A device that helps recovering drug addicts avoid relapse. A food service for vulnerable populations. A program that connects underprivileged children of color with their heritage through world travel.
These are the winners of the Social Justice Innovation