TechBridge’s History and Legacy

On today’s episode of TechBridge Talks, we will interview two co-founders of TechBridge – Scott Geller and Steve Linowes. We’ll hear about where the organization started, why it was created, and where we’re headed in the future. It’s a great episode filled with great memories and an amazing vision.


[00:00:00] Steve Linowes: Uh, realize that, uh, studies have shown that non-profits adopted technology at one third. The rates that for-profits did at the time.

[00:00:18] Scott Geller: You know, the first thing I asked is where's your contact database? And it was in access, which in 1998 was not exactly a robust platform for that.

[00:00:33] Steve Linowes: We were much more of a general one that, you know, it was.

Like one are projects that needed to get done in order to help them with the strategic adoption of technology.

[00:00:46] Adam Walker: On today's episode of TechBridge Talks, we will interview two co-founders of TechBridge. We'll hear about where the organization started, why. It was created and where we're headed in the future.

It's a great episode filled with great memories and an amazing vision. So stay tuned.

Joining me on the show today. I've got Scott Geller and Steve Linowes the co founders of TechBridge. And let's start out with you guys. Just introduce yourselves, tell us, you know, who you are and give us the kind of 32nd overview of what.

[00:01:26] Steve Linowes: I'm Steve Linowes, I'm a co-founder of TechBridge. That's all I got.

I enjoy it. I will tell you, I am very fortunate to be part of the Atlanta technology community originally, which allowed us to come up with the idea of starting this, uh, kind of organization. And, um, I have a lot of folks in the Atlanta. Community in general, that served as mentors to me. Um, that I'm very appreciative.

So, um, and I have a family of five children, um, and have lived in Atlanta for 25 to 30 years now, originally from the DC area. I also will say that. Atlanta is a very unique place to start something like this, because we are very much a community town and we really support each other as a community. And, uh, this, this organization would not have been able to accomplish all that it has accomplish without this great community behind it.

So very, very appreciative of that.

[00:02:42] Scott Geller: Also co-founder of Techbridge obviously, um, I grew up in Akron, Ohio, uh, went to college in Philadelphia grad school in San Diego. Then moved back to Cleveland, to work for a little while and moved down to Atlanta in 1987 with, uh, Ernston young, which at the time was Ernst and Whinney, which dates me and, uh, just hit 34 years in Atlanta.

Um, and, uh, I've got a family wife and two children, uh, both teenagers and, uh, have really enjoyed living in Atlanta as well. Um, love it here. Love the technology community. I've I've done like Steve, several tech startups, um, now doing a manufacturing and tech startup, uh, uh, that's uh, defense oriented. So something a little bit different.

And, um, really, uh, my involvement in TechBridge is definitely one of the things I'm most proud of and, and. Then a big part of my life for, for 20 years and, uh, introduced me to my wife. And so, I mean, it's touched my life in so many ways that, uh, that, uh, my life wouldn't be the same without it. I

[00:04:01] Adam Walker: love that.

I'm glad you mentioned that about your wife. I was going to ask you, cause I thought that was the rumor that you had met in the founding of TechBridge. So that's amazing

[00:04:09] Scott Geller: that the very first meeting

[00:04:12] Steve Linowes: the kitchen, that's a picture. Ever

[00:04:17] Adam Walker: since that's an amazing history. I love that. Well, I love it to start with, it would be easy to kind of start with the history of Techbridge, but rather than that, I'd like to start with the why behind TechBridge.

So you started TechBridge in 2000. What problem were you looking to solve by creating TechBridge?

[00:04:41] Scott Geller: Go ahead and see. Cause we, we came at it independently. In two different sets of experiences and came to the same conclusion.

[00:04:49] Steve Linowes: Yeah. So, um, when I moved to Atlanta, I started working with, uh, the boys and girls clubs of America.

The national movement is based here and I helped them. Uh, I said, ready, ready for technology? You guys, you know, 5,000 clubs around the world, what's your technology look like? What's your technology plan. And then. Sorry, we don't, we don't have a technology plan. Right. So I worked with them to get a technology plan.

