UpPrize, the social innovation challenge created by The Forbes Funds, returns this year to once again challenge our community to find new solutions to critical social issues.

Hosted in partnership with BNY Mellon and Bridgeway Capital, the purpose of UpPrize is to invest in novel ideas big and small that are more effective, efficient, just or sustainable than the current approach.

This year, the competition will take applications for two challenge areas: Healthy Food, which seeks products and services that “will increase access to affordable healthy foods for vulnerable and underserved communities” and Impactful Technology, to identify products and services that will “improve nonprofit service delivery and/or the lives of vulnerable populations in Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

Each challenge offers a total award purse of $350,000, which the winners and finalists will use to further develop and implement their ideas.

The competition debuted last year by challenging Pittsburgh entrepreneurs to create new social tech tools that addressed independence, coordination and access. The 2015 UpPrize round received more than 100 applications from Pittsburgh area entrepreneurs.

This year, UpPrize will expand to include all of Southwestern Pennsylvania. It will also increase its outreach to nonprofits, women, and people of color to encourage them to apply.

“The door of opportunity is wide open. And everyone is welcome,” says Kate Dewey, president of The Forbes Funds. “We’ve got a tremendous network of partners this year that are all of one mind to build a network of doers, makers, thinkers, entrepreneurs, techies, and givers that make this region great and distinguishable for all. We are just at the beginning but given the momentum, it is not whether it will happen, just when.”

Dewey says they chose to focus this year on finding ways to increase access to healthy foods after their work with various agencies made them realize the magnitude of the problem.

“We all know the importance of eating healthy food to our overall health,” says Dewey. “But convenience is a diet killer. You go to areas like Sheraden in the West End, and there is nothing there that would enable someone to eat healthy without taking a bus to a grocery store. When you think outside of Allegheny County, you can clearly see areas that don’t have access to healthy foods, except possibly seasonal farmers markets nearby. Food deserts contribute to unhealthy eating lifestyles and impact lives for the long term.”

What would change look like? More healthy food options in corner stores, opening a small grocery business, or operating a food truck are some examples.

“When you look at that piece of the challenge area, it’s not a technology-oriented solution,” adds Dewey. “It’s about creating access in ways that give people an opportunity to live well through eating good foods.”

The other challenge, Impactful Technology, has two aspects. One involves for-profit tech companies helping nonprofits develop tools to make them more competitive and efficient, and better enable them to advance their missions. The second part of the challenge calls for solutions to improve the lives of the homebound, homeless, a child in need, or victims of crime, as examples.

“How we live, work and care for one another as a community is radically changing,” says Dewey. “This social innovation challenge hits at a time when we’re rethinking those approaches to the benefit of all.”

To determine the best ideas, Dewey says they expanded their advisory group to include more nonprofit representatives, including Kevin Jenkins of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation and David Tinker from ACHIEVA.

Last year’s winners included Conversant Labs, Marinus Analytics and Personal Health Recording for Quality of Life (PHRQL).

Conversant Labs, a company founded by CEO Chris Maury after he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, won the first place prize of $400,000 to create voice-enabled apps for the visually impaired.

“We wouldn’t be here today if not for the UpPrize,” says Maury. “The award has helped us to continue serving the blind community and set us up for creating a sustainable business.”

The second place prize of $200,000 went to Marinus Analytics for their work in developing crime-fighting technology used by law enforcement and victim services organizations to stop human trafficking in western Pennsylvania.

The third place winner PHRQL (pronounced “freckle”) received $200,000 for creating a health and nutrition-based education tool that helps people manage their diabetes, lose weight and improve their health.

“The UpPrize challenge inspired us to look at how our technology and expertise could be applied to a low-income and food insecure population—something that wasn’t even on our radar,” says PHRQL CEO Paul Sandberg. “With the prize money, we were able to run a pilot, adapt our existing solution, and design a new business model. Now we think the opportunity could be much larger than our original market.”

The 2016 UpPrize social innovation challenge will kick off with a free networking event hosted by NEXTpittsburgh on Thursday, October 6 at AlphaLab Gear. Free childcare for kids 3 years and up is available on a limited basis. Email for details.

Applications will be accepted between October 1 and November 30. Nonprofits are strongly encouraged to participate. Startups, established firms, students and government agencies are also eligible to apply. Download the UpPrize information here.

Finalists will be selected by January 2017. An awards ceremony will take place in March 2017.

Questions? Email for answers.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.