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RKMF Announces the Winners of its $1 Million Pitch Competition

IN THE NEWS

January 26, 2022

Submissions were so strong, the Foundation decided to invest another $2.3 million in 13 other finalist companies

More to come - RKMF expects to invest $50 million over the next 10 years in for-profit companies with public missions

PITTSBURGH - The Richard King Mellon Foundation today announced the winners of its first-ever Pitch Competition – a novel effort to identify and support for-profit companies with a public purpose. 

The Foundation’s primary goal in such investments – made through its new Social-Impact Investment Program – is not to make money, but rather to utilize the creativity and scalability of publicly-minded for-profit businesses to advance the philanthropic goals of the Foundation’s Strategic Plan.  

The program was kicked off with the Pitch Competition, announced July 14. Foundation Director Sam Reiman characterized the competition as “Shark Tank without the sharks.”  

The response was remarkable, with 108 companies submitting pitches. A national panel of expert judges assisted the Foundation in assessing the 27 finalists, and three winners were recommended to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees in December. The Trustees approved the three winners. But the finalists were so strong, the Board also approved investments in 13 other finalist companies. In all, the Foundation is investing a total of $3.39 million in the 16 companies.  

The winning companies and their Foundation investments are:

1st place winner - Fabric Health ($500,000 investment)

Fabric Health seeks to improve access to health care for people in need through strategic engagement at laundromats. The Philadelphia-based company will utilize its investment to bring its novel approach to Southwestern Pennsylvania.

2nd place winner - Gus Gear ($300,000 investment)

Gus Gear, Inc. was founded by CEO Sarah Palya in response to her own son’s medical challenges. The Pittsburgh company manufactures medical devices and supplies that help patients live safer, more active lives while they are receiving treatment.

3rd place winner – Module ($250,000)

Module is a homebuilding startup founded in Pittsburgh to manufacture modular housing that positively addresses the affordable-housing shortage, while advancing energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Additional information on Fabric Health, Gus Gear and Module, as well as the 13 other companies that won Foundation investments, can be found on the Foundation’s website.  

“The three winners of our competition exemplify the publicly-focused creativity and entrepreneurial energy that we seek to identify through our Social-Impact Investment program,” said Reiman. “And so do the 13 other companies selected for investments.  

“We want to support this new generation of compassionate entrepreneurs who are using their talents to change the world,” Reiman said. “Too often such entrepreneurs are unable to obtain the financial support they need to make their dreams a reality. Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial and community spirit makes this an ideal city to launch this innovative philanthropic program.”  

Under its Social-Impact Investment program, the Foundation invests in for-profit companies that are seeking to accomplish a public good that aligns with the Foundation’s Strategic Plan. These investments are called Program-Related Investments. When the Foundation earns a return on its SII investments, that money is utilized for additional SII investments. The Foundation anticipates investing at least $50 million in for-profit companies with a public mission over the 10 years of this Strategic Plan. Last month, the Foundation announced that Bobby Zappala – a veteran of the local startup community and one of the expert judges in this Pitch Competition – has joined the Foundation as a Program Officer to help lead the ongoing program.  

Reiman said the Foundation expects to host another pitch competition in the future, likely in the next one to two years. But applications for SII investments are welcome anytime. Applications can be made through the Foundation’s website.  

In addition to their financial investments from the Foundation, the 16 companies are receiving subsidized office space and support services through OneValley, at the newly renovated Roundhouse in Hazelwood Green; and at Ascender in East Liberty. OneValley and Ascender partnered with the Foundation in developing the Pitch Competition, as did the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, one of the largest venture philanthropy firms in the world.  

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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 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.