We went to Microsoft, uh, got a million and a half dollars, et cetera, et cetera, ended up Microsoft. And the gates foundation gave about a hundred million dollars. And I realized at that point in time, if a blue chip non-profit like boys and girls club, Did not have a technology plan and didn't know how to harness technology in order to deliver their services.

What about the, you know, 11,000 non-profits that are here in the state of Georgia? Um, and what, when I started digging a little bit more, I realized that, uh, studies that showing that nonprofits adopted technology at one third, the rate. That for-profits did at the time, um, that a lot of these nonprofits just had volunteers who did ad hoc project work, but nothing that dealt with strategic adoption of technology.

Um, and we were fortunate enough to also look at the technology community, which was really growing consider like, you know, tens of thousands of technology. Company workers were here in the state of Georgia. How could we harness that energy in order to bring it out into the community in general? Um, and you know, this resolved very, very basic stuff back then.

Um, it was also non-trivial from sort of giving insight into how to use technology, um, because. People now are much more accustomed to technology. I mean, just the fact that we have these phones and even nonprofit folks are using technology all over the place today. Back then, that was not the case. Um, it was a back office kind of function.

It was, how do we go and do use QuickBooks and that kind of thing? Um, the whole notion of things like CRM and, and, uh, you know, supply chain management and, and, uh, social media and all these things that we've grown really accustomed to over the past five to 10 years. Just, it was not even a glimmer in people's eyes back us back then.

[00:07:43] Adam Walker: And Scott, what was your approach that sort of brought you to the table?

[00:07:49] Scott Geller: So I had been volunteering at hands on Atlanta, which also had started to go national based in Atlanta. And it was obviously much smaller than boys and girls clubs. Uh, still one of the largest, uh, most successful non-profits in Atlanta.

And, you know, the first thing I asked is where's your contact database? And it was in access, which in 1998 was not exactly a robust platform for that. And so, um, again, I, you know, what's your technology plan who runs your technology. They didn't have a full time. It professional. Um, they didn't really have a budget for technology.

So, you know, I pretty much came to the same conclusion that Steve did just from my own experience. And, uh, I had just sold my, uh, my suffer company, uh, in, in January of 2000. Our first meeting was February of 2000. So, um, you know, I was, I was looking at an opportunity to give back and, and. We had a mutual friend, Jan Mandel, who's the third leg of the Techbridge stool.

And she knew both of us as well as Jennifer Levy now Jennifer Geller. And so she was kind of a conduct. Between us. And so that was, that was, it kind of came at it from different places, but with similar experiences. Wow.

[00:09:21] Adam Walker: That's fantastic. And I, I can, I can absolutely resonate with, with kind of what you're talking about.

Uh, and, and even the continued struggle of that for, for nonprofits and technology. But so Steve, you, you kind of alluded to this, that obviously technology has changed significantly from. 2002 to today. So can you talk a little bit about how techno or how TechBridge helped nonprofits in the early days and sort of begin and maybe begin to juxtapose sort of how that morphed over time?

[00:09:51] Steve Linowes: Yeah, sure. I mean, actually, you know what I may do. Bounce that question over to Scott, just because Scott was kind enough to be the executive director. Um, and, uh, I always liked to say that his price performance was very high in the early days before. Uh, he did the heavy lifting without taking any kind of salary, which was nice.

So we both put in a little bit of change as well into the organization to get it started. Um, so not only did he vote with his, uh, cash, but he also. Voted with his time on a full-time basis. So I really do appreciate that over, over the period of time. But one thing I'll just say is that we were, we were really dealing with very basic things, you know, deployment of PCs and setting things up and support.

And some of these things that were just really, really basic functions, we did a database. I think Scott, the first one, wasn't it. The, uh, gateway center database or some that the actual first program that we did or was it the, uh, girls Inc.

[00:11:10] Scott Geller: Which one? It was actually the herring foundation. Uh, so it was a guy named Mark Herring who worked for bell south and, uh, his wife got cancer.

And, uh, so he put together a package of information. That, when someone was diagnosed with cancer, that they would send out this package of books and other information. Um, and so they, you know, in 1999, It was not the easiest thing to have people sign up and register and request. You send a package. And they also had annual fundraiser that they had demand.

