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A Pitch Competition with a Philanthropic Twist: Richard King Mellon Foundation Announces $1 Million in Prizes for Businesses with the Best Social-Mission Ideas

NEWS

July 14, 2021

PITTSBURGH – The Richard King Mellon Foundation today announced a pitch competition with a twist: 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 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.

Winners of the kickoff pitch competition will be determined by the Foundation, with advice from prominent national advisors. Top prize in the competition is a $500,000 investment. Second prize is a $300,000 investment. And third prize is a $200,000 investment.

But many other businesses will win, too. Businesses that submit strong ideas, but do not win one of the three prizes, will move immediately into the Foundation’s Social-Impact Investment “pipeline” for potential funding.

“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 Foundation Director Sam 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.”

Initial submissions for the pitch competition are due September 1. Businesses selected as finalists will be required to provide additional information that will be scrutinized by expert advisors as well as the Foundation. The three winners will be announced at a public event in January.

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 Building 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.

“Now more than ever our country needs innovators who are willing to tackle some of the most pressing issues that our economy and society face,” said Jim Bildner, CEO of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. “This new initiative will surface powerful new social enterprises who can drive economic mobility and health and well-being for the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania and we are delighted to bring our resources to bear to help drive this forward.”

“This social impact investment competition and the Richard King Mellon Foundation's broader impact investment initiative is one of the most meaningful efforts we have seen to align investment in for-profit companies with social impact,” said OneValley CEO Nikhil Sinha. “OneValley's mission is to support entrepreneurship, innovation and impact, and we are excited to support this transformative approach to scaling impact across Western Pennsylvania and the country.”

“There is a lot of work to address inequality, quality of life, and economic development,” said Ascender Executive Director Nadyli Nuñez. “The Foundation’s competition signals to tinkerers and innovators that building a company with a social impact is a win for the business, its employees, the investors, and most of all, the community it serves. Ascender, a startup hub, is proud to support entrepreneurs committed to a better world.”

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 work 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 work 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.

The Foundation’s investments in the pitch-competition winners will take the form of equity and convertible debt.

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 2021-2030 Strategic Plan.

About the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation

Founded in 2002, the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation (DRK) is one of the largest global venture philanthropy firms in the world. To date, DRK has invested in nearly 200 early-stage social enterprises who collectively are impacting more than 155 million lives. The DRK Foundation is supported by more than 80 donor partners including some of the largest foundations in the US, and individual and family foundations.

About OneValley

OneValley is a global entrepreneurship platform headquartered in Silicon Valley that supports entrepreneurs, accelerates startups, and empowers organizations across the world that foster innovation communities. OneValley directly supports over 40,000 members and indirectly another 175,000+ through our enterprise partnerships and platforms, powered by our online platform Passport, the world’s most comprehensive innovation platform connecting Silicon Valley to the World and the World to Silicon Valley. For more information about OneValley, visit www.theonevalley.com.

About Ascender

Ascender, a vibrant community of innovators located in East Liberty, helps entrepreneurs build their companies by offering educational programming, mentorship, expert coaching, incubation, and a collaborative coworking space. For more information about Ascender's programs, visit www.ascenderpgh.com.