holding a light up to show other businesses that they can do similar things, she said.

A number of Austin startups are involved in in-kind charitable giving, including Austin-based sushi chain How Do You Roll and general contractor Structura Inc.

How Do You Roll, a two-year-old fast-casual sushi restaurant with two Austin locations, gives party sushi trays and gift cards to organizations, CEO Yuen Yung said.

“It’s a win-win,” he said. “It gets our name out there, and it also helps.”

How Do You Roll, which gave about $5,000 of food to nonprofits last year, is focused on helping charities that involve children and health care-related causes, Yung said.

“I have a passion for fighting cancer because a lot of family members have passed from it, and [for] children because I have young children. They are defenseless, and we have to help,” he said.

Four-year-old Structura Inc. has worked for free or below market rate on several projects, including the ongoing renovation of Arthouse at the Jones Center, Ronald McDonald House and Austin Community Foundations.

Donating construction materials or fees is a way to help the community, while involving the company in good projects.

“We help the cause and we get to be recognized as giving charitably,” said Rusty Morgan, president of Structura. “It’s the right thing to do. It is one of our company’s core values.”

Besides its Help on Wheels programs, UShip has an older charitable initiative called Highway to Help, which matches nonprofits with its transportation vendors.

Through Highway to Help, trucks and transportation companies move charitable shipments in connection with donations, nonprofits and disaster relief efforts.

These trucking companies “don’t otherwise have any venue to find charitable organizations that are in need of charitable services,” Chasen said.

After seeing its program’s success, UShip decided to drive shipments itself. Perhaps not coincidentally, the growth of UShip’s in-kind giving programs coincide with the business’ success. UShip was recently ranked on the Inc. 500 list as the eighth-fastest growing company in Austin. The company experienced a three-year revenue growth of 791 percent, according to Inc. magazine.

UShip reaches out to nonprofits and uses its website to identify participants for its programs, which use UShip’s bidding platform. An organization submits a shipment to the website as a charity shipment and receives bids from transportation companies, many of which offer to move goods for free or for far below market rates.

The PETA delivery received so much attention that many pet lovers stepped up to adopt the animals.

As for transporting animals, Chasen said it was interesting, to say the least.

“Thankfully, we had a person on board taking care of the animals while we were busy managing the logistics. It worked out great. The drive was nice, and everyone was happy,” he said.

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