Jamie and Adam Coughlin are two successful brothers who believe all things are possible in a high-tech world, where innovation is the key to developing the next big thing.
They also believe all things are possible through the power of prayer.
It's their mutual faith in God and prayer – and a good business plan – that has led them to innovate the first online faith-based, prayer-centric funding platform, PlusGrace.
"People of faith who are involved in various campaigns and causes realize that success requires not only prayerful support, but also material support," said Jamie Coughlin, 32. There is no such platform on God's green Earth that combine the two – until now. That's what's unique about it."
Worried about the fate of the Catholic Church? You can click and pray for Pope Benedict XIV. Worried about the declining health of the family cat? You can post an online "prayer campaign" and generate an online prayer chain for Fluffy.
The company's tagline is "Pray it Forward," and gives users three ways to interact:
- Start a campaign to raise prayers and money for causes important to you.
- Get connected through faith. Lend your prayers and positive vibes.
- Fund campaigns that are making a difference in the lives of your neighbors.
It was important to create a high-performance platform that remains user friendly, said Jamie Coughlin. Creating an account is as simple as uploading a photo or two, naming your cause, outlining whether you seek prayer only, prayer and donations, and then tell your story in a few paragraphs, and post.
Prayer requests and donations may be anonymous.
PlusGrace went live on Nov. 1, 2012 – All Saints Day, not coincidentally. Since the New Year, the brothers have been promoting the site in earnest, and were featured last week on Businessweek.com.
"We looked around at a lot of non-profit organizations and churches, and they're being supported by an older generation. If these organizations don't find a way to be relevant to a younger generation, they won't survive. PlusGrace provides an opportunity for churches or organizations to be progressive, while staying true to their moral principles," said Adam Coughlin, 30.
PlusGrace is a for-profit side venture for the Nashua natives. Jamie Coughlin is no stranger to the start-up ecosystem, serving as Chief Executive Officer at the Manchester-based abi Innovation Hub, the state's oldest business incubator and innovation center, which he took over two years ago.
Adam Coughlin is media relations manager at Dyn in Manchester, an Internet Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider for businesses around the world.
The Coughlin brothers recognized that the faith-based world is a huge marketplace, begging for innovation. Crowd-sourcing prayer requests via an online social networking site was more of a "eureka" moment than a leap of faith.
The profit comes with transaction fees charged on all donations made to a posted cause, between 2 and 5 percent per donation. The lower fee would apply to an organization using PlusGrace in place of weekly collections or tithing, where larger amounts of money would be donated, said Jamie Coughlin.
"While this is something we're passionate about, the faith-based world is a $100 billion market place in the U.S.," said Jamie Coughlin.
"If I put on my entrepreneur hat, I see this as an opportunity in the faith-based world. In the start-up world, the best businesses are the ones created from passion for the topic, combined with the entrepreneurial skill set to realize it, and I think Adam and I are uniquely qualified to make this work," Jamie Coughlin said.
"We very much believe it's one thing to have a Paypal-style check out, and another thing to be part of a story," said Adam Coughlin.
One of the stories already being told on the site is that of the NH Food Bank, a statewide provider for low-income families in need. They have already raised $1,505 toward their goal of $5,000 to start a mobile food bank.
There are also prayer requests for the students at Bedford High School; Boston radio host Rich Shertenlieb, whose wife has just been diagnosed with leukemia; and Pope Benedict, and the future of the Catholic church.
Adam Coughlin said the site could also be an ideal way for a church-based youth group or organization to raise awareness and funding for mission trips.
The Coughlins, both devoted Catholics, say the site is designed to be non-denominational, and should provide a modern tool for anyone who understands the power of prayer.
"We were lucky to grow up in faith-filled house, and that faith was a tangible part of our existence. It wasn't just relegated to Sundays. So it's very natural for us to come up with a business like this. One of the problems with the world today is that it's compartmentalized. Most of us divide our time between work, spiritual, political, and personal pursuits, and those things don't intersect. We feel they should," Adam Coughlin said.
"PlusGrace allows people to rally around events of the day at a very macro level. But it can also provide that micro-level prayer, whether your grandmother's in the hospital and needs prayer, or there's an earthquake in Japan. Jamie and I believe in the power of local, and that changing your community is the first step in changing the world," Adam Coughlin said.
Because the Coughlins walk the walk of faith in their everyday lives, they wholeheartedly believe it's the right time for a site like PlusGrace, and are mindful of treading lightly on the quest for a profit margin, with a prayerful heart.
"We realize that most people are really living life online today, and one of the knocks against the Internet generation is that we're very superficial. But Jamie and I know they are looking for something of more meaning, and so we want to facilitate that conversation, and allow people a place to look for that greater meaning," Adam Coughlin said.
One byproduct of the World Wide Web is that it delivers bad news at a faster, more constant clip, said Jamie Coughlin. PlusGrace aims to counter balance some of that.
"The genesis of all of this, really, is that every day we wake up and we scan blogs, news sites, Yahoo, FOX, CNN – the majority of news is negative. It's tragic. There are so many sad stories out there. How many times do you come across people who say, 'Whoa is me, the world is going to hell in a hand basket.' Instead of feeling helpless, Adam and I believe there's always one thing you can do, and that's pray about it," Jamie Coughlin said. "Our goal is to be reactive, and allow people to rally around a worthy cause, and offer prayer for it."
"Obviously the Pope is a story, and asking for prayer for the Pope makes sense. There was a big story a few weeks ago about Russian orphans who were coming to the U.S. until Vladimir Putin said they weren't allowed, and so that story obviously touched a lot of people who could use our prayers," Jamie Coughlin said.
So far the Pope has received 20 prayers on the site.
"I think when the world starts to makes us feel helpless, the inclusion of prayer reminds us that we always have something to give that can change things," Adam Coughlin said.
Now that they've invested a year of their lives in developing the site, they're moving on to market strategy, and figuring out how to get people to understand and embrace the power of e-Prayer.
"Some get it, but some are still trying to understand technical and social networking, and what global networking really is, so we hope this is a great entry way for them," said Jamie Coughlin.
"That's why it's so important to do something you're passionate about," said Adam Coughlin. "We love this idea and look forward to watching it grow."
You can check out the site at PlusGrace.com