Richard King Mellon Foundation Announces Panel of 54 Expert Judges for Social-Impact Pitch Competition

PITTSBURGH (August 23, 2021) – Fifty-four local and national leaders with expertise in business, entrepreneurship, conservation, economic development, economic mobility, health and well-being and philanthropy have agreed to help judge the Richard King Mellon Foundation’s first-ever social-impact pitch competition.  

“Harnessing the ingenuity and passion of for-profit businesses to achieve social good is a powerful new way for the Foundation to achieve its philanthropic mission,” said Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. “The fact that so many prominent leaders in Pittsburgh and across the nation have agreed to help judge the submissions to our pitch competition is a compelling affirmation of the promise of this idea, and the potential of Pittsburgh to be a national leader here, too.”  

“Our judges range from subject-matter experts in our strategic priorities, to investment bankers and entrepreneurs who know first-hand the challenges of launching a business, or a business idea, successfully,” said Reiman. “Our goal in assembling such an impressive collection of judges is to give the social-impact businesses participating in our competition the same high-caliber assessment that profit-driven pitch competitions offer. Businesses dedicated to generating positive social impact deserve that.”  

The pitch competition, announced July 14, is open to for-profit businesses that have a strong social mission and a great idea to advance the Foundation’s philanthropic strategies. Initial submissions are due Sept. 1. The top prize is a $500,000 investment. Second prize is a $300,000 investment. And third prize is a $200,000 investment. The Foundation’s investments in the pitch-competition winners will take the form of convertible debt.  

The winners will be determined, not just by their prospects to make money for investors, but most importantly by their potential to improve economic development, economic mobility or health and well-being for the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania; or to enhance the conservation of environmentally precious lands across the United States.  

The winners will be determined by the Foundation, with advice from the 54 judges.

The pitch competition is the kickoff to an exciting new component of the Foundation’s new 10-year Strategic Plan: Social-Impact Investments, or SII. Under SII, the Foundation invests money in for-profit companies whose mission aligns with the Foundation’s philanthropic goals. If the Foundation makes a return on a Social-Impact Investment, that principal is used to make additional Social-Impact Investments.  

The Foundation expects to invest at least $50 million in SII over the next 10 years, an unprecedented commitment to social-impact investing for the region. Businesses that submit strong ideas through the pitch competition, but do not win one of the three prizes, will move immediately into the Foundation’s Social-Impact Investment “pipeline” for potential future funding.  

To accelerate the impact and effectiveness of the pitch competition, the Foundation is partnering with three expert national and local organizations: The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, in Menlo Park, California and Boston, one of the largest venture philanthropy firms in the world; OneValley, the Silicon Valley-based global entrepreneurship platform that recently set up shop in Pittsburgh, operating out of the newly renovated historic Roundhouse in Hazelwood Green; and OneValley’s Pittsburgh platform fiscal sponsor and longtime Richard King Mellon Foundation grantee, Ascender. 

The three expert partners will be advisors to the Foundation on the pitch competition. They will utilize their networks to increase national and local awareness of the competition, and the welcoming environment in Pittsburgh for social-impact companies; and they will provide helpful services to select contestants. 

Businesses selected as finalists from the September 1 submissions will be required to provide additional information that will be scrutinized by the expert judges as well as the Foundation. The three winners will be announced at a public event in January.  

“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 change the world. Too often they are unable to obtain the financial support they need to make their dreams a reality. Pittsburgh’s abundance of philanthropic capital makes this an ideal city to launch and grow such companies that at the same time create high-paying jobs, attract capital and enhance our communities.  

“If you are an entrepreneur with a dream to change the world for the better, you should be in Pittsburgh. We expect to receive many strong ideas that make a difference. And we expect to fund many of them, beyond the three initial winners.”  

Businesses funded by the Foundation through the pitch competition must be aligned with one or more of the Foundation’s four primary funding priorities. National companies that do business in Allegheny and/or Westmoreland counties in economic development, economic mobility and/or health and well-being, are eligible to participate – as are national companies that do not yet do business locally, but wish to do so. And conservation-focused companies can work anywhere in the United States and be eligible for a Social Impact Investment. The competition also is open to entrepreneurs looking to start a business.  

More information on the Social-Impact Investment initiative and the pitch competition are available on the Foundation’s website.  

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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 2020 year-end endowment was $3.1 billion, and its Trustees in 2020 disbursed $130 million in grants and Program Related Investments. The Foundation focuses its funding on six primary program areas, delineated in its 2021-2030 Strategic Plan.