So they needed a database for that. Um, and, uh, so that, that was actually our very first project. I also want to just point out that our second project was actually not basic our second project. Cause I was also on the board of pathways, which was. What I consider probably 15 or 20 years ahead of its time, even for for-profits.

And it was what it was doing was a centralized database for homeless management, which TechBridge actually has a solution like that now, but 20 years ago they got, they were the exclusive. HUD designated database so that when someone got homeless services from five different organizations, that they would coordinate the care.

And so I saw that as a really forward-thinking, um, solution and, and joined their board actually, um, right about the time I joined TechBridges. Um, and so they got a grant that we worked on together that was doing, um, using mobile phones, which were Erickson. Which was the mark, you know, it was Nokia and Ericsson at the time.

If you remember that theory, um, there are no iPhones in 2000, um, no Android. So they got a grant from Ericsson to explore, looking at, going out into the woods and, and finding homeless people and being able to look up whether beds were available. And a little app wasn't called an app on the phone. Um, wow.

The biggest problem that we had implementing that was that the backend, they weren't keeping accurate track of it, it with a database of how many beds were available. And I bet if you went, I I've heard, there's some reason that tends to do the same thing and they had the same exact problem 20 years later.

So I think there's also a lesson there, which is. You know, it's not like we're in a panacea now where just because we have better technology that, you know, some of the same things that, that, that, how did us 20 years ago are still still there, even though we have I-phones, but yeah, those are the only two projects we had and we did the first digital ball.

So imagine you're going in front of 700, 12, 500 people at the very first digital. And you're talking about this vision for an organization, and you're trying to raise a half a million dollars and you have done a total of two projects. And the second one's not finished yet.

[00:14:40] Adam Walker: Wow. But they were cutting edge.

I mean, I guess that's the pitch.

[00:14:45] Scott Geller: They were, and I mean, doing weapons sites for people was the other thing we did the blank foundations, but they didn't have a website. Okay. He was a billionaire, still a billionaire back in 2000, I should say, already a billionaire and his foundation did not have a website at all.

Wow. So, uh, that was one of our first projects. So it just kind of also puts that in copy. Man.

[00:15:12] Adam Walker: That's, that's pretty amazing. Uh, and it sounds like, like some of the projects are kind of still similar. I mean, TechBridge is still creating apps to solve these major problems. We're still working with nonprofits to help with their infrastructure and their data and everything like that.

Talk about some of the ways that maybe the TechBridge has changed over the years from your perspective.

[00:15:33] Scott Geller: Well, there's, I mean, I'd say there's some obvious ways in some less obvious. That, I mean, the obvious way is that, uh, it's uh, it's uh, in the early days, you know, it was who is TechBridge and why should you exist?

Why shouldn't you be part of another existing organization? So it's kind of like the argument that a CIO has had at the time is why shouldn't the CIO report to the CFO. This is really a financial function. Um, and you know, it was years before CIO is reported to CEOs on a regular basis. And so in some respects, tech Ridge had that same, well, why should a technology organization exists separately?

Why should you be part of consulting companies that work with nonprofits holistically? And you're just a piece of. And so a big part of the early days is just convincing people that we, we had a right to exist and that we should be an independent organization. I think people don't realize that they kind of take it for granted.

And there were several large organizations that. We're kind of upset that we, we weren't part of them that we were independent. And I, I think if you look at it today, I mean, it's obvious that you would, you would want to have an organization that's completely focused on technology. Uh, I mean, I shouldn't say it that way.

I mean, we're, we're focused on today on solving problems, using technology, but, um, It is, we take a technology forward approach. Let me put it that way. Right, right. Um, That's I'll I'll I'll let Steve talk about other ways. Cause there's, there's certainly a lot of different ways that you can look. Yeah.

[00:17:27] Steve Linowes: Yeah.

And I think, you know, the whole landscape was really different back then. Right. As we just talked about, right. So the problems that we needed to solve or, um, you know, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, they were, they were very basic. Technology problems. Um, and, um, there was a lot of infrastructure that needed to get built up around it and stuff like that.

