If you haven’t heard the story of Brooks Gabel and his social venture justlikeyou.org then you haven’t been paying much attention to University of Maryland media. In the last year, Brooks has been featured in places like Terp Magazine, the Diamondback, and TerpVision, just to name a few.
Brooks and a team of 21 students and professionals have built a free and anonymous social network for those looking to talk about coming out called justlikeyou.org. Leading up to the site launch on April 13th 2014, Brooks competed in the 3rd annual Do Good Challenge (DGC). DGC is an 8 week competition held each spring at the University of Maryland; it empowers students to form teams and “do good” for a cause they care about, or to launch a social venture.
Just prior to the 2014 Do Good Challenge, Brooks and his team were in the planning stages of justlikeyou.org. With tremendous support from The Dingman Center of Entrepreneurship’s Fearless Founders Program, they developed a beta site, grew their social media presence, and, most importantly, tested to make sure that the entire experience would meet the needs of their users. They also raised capital and trained volunteers who would serve as pen pals and resources for users. At about the same time, Brooks learned about the Booster Fund that provides $500 in seed capital to student teams who plan to participate in the Do Good Challenge.
“It was really serendipitous how the [Do Good] Challenge aligned with our own goals.” explained Brooks. “The Challenge provided us a vehicle to channel our efforts.”
Brooks applied for and won the $500 from the Booster fund, and used the money to develop justlikeyou.org’s volunteer training program. When the Do Good Challenge kicked off in early spring Justlikeyou.org launched a crowdfunding campaign with the lofty goal of raising $50,000, and training 100 volunteers during the 8 week Challenge.
At the end of the eight weeks, which entailed mobilizing incredible online support and making A LOT of appearances, justlikeyou.org raised $38,338.00 in donations and in-kind support, and trained 27 volunteers. “We didn’t exactly reach our goals, but we also didn’t know what to expect,” said Brooks. “We did all the leg-work up front, but there’s a big difference between planning and what actually happens. And not all of what happened was bad. We expected an average donation of $20 and it ended up being around $75.”
Justlikeyou.org’s efforts elevated them to the Do Good Challenge Finals where Brooks pitched live to hundreds of people and a panel of judges including Boomer Esiason, CBS Sports Analyst and former NFL quarterback, David Falk, one of the sports industry’s greatest talent agents, and Robert Seaberg, Board member of the Morgan Stanley Global Impact Funding Trust. All of the judges were moved by the story of justlikeyou.org and were left speechless when Boomer Esiason asked, “what’s your motivation for doing this?” and Brooks immediately responded, “It’s the resource I never had.”
JustLikeyou.org won the ventures track at the Do Good Challenge Finals on April 29, 2014 and took home a grand prize of $6,000. The winnings will be used to train more volunteers and increase the site’s capacity to have even more meaningful conversations.
Since the Challenge, Brooks temporarily shifted gears to focus on graduating college, but after walking the stage (and some much needed R & R), he plans to dive back in to Justlikeyou.org and fine tune the user experience on the site. Growth is important for Brooks, but only to the extent that it’s done effectively. That means more volunteer training and working out site kinks.
Reflecting on the experience Brooks said, “Through the Do Good Challenge, we joined a community of people giving back. It’s been so different from the business competition community we usually engage with. Everyone in the Challenge, including our competition, wanted us to succeed. That was motivating and exciting.”
Brooks is a shining example of the University of Maryland student social ventures and projects that the Do Good Challenge helps cultivate and amplify. Here’s to the success of Justlikeyou.org, other Do Good Challenge finalists, and to the future ventures that will be inspired by their example.
To learn more and to stay connected, visit JustLikeYou.org’s website and Facebook page, and be sure to check out the Do Good Challenge! The 2015 Challenge will get underway this Fall with the reintroduction of the Booster Fund to help Do Good Challenge aspirants hit the ground running.