Energy and vision

Young philanthropist focuses on North Carolina’s future. 

By Ret Boney

Nine years ago, Michael Brader-Araje worked at a private school in Hillsborough, building its website and helping students and teachers understand technology and how to blend it with education.

Today, he is using proceeds from the $542 million sale of OpenSite Technologies, the online-auction software company he founded in the spare bedroom of his apartment, to help shape North Carolina’s future.

“I want my kids to be able to grow up in a community that is as vibrant as the one I’m in now,” says Brader-Araje.  “If I don’t do my part, I’ll only have myself to blame.”

To do that, he and his wife founded the Michael and Laura Brader-Araje Foundation, which has assets just shy of $5 million and has granted more than $1 million over four years, he says, almost exclusively in North Carolina.

Brader-Araje also started truePilot, a company that invests in young Research Triangle Park-based high-tech companies in amounts ranging from $500 to $500,000.

“I wanted to invest back in companies like OpenSite,” he says.  “There were a lot of people that took a chance on me and I wanted to do that for others.”

A “recovering workaholic,” he’s also lending his time and talents to the nonprofit community, serving on at least 10 boards and co-chairing the new multi-million-dollar capital campaign for WUNC radio, which he says hopes to raise a yet undetermined amount over three years to fund new programs and create more news bureaus across the state.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, Brader-Araje discovered a passion for giving while fulfilling a religion requirement at his parochial high school by volunteering in a nursing home each Saturday, playing bingo, chatting with residents and helping them write letters.

Being an active part of the community has been important to him since then, he says, even before making his fortune in the high-tech market.

Michael Brader-Araje

Job:  Founder and managing partner, truePilot

Born 1968, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Education:  B.A., English, Lafayette College, Easton, Pa.; M.A., English, University of Rochester; M.Ed., University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Family:  Wife, Laura; son, 3; daughter, 20 months

Hobbies:  Outdoor activities with family, hiking, reading, skiing, golf

Recently read:  “The Debt:  What America Owes to Blacks” by Randall Robinson; “How Good People Make Tough Choices:  Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living” by Rushworth Kidder; “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them:  A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” by Al Franken

Recommended reading:  “Leadership Without Easy Answers” by Ronald Heifetz

Inspiration:  “The birth of my children.  The guiding principle in my life is: ‘Am I setting a good example for my children?’”

“Philanthropy is not about money,” he says.  “It’s more about being a humanitarian, it’s about helping your fellow community members.  We’re all philanthropists, regardless of our financial balance sheet.”

That’s one of the reasons he founded the North Carolina chapter of DonorsChoose, a nonprofit that uses the Internet to match individual donors with public school teachers who need funding for student projects.

The foundation has committed $150,000 to the DonorsChoose national organization over three years, in part for the North Carolina expansion, which was launched in February in 15 pilot school districts.

Over those seven months, the program has funneled about $200,000 into schools in those pilot districts, says Brader-Araje, and will be expanded to all North Carolina public school districts in October.

“I felt like this was a real grass-roots opportunity to do things beyond just the money,” he says.  “It will open the eyes of some people as to the challenges teachers face.  It will have a positive impact on teacher morale and retention.”

The foundation also saved the Mariposa School for Children with Autism from closing with $75,000 in grants that helped it move to a new location and secure other grants.

The school is thriving now, says Brader-Araje, who chairs the school’s board.

Recently, the foundation pledged $25,000 to the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute, a Raleigh nonprofit that works to improve the well-being of children in the state, a grant the institute says will allow it to qualify for a matching grant pledged in May by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

“That is an organization that has already done a lot for the state,” says Brader-Araje.  “It has the potential to contribute in even more substantial ways to the welfare of children in the state.”

If there’s a common thread to the work of Brader-Araje, it is a focus on North Carolina, his adopted home.

“We want to make North Carolina the best place to live in the country,” he says.  “We have to make sure we are moving forward and planning appropriately to be always one step ahead and not one step behind.”

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