Isenberg Graduate Named Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur
January 24, 2017
Forbes Magazine has named Robbie Bergquist ’14 and his sister Brittany to its 2017 Forbes 30 under 30Class of America’s top “game changers” and entrepreneurs. In 2004, while still in middle school, Robbie and Brittany founded Cell Phones for Soldiers (CPFS). The nonprofit enterprise brings soldiers and veterans cost-free phone services, devices, and emergency funding. After graduating from Isenberg, Robbie, a former sport management major, rededicated himself to the company full time as its CEO.
The enterprise mails 130,000 calling cards to active duty soldiers and veterans each year. It actively seeks cell phone donations, but sends cards, not phones, to soldiers in the field, notes Bergquist. That’s because, he says, cell phones pose a security risk through enemy triangulation. Instead, active service personnel receive portable phones from the military that connect them to secured landlines.
Collecting and reselling donated phones to raise revenues, then, (along with direct monetary support from sponsors) provide the financial fuel for CPFS’s calling cards. To that end, the Alpharetta, Georgia (an Atlanta suburb) company is adept in stripping, recycling, and restoring used cell phones. Those competencies are driving a new program that will distribute repurposed phones and minutes to 60,000 veterans this year. In five years, Bergquist hopes that the new initiative will serve 350,000 veterans.
In addition, CPFS coordinates a second program for veterans, Helping Heroes Home. Launched in 2012 to ease veterans’ transition to civilian life, the program has assisted more than 3,100 veterans and their families. The one-time grants help them with housing, utility and heating bills, and storage payments.
A Family Concern
"Isenberg helped give me business tools to save the world."As teenagers, Robbie and Brittany launched Cell Phones for Soldiers with guidance and inspiration from their parents. Brittany, he notes, has left the enterprise for a full-time marketing/sales job. “My parents are still involved, but I’m the only family member with day-to-day responsibilities,” he remarks. Besides his strategic CEO role, Robbie has taken on marketing and public relations, previously handled by a PR firm.
While Robbie was an undergraduate at Isenberg, his parents—both schoolteachers—ran CPFS’s day-to-day operations. Still, Robbie remained active on its board and as a national spokesperson, which entailed periodic travel, including visits to U.S. bases in Germany.
“I graduated from Isenberg with great balance and pragmatic knowledge across many business areas,” Robbie emphasizes. For a student internship, he leveraged his own connections with General Motors (a CPFS sponsor), to help GM with a national program targeted to the military. “My experience in Amherst,” he continues, “primed me for social entrepreneurship. I can’t tell you how important it is to soldiers and their families to communicate directly when [the former] are in the field. Isenberg helped give me business tools to save the world.”