Sonoma County runners raise money, one step at a time

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“Run the change you want to see in the world.”

That’s the tagline of a new startup called Atlas, a running and social media app that allows runners to donate to charity by logging their mileage.

Atlas is Thomas Querton’s idea. The Belgian entrepreneur came to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in social entrepreneurship at Hult International Business School in San Francisco and teamed up with fellow students Magali Mathieu and Olivier Kaeser.

The trio see the app as a way to bridge the gap between well-meaning individuals, nonprofits struggling for funding and corporations looking to donate funds — by running.

“Running is one of the only sports you can do by yourself, as a couple, a group of friends or as a group of thousands of engaged change-makers,” said Querton. “(About) 50,000 people run the New York Marathon. Imagine the power of 50,000 people engaged towards the same goal.”

To test their idea, Atlas recently ran a campaign with Santa Rosa-based Social Advocates for Youth, during which roughly 250 runners ran 10,000 miles between July 1 and Sept. 7. The campaign ended with a celebration run in Santa Rosa, during which the nonprofit was given a $2,500 check.

“What I love about them is that they were so committed to action,” said Cat Cvengros, SAY’s chief development officer. “They really want to help the world in a way that’s savvy and efficient.”

The Atlas crew also created a Facebook page to test out their strategies. A corporation could offer to donate a certain amount of money to a charity, and individual runners could “earn” those dollars by logging their mileage. Each mile logged would earn the nonprofit 25 cents.

It sounds small, but what if that person regularly ran 5 miles a day, five days a week and participated in an eight-week campaign? That’s $50.

What if 25 people did it? $1,250. An average-sized high school cross country team? Anywhere from $1,800-$4,500.

Not bad for a nonprofit.

What does a corporation get out of it? Call it feel-good advertising. Runners who participate in a campaign are encouraged to post “Sweaty Selfies” documenting their runs and celebrating the nonprofit and corporation involved.

“Atlas is a modern platform that allows anyone anywhere to help anyone anywhere,” Querton said. “All you need to do is put on your running shoes and run the change you want to see in the world.”

The app is now in the final stages of development with Appstitude, a software startup created by 19-year-old former Maria Carrillo High School student Chris Kelsey. Launch is scheduled in November, near the Thanksgiving holiday as a slight nod to Atlas’ philanthropic mission.

Cvengros notes the trio’s passion for their enterprise also is a draw.

“They are just full of energy,” she said. “I can’t wait to do more with them.”

For more information or to partner with Atlas on future campaigns, visit atlasrun.com.

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