We were much more of a general inspect that, you know, it was sort of like what are projects that needed to get done in order to help them with the strategic adoption of technology? I remember we had some, uh, we had these technology days where we would invite non-profits in and we were. Sort of our technology folks and work with these non-profits.

Um, what, what was the, uh, was Heather's uh, consulting? Uh, what was the consulting firm that

[00:18:26] Scott Geller: Gemini,

[00:18:27] Steve Linowes: it was him. We'd go into their offices. And what we realized was a lot of the problems when we were talking about people would bring us problems that, that they thought were technology problems. And they were really just strategic problems that we had to address early on with a nonprofit in order for them to be able to do.

You use technology? One of the other things that we did that we really wanted to do is promote the strategic adoption of technology. And one of the ways that we did this was through the Accenture awards that we gave out to nonprofits. And we always, you know, the first year I think we had like maybe four nonprofits.

I don't even know how many they were very, very few nonprofits are applied. And I said, you know, I know that will have made a huge difference in the community when we have dozens of nonprofits that are applying for these grants, because we realized that they didn't really understand how to use technology back then.

And now when we have dozens and dozens, they're realizing the strategic adoption. So it was a change of mentality. I think the organization is so much more sophisticated now than it's ever been. You know, uh, we were, we were, we were fighting very basic things now to really morph the whole vision of focus on intergenerational poverty is really an amazing goal.

And it's actually within our reach, you know, it's really to impact. Um, our community in general, um, is a wonderful, wonderful thing for us to be able to do. We, we always felt it back then, but now looking at these four pillars that we have, and really going deep and solving these problems. We can really impact millions of people's people's lives.

And that's something that I just think it is a fabulous, fabulous, um, position for us to be in. Um, and I couldn't be more thrilled with what Nicole and, and you all, you know, the whole team are doing right now with transitioning us into a national organization, because I really do think we have an opportunity.

We have a platform. That we've created that will allow us to take. The really smart people in this area and be able to leverage them on this platform and really scale it up to the entire nonprofit community. So I think it's, it's really, really wonderful to see the progression in a short 21 years.

[00:21:16] Adam Walker: Yeah.

Yeah. It's pretty amazing, honestly, to, to look back and to see, I mean, just the progression of technology, but then the progression of TechBridge and implementing that technology is, is really profound. And so. So kind of last question here, we've talked about, again, that progression of technology, that progression of TechBridge in, I think, I think the answer originally this question, which is why is technology critical for nonprofit growth?

I think, I think that question in 2000 was. Basic infrastructure. I think some of those problems are starting to be solved for nonprofits. And now I would ask you in, in this year, right? Why is technology, why does technology continue to be so critical for nonprofit growth?

[00:22:00] Scott Geller: I guess the first thing I'd say is that it has moved on beyond just supporting nonprofits.

That's probably something I should have mentioned in answer to the last question that we started out as a. We are customers we're non-profit and they, they produced impact in the community. Um, so the good news is we had a lot of leverage because we have. Organizations that helped a lot of people. So we, we, we had a big, you know, impact effect to that, but it was, it was hard to raise money.

Quite frankly, we had to be other than the digital ball, we really had to rely on, on fees that we charged our nonprofit clients. So I think one of the, one of the things that tech has really evolved in is, is, you know, both providing. Software platforms like the justice server, like, um, supplying all the, uh, feeding America, a large number of feeding America affiliates with the supply chain software that they need, um, which was through an acquisition that we made probably about, I would say 10 years ago.

So, so the platforms to provide. Leverage to nonprofits at scale is something that technology has evolved into, but then the whole TCP program or where we're doing workforce development. And for the first time we're working directly with clients and getting the impact, um, you know, ourselves to all the way to the, the end beneficiary and impacting families.

Who are now coming out of generational poverty and really changing their lives in a meaningful way. Um, so, so I think that, uh, there's so many different dimensions that Techbridge has grown and, uh, evolved and, and not just supporting nonprofits who still need our help, uh, by providing direct services, I think has been an important part of that.

