Foundation Announces Another
Million-Dollar Social-Impact Pitch Competition

Today’s tight capital markets make philanthropic investments
in socially focused for-profit companies even more important

Optimus Technologies, Inc., CEO Colin Huwyler speaks at a June gathering of the 
Foundation’s SII funding recipients, at the Roundhouse in Hazelwood Green (Photo credit: Runway Productions LLC)

PITTSBURGH (August 8, 2023) – The Richard King Mellon Foundation today announced another $1 million social-impact Pitch Competition in its ongoing program to find and fund for-profit companies that prioritize positive social impact as well as profitability.

“It is a challenging time for entrepreneurs,” said Foundation Director Sam Reiman. “The difficulties accessing capital today are well documented. And so our Board has determined to keep its foot on the gas, and convene another $1 million Pitch Competition.”

Applications for this competition – the Foundation’s third since launching its Social-Impact Investment program in 2021 – can be made through the Foundation’s website and are due Friday Sept. 22, 2023. The winning companies will be selected by the Foundation, with advice from expert regional and national advisors. The winners are expected to receive investments ranging from $250,000 to $500,000.

“This is great news for Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial community,” said Colin Huwyler, CEO of Optimus Technologies, Inc., a Pittsburgh company that is working to decarbonize the transportation industry. Optimus was funded through the Foundation’s Social-Impact Investment program in 2022. “The Foundation’s investment in Optimus was transformational for our company. It funded critical growth, and helped to validate our business proposition to other investors. Today, access to capital for socially minded startup entrepreneurs is even tighter than it was when we won our Foundation investment. I am certain this latest Pitch Competition will propel other companies forward – enabling and scaling powerful positive social outcomes for our communities.”

The Foundation’s Social-Impact Investing Program (SII) first was launched in the Foundation’s 2021-2030 Strategic Plan. The Foundation announced its first Pitch Competition in 2021, naming three winning companies in 2022. And it launched its second Pitch Competition last year, announcing four winning companies in February. Other socially focused companies have been funded outside the Pitch Competition process, too. In all, the Foundation since 2021 has made $11.7 million in SII investments to 39 companies. The Foundation expects to invest at least $50 million in for-profit companies over the course of its 10-year Strategic Plan.

Unlike most pitch competitions, where the goal is to make money for investors, the Foundation’s primary goal is to generate positive social impact. That’s why Foundation Director Sam Reiman dubbed the competitions, “Shark Tank without the sharks.” If the Foundation makes a return on a social-impact investment, the principal is used to make additional social-impact investments.

Companies applying for a Foundation investment through the SII program can be based anywhere in the United States – but the positive impact generated by the Foundation’s investment must accrue to the benefit of communities in Allegheny and/or Westmoreland counties. The one exception is businesses aligned with the Foundation’s Conservation program, which is national in scope. The positive impacts from conservation businesses can be anywhere in the United States.

The Foundation prioritizes startups ranging from pre-seed to Series A. In all instances, the proposed positive social impact should be clear and central to the business plan. Investments are in the form of convertible debt.

Two of the winning companies from prior pitch competitions have received second, follow-on investments from the Foundation, to further their positive social impact. Module, a Pittsburgh manufacturer of affordable, energy-efficient housing, was one of the winners of the first Pitch Competition and received a second investment of $750,000 from the Foundation in April. Civic Champs, whose software helps nonprofits to better manage their volunteers and mentors, was awarded funding through the second Pitch Competition; Civic Champs, received a follow-on investment of $500,000 in April. The Foundation received 108 applications in its first Pitch Competition, and another 92 in the second. Reiman said the Foundation is eager to find more visionary entrepreneurs through this third competition.

“Our philanthropic goals are ambitious, and we need great ideas from the private sector, along with our traditional nonprofit grantmaking, to achieve our goals at scale,” said Reiman. “Fortunately, there are numerous mission-focused private-sector companies well positioned to advance their important work, and ours, through this initiative. There is a new generation of compassionate entrepreneurs who are using their talents to create businesses designed to improve our communities. Too often they are unable to obtain the financial support they need to make their dreams a reality. Pittsburgh is an ideal city to launch and grow such companies.”

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About the Richard King Mellon Foundation: Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and one of the 50 largest in the world. The Foundation’s 2022 year-end net assets were $2.8 billion, and its Trustees in 2022 disbursed more than $152 million in grants and program-related investments. The Foundation focuses its funding on six primary program areas, delineated in its 2021-2030 Strategic Plan.