Winners of 2nd Social-Impact Pitch Competition Announced

Four winners – one from each of the Foundation’s four Program Areas

Resilient Lifescience wins $500,000 first prize

PITTSBURGH (February 7, 2023) – The Richard King Mellon Foundation today announced the winners of its second Social-Impact Investment Pitch Competition – its latest effort to invest in for-profit companies with social missions that have the potential to generate positive community benefits.

Four startup companies won a combined $1.35 million in investments. Each of the four for-profit companies is seeking to achieve a social good that aligns with one of the four primary Program Areas of the Foundation’s Strategic Plan.

“This second Pitch Competition builds on the first and makes abundantly clear what we suspected when we first launched the Social-Impact Investment program: Pittsburgh has a wealth of promising for-profit startups that are committed to using their businesses to achieve social good,” said Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. “While four companies won this competition, there are many others we look forward to funding in the future. And the ultimate winners will be the people and communities that benefit from their work.”

The Foundation received 92 submissions in the Pitch Competition. The winners were selected by the Foundation in consultation with a panel of 32 expert national and local judges.

The winners, their investments, and the Program Area their work will advance, are:

1st Place, with a $500,000 investment: Resilient Lifescience – a startup combating drug overdose with wearable, intelligent drug delivery systems (Health & Well-Being Program Area).

“This is an incredible honor; we’re excited to have the support of the Richard King Mellon Foundation as we work to protect the lives of people who use opioids.” said Brad Holden, co-founder and CEO. “The investment will directly support research that supports the further development of our product.”

2nd Place, with a $400,000 investment: Element Exo (formerly Maroon Assistive Technologies) – a hardware startup improving employee well-being with an innovative exoskeleton (Economic Development Program Area).

“This investment from the Richard King Mellon Foundation will help us protect the backs and livelihoods of the men and women who have the toughest jobs in Southwest Pennsylvania while making these jobs a little less demanding,” said Dr. Tim Pote, CEO of Element Exo, Inc. 

3rd  Place, with a $300,000 investment: Sustainable Composites – a circular economy startup processing waste leather scrap into new products (Conservation Program Area).

“We are thrilled to have the Richard King Mellon Foundation as a partner,” said Don Morrison, President and CEO, Sustainable Composites. “Their investment is a vote of confidence in our game-changing technology and business model.  With funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, we are exploring the establishment of a leather recycling and production facility in Pittsburgh to support our business operation that could become a model for expansion to other markets.”

4th – Place, with a $150,000 investment: CodeJoy – an edtech startup developing interactive remote robotics and coding classes for students and educators (Economic Mobility Program Area).

“CodeJoy is thrilled to be able to move from our small startup space into a place with room to grow, and to hire the staff we need to expand our operations and serve more students and teachers than ever with robotics and coding education,” said Kelsey Derringer, CodeJoy Co-Founder. “With this funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, CodeJoy is setting a new and bold vision for what educational programming will become in the 21st century.”

The Foundation’s Social-Impact Investing Program (SII) first was launched in the Foundation’s 2021-2030 Strategic Plan. The Foundation held its first Pitch Competition in 2021, and so far has awarded nearly $8.6 million in SII investments to 33 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 Reiman last year dubbed the competition, “Shark Tank without the sharks.” If the Foundation makes a return on a social-impact investment, that principal is used to make additional social-impact investments.

Companies applying for an SII investment can be located 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 those 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.

“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. “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. Our SII Program is affirming that their ideas are worthwhile – and that 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 2021 year-end net assets were $3.4 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.