Spring 2018

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The Community Currency team at the Garage

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Student startup looks to turn foreign cash into community support.

Each year, international travelers return stateside with an average of $34.82 in unused foreign cash — that is, if they haven’t already spent it on useless airport trinkets. The total discarded foreign currency in the United States amounts to an astounding $1.56 billion, with $96 million passing through the city of Chicago alone.

What if someone collected all that money and put it to good use? That thought ran through Evan Taylor’s mind two summers ago as he was flying home from a family trip to Mexico. When he got back to Northwestern that fall, Taylor, now a junior studying economics and international studies, enlisted his friends to help develop a solution.

They came up with Community Currency, a nonprofit startup that plans to use airport receptacles to collect leftover foreign cash for local charities. The startup won the audience vote during Demo Day as part of a summer 2017 pre-accelerator program at the Garage, Northwestern’s hub for student innovation and entrepreneurship.

Since then, Community Currency has partnered with the Northwestern study abroad program, which agreed to set up collection boxes in the Undergraduate Learning Abroad and Buffett Institute for Global Studies offices for students returning from school-sponsored trips.

Taylor hopes that Community Currency can harness the power of social entrepreneurship to support a cause with a powerful local impact: education. The startup is using collected funds to help sponsor camp fees for disadvantaged children in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago.

Taylor and his team are now in talks with the city of Chicago and its Department of Aviation about piloting the program at O’Hare International Airport. “We see a tremendous amount of potential, both inside and outside airports, to make a profound difference in our communities,” Taylor says. “The more we raise, the more lives we can touch.”