Portland startup Switchboard merges with like-minded Chicago startup Hearken

Switchboard, a Portland company founded by Mara Zepeda — and one that powers the Portland Startups Switchboard — has announced the completion of a successful merger with a similarly minded business out of Chicago, Hearken. The combined entity will retain the Hearken name.

As Hearken’s founder, Jennifer Brandel, shared:

Mara started the company Switchboard in 2013 motivated by the same desire for shifting power that I saw in journalism: what if students and alumni drove an institution’s agenda and service? Mara, as I did, saw technology could enable that mind shift. Switchboard’s power was in its simplicity and elegance. It helped create a mutual aid network through “asks” and “offers.” And the colleges that adopted it found that it extended the value of the school’s network immensely, achieving the work of a dozen career services officers when the school could only afford to hire one and meeting a spectrum of more creative, and urgent, needs.

As the companies began working closely together, it became obvious that there was the potential to do more as a joint entity:

What we were all doing was essentially the same thing in two separate industries: listen and serve, and add tech to scale results.

As our teams started formally collaborating, it became increasingly clear that we were stronger together, and that adding another technology and suite of consulting expertise would help Hearken help more institutions help the people they served (B to B to C, for those of your business types).

If the names of the two founders sound familiar, it’s because they’re also part of the founding team of the Zebra movement. So clearly, not only were the founders aligned on their business focus, they were equally aligned on the misalignment of the venture capital world:

In 2016, we decided to bust out our writing chops to articulate the lack of alignment we experienced. The result was remarkable: thousands of founders around the world reached out, who also had great companies with product-market fit and revenue, but not fitting into the existing capital paradigm. This energy gave birth to the next post articulating a new type of startup — a zebra, rather than a unicorn (unicorns are companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more). And from that Zebras Unite was born, which now has more than 6,000 entrepreneurs around the world, more than 45 chapters, and we’re launching a fund and a CoOp. (Ironically, through sharing that experience, we both found Zebra-aligned investors. You can read about our experience here.)

For more on this merger, read Jennifer’s Medium post or see the official press release.

[Full disclosure: Switchboard is an alum of PIE. I am the cofounder and general manager of PIE. In addition, I have worked closely with the Zebras Unite crew since the early days of the movement.]