Chef Marcus Samuelsson teams up with Sage Digital to launch Project Bento fundraising platform

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the ongoing protests for racial justice, people have been looking for different ways to contribute, which in turn has led tech companies to launch new features and campaigns.

Now there’s a new fundraising platform called Project Bento, created by chef and restauranteur Marcus Samuelsson (best known as the chef behind Red Rooster Harlem), Derek Evans (CEO of the Marcus Samuelsson Group) and the team at Sage Digital (a startup creating tools for reviewers, chefs and other experts to publish content and build a following).

Samuelsson told me that he’d already been working with Sage Digital to create a presence on the platform. Then he mentioned Harlem Serves Up, this year’s version of the annual Harlem EatUp festival — Samuelsson and his team reinvented the event during the pandemic as as a fundraising telethon for nonprofits fighting food insecurity.

But, Samuelsson said that when he surveyed the options available to manage the online fundraising, he wasn’t quite satisfied with any of the available options.

Project Bento

Image Credits: Project Bento

“We were thinking very much about our needs — what were we building, how do we want consumers to utilize it,” he said.

So the Sage Digital team ended up building Project Bento in seven or eight weeks, on top of the startup’s existing platform. Sage CEO Samir Arora said that along with allowing nonprofits to collect funds (without having to pay a platform fee), publish content, promote on social media and track their campaigns, the platform also includes tools for managing sponsorships and matching donors.

The rapid development, Samuelsson said, was a perfect demonstration of “what entrepreneurship is.” Thus far, Project Bento has been used to raise more than $350,000 for Harlem Serves Up, as well as $4.8 million for the Project Bento Fund (which Arora described as a “completely new nonprofit whose purpose is to create matching funds” for campaigns on the platform).

There are several other campaigns live already, as well as links to employee relief fundraisers on other platforms, but Project Bento is also accepting applications from other nonprofits that want to fundraise on the platform. Samuelsson said he wants the website to be a place that can bring many of these campaigns together.

“There are communities not just in Harlem, but across the country, that need a campaign, they need to connect,” Samuelsson said. “[Project Bento] will continue because that need, raising money and connecting a community, will continue.”