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UpPrize: Changing Pittsburgh Through Social Innovation

October 11, 2016

By Meg Campbell

The rise of Pittsburgh has been meteoric. It seems as though every week a new magazine or newspaper has “discovered” what a great city we are. But Pittsburghers, you’ve known for a long time how great we are.

If you’ve spent any extended amount of time in Pittsburgh, however, you also know there are challenges. With true Pittsburgh grit, UpPrize is turning those challenges into opportunities.

Now in its second year, this social innovation challenge made possible through a partnership between the Forbes Fund and BNY Mellon is creating partnerships and seeking innovative ideas and products that can solve these challenges.

The 2016 challenge kicked off Thurs., Oct. 6 with an open networking event and information session at AlphaLab in East Liberty. More than 400 people registered to learn about the challenge and meet potential partners and co-conspirators to bring their ideas to life.

Kate Dewey, president of the Forbes Fund and one of the masterminds behind the creation of UpPrize, welcomed the group and shared what UpPrize is all about.

“The UpPrize is a unique opportunity to gather our collective assets and think about how can we in fact create solutions that improve the lives of individuals who are the most vulnerable, communities that don’t have access to basic services, particularly food, and ways in which to use technology to leverage nonprofits to be able to work more effectively.”

Kenya Boswell, president of the BNY Mellon Foundation and fellow UpPrize mastermind went on to share what they are hoping to see in this year’s applications.

upprize-networking-at-alpha-lab-photo-credit-meg-campbell

“It’s all about improving lives through technology. We’re looking at the individual level, we’re looking at it at the community level, we’re looking at it at the institutional level, we’re looking at it at the regional level,” said Boswell. “That’s all the information I’m going to provide. The reason why I’m doing that is we don’t have any preconceived notion of what the solutions are.”

While last year’s UpPrize competition had more specific guidelines, this year, UpPrize is opening the doors to see what comes in – and hoping it’s a lot. So far, it looks like it will be. The challenge officially opened on Oct. 3, and already they have received 45 names intending to submit and three completed proposals.

In addition to the challenge to improve the community through technology, there is also a second challenge this year. One of the new sponsors to join UpPrize, Bridgeway Capital, is the driving force behind the challenge to improve access to healthy foods.

“Too many of our communities throughout the region do not have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fruit and dairy. We have a responsibility as a group and as a region to find out how we’re going to address this problem…we need fresh ideas for fresh food,” said Matt Madia, chief strategy and development officer at Bridgeway Capital. “We don’t know what the solution is. If you think you have an idea, apply, apply, apply.”

Apply was emphasized for a reason. The challenges are open to almost everyone. The main requirements? Be over the age of 18, live in Southwestern PA, and not have been a finalist in previous challenges.

“We will provide whatever support we can. We want you to win,” said Dewey. “Call us. Ask questions. We want you to apply.”

Another new sponsor this year is Comcast Business, the UpPrize media sponsor. Lane Cigna, manager of community investment at Comcast, offered insight into why they got involved:

“It’s the intersection of innovation and community. It was an amazing opportunity for us to support both business and community needs.”

“Comcast Business is honored to join the Forbes Funds, BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania and Bridgeway Capital as the official media and technology sponsor of the 2016-2017 UpPrize Challenges,” said Paul Merritt, regional vice president of Comcast Business. “We’re proud to support Pittsburgh’s growing ecosystem of innovators, small businesses and start-ups.”

Attendees also heard updates from the three of last year’s finalists, who offered stories about how UpPrize funding has advanced their mission and the work that they’re doing now.

Marinus Analytics is providing cloud-based criminal investigative and social media analytical tools to law enforcement and private industry to fight sex trafficking. At Construction Junction, they’re finding ways to make reuse as easy as first use for building materials with Reuse Retail. The team at Application Verification is expediting the process of volunteer screening for nonprofits and institutions like Pittsburgh Public Schools and the United Way of Allegheny County.

Applications may be submitted online through Nov. 30.