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Richard King Mellon Foundation Launches Another Million-Dollar Pitch Competition

NEWS

September 09, 2022

PITTSBURGH – Buoyed by the success last year of its first-ever social-impact pitch competition, the Richard King Mellon Foundation today announced it is launching another. The Foundation is inviting socially-minded for-profit companies with bold ideas to compete for at least $1 million in Foundation investments.  

“We know there are many more entrepreneurs out there whose business vision is to make the world a better place,” said Foundation Director Sam Reiman. “And we want to invest in the best of them.”  

The three winning companies will be selected by the Foundation, with advice from prominent regional and national advisors. The three winners will receive investments ranging from $250,000 to $500,000. Applications can be made on the Foundation’s website and are due October 10th.  

The pitch competition is part of the Foundation’s Social-Impact Investment program, or SII. Through SII, the Foundation invests in for-profit companies whose missions align with the Foundation’s philanthropic priorities. 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. The Foundation intends to make at least $50 million in social-impact investments over the 10 years of its 2021-2030 Strategic Plan – an unprecedented regional commitment to social-impact investing.

In this year’s pitch competition, the Foundation once again is seeking applications from entrepreneurs whose business ideas address regional challenges in economic development, economic mobility, health and well-being, or conservation – the Foundation’s four investment pillars. 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 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 will be in the form of convertible debt.  

The Foundation’s SII program began in 2021 and already has resulted in more than $5 million in investments. Last year’s pitch competition was won by Fabric Health ($500,000 investment) Gus Gear ($300,000 investment) and Module ($200,000 investment). But there were so many compelling applications, the Foundation’s Board decided to fund another 13 companies that were runners up. In all, the Foundation awarded nearly $3.4 million in investments to the 16 companies through its first pitch competition. Since the conclusion of last year’s competition, the Foundation’s Social-Impact Investment portfolio continues to grow, with six new investments this year, totaling $1.85 million.  

\Now, with its second pitch competition, the Foundation is seeking to accelerate the program further still, to ensure that social-impact entrepreneurs, across the Pittsburgh region and beyond, are able to access the financial resources necessary to achieve scalable positive impact.  

“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.”  

After the initial submissions October 10th, the Foundation staff will select finalists who will be required to provide additional information that will be scrutinized by the expert advisors as well as the Foundation. The three winners will be announced in December.   

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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 2021 disbursed $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.