[00:24:03] Steve Linowes: One thing I would add on to that is historically you had, um, an entire sort of community infrastructure that was built on. Um, on, on sort of capital, um, physical structures, um, meaning when, when you were thinking about a food bank and you're thinking about connecting with people, then it's a physical food bank.

It still is a fiscal feedback, but there are other ways now. Through the community infrastructure to connect with people, right. Um, to look at optimizing the flow through these physical structures, I think people are recognizing, um, and even, even foundations are starting to recognize that it's not about physical infrastructure anymore, but it's much more.

How can we leverage a virtual infrastructure and these platforms that happened to be virtual platforms in order to really make an impact on our society. And as a result, people are recognizing. No to Scott's point before about the CIO is now reporting to the CEO. I doubt that there is a company in the country.

I should, I'm sure there's one, but almost every, everybody, the CIO is reporting to the CEO because it's a, it's a strategic adoption of technology because everybody recognizes it's a critical piece of it. And I think that's really the opportunity for tech. Specifically for intergenerational poverty is how can we leverage these four components that we've talked about, the four pillars to scale those up.

And I think people recognize that if things are done much more effectively in this virtual fashion. So, um, even my, my old job was working with a lot of Medicaid recipients, um, and you know, people who are very. Um, and every single one of them had, uh, a, some kind of phone or some kind of plan. Um, and it's something that is, is their gateway to all these other things that they needed at their disposal.

And I think that's a really important element when we're thinking about. Um, bridge going forward. So yeah,

[00:26:36] Adam Walker: absolutely. Absolutely. I love that. I love that. Well, well guys, um, you know, thank, thank you for joining me on the show today and thank you for taking the plunge to start an organization that has impacted just thousands on thousands of people through the great work that it's done over, you know, 20 plus years.

And I, I th I believe will continue to impact so many, so many thousand more. So, so thanks for your time.

[00:27:01] Steve Linowes: Sure. Thank you. One game. One thing I would just say to anybody who's listened this long, um, at the end,

[00:27:13] Scott Geller: exactly. I'm referring to my dad.

[00:27:20] Steve Linowes: That's all there is left. Um, no, I, well, one thing I will say in looking back on 21 years, when we first were getting started. A lot of really smart people that I approached said not needed. Stupid idea. Don't do it. You know, it's handled in so many different ways. And so it's easy to look back 21 years later and recognize that, you know, that, that wasn't really the case, right.

Because it's had an appreciable impact on our system. So the only thing that I wanted to be folks with, if you're here with us at this point is to say, follow your gut instinct on these things. Don't take no for an answer. Um, even with really smart people go off and do it because you as an individual can make a huge difference on in our society.

So please don't give up, never give up.

[00:28:24] Scott Geller: All right. So I, I, to have a note from my mother, since we're doing that, I think it's also important to point out that while there are a lot of smart people who discouraged us and did not understand what we were doing. We actually had a core team of our founding board members.

And friends, uh, who really got it from day one. And we're there for us financially supported us, came to meetings, connected us in the community. You know, we're involved with a black foundation. We're involved with universities and different, big organizations in town, uh, you know, got us involved with United way.

Um, so some really influential folks there. I don't want to name any one person. I'm afraid I'll leave somebody out. But if you look back at who was on our founding board, um, we had some amazing people who really did get what we're doing. Creme de. And we couldn't have done it without them. And so I want to thank you.

Including my wife, Jennifer, who wrote our initial business plan and it doesn't really get the credit she deserved for the role that she played.

[00:29:34] Steve Linowes: So I totally second that absolutely.

[00:29:39] Scott Geller: Wow. That's amazing. Now, even our mothers are signed off.

[00:29:46] Adam Walker: You guys are amazing. Uh, and still, I just enjoy that. You know, and seeing the, uh, the, the, uh, back and forth between you is always a lot of fun too. So, uh, thanks for, thanks for taking the time today. Thank you for listening to TechBridge Talks a podcast about breaking the cycle of generational poverty through the innovative use of technology.

This podcast is produced by TechBridge to find out more about our work and how you can be a part visit that's Also make sure to follow us on social. Thanks again for listening and tune in next week for more great content.