Auburn Spotlight, Jake Wright '16

AUBURN
SPOTLIGHT
“Some of the more impactful moments have been when we’ve visited a school or nonprofit that has shared how our app helps people give."
Jake Wright '16
Communications Manager, Planet Fundraiser
AUBURN SPOTLIGHT

Spotlight Interview

Little did Auburn graduate Jake Wright know, as he tossed around business ideas with his friends in front of Samford Hall, he was taking the first step toward a role with Planet Fundraiser, a Birmingham-based technology startup changing the game of giving back. 

The finance major from Leesburg, Virginia, served as Student Government Association president of the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business from 2014-2016, and was involved with several groups on campus including the Executive Society, Cardinal Key, WEGL Radio and Lambda Sigma.

Wright’s love for writing short stories and fiction inspired him and friends Sharan Kalva and Cole Kinchler to fill the gap between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Together, they created SimplyProse, an online platform to connect writers, literary professionals and publishers.

“We always thought we might want to do something less traditional right after we graduated,” Wright said. “[Tech startups] provide an opportunity to help people by building new technology. I can’t say that it happened overnight; it was more so the exposure to different ways of thinking and access to great mentors at Auburn.”

In 2014, the College of Business introduced the Tiger Cage student entrepreneurship competition, which was Wright, Kalva and Kinchler won and used to fund their work on SimplyProse. They went on to win the Alabama Launchpad Competition and compete at several national startup competitions.

After graduation in 2016, the team moved to Birmingham to continue working on SimplyProse, but eventually decided to step away after a few months.

“It didn’t work out how we hoped it would, but we are truly thankful for the experience,” Wright said. “Starting something with your friends is a great experience, despite what you might hear.”

Wright said the communication and self-motivations skills he gained from the experience were invaluable. Through the process, he also found a desire to continue working with a startup that was “building something unique and helpful to the community.”

In his time working at the Innovation Depot, a shared startup work space in Birmingham, Wright met Kasey Birdsong and Drew Honeycutt, co-founders of a then early-stage startup called Planet Fundraiser.

 “I could tell that they [Birdsong and Honeycutt] had the energy and passion to build a company,” Wright said. “I was excited about the possibility of working with a small team and learning from them. Planet Fundraiser was interesting to me because the vision is straightforward: to build software that helps people raise money for schools, nonprofits and other charitable organizations they care about, with the support of local businesses.”

Wright joined the Planet Fundraiser team in a marketing role in 2017 and now serves as communications manager.

“Since it’s not my primary background, there’s definitely been a learning curve, but I’m surrounded by people that are helping me grow.” Wright said. “My finance background has helped me think about how what we communicate about the business will, in many ways, affect how the business performs.”

Planet Fundraiser is an app that allows users to upload a picture of their receipt from participating merchants and automatically donate a percentage of their purchase to an organization of their choice. The group works with businesses to manage their charitable giving and help schools and nonprofits raise funds in a simple, time-efficient way.

“Some of the more impactful moments have been when we’ve visited a school or nonprofit that has shared how our app helps people give, who might not be able to otherwise,” he said. “It’s great for local businesses and gives them a more efficient way to give and build customer loyalty.”

The app facilitates fundraising for hundreds of schools, non-profits and organizations in Birmingham, Nashville and Dallas. The City of Auburn is the latest launch, and several organizations, including the Chi Omega sorority, Lee County Humane Society and the Jason Dufner Foundation flagship Auburn nonprofit, are utilizing the app currently.

“It’s the simplest way for people to raise funds for a cause they care about without having to write a check,” Wright said. “It takes the stress out of restaurant fundraisers for all parties. It’s truly grassroots fundraising and helps support local Auburn businesses in the process.”

The Planet Fundraiser team has connected with multiple Auburn businesses and expects to see many more sign up to be supporting merchants. Wright has high hopes for the app in Auburn after his first-hand experience fundraising for organizations as a student.

“I personally want to see it succeed in Auburn because I know it can help so many on-campus organizations fund important work, research and activities,” he said.

Wright said his time at Auburn challenged him in “all aspects of life.”

“Auburn allowed me the chance to grow and learn alongside people from all over the world in a small town in east Alabama,” he said. “I’ll always be thankful for my time at Auburn and will be nostalgic for a long time, I’m sure.”

Auburn businesses and charitable organizations that wish to sign up with Planet Fundraiser can visit the website for more information. The Planet Fundraiser app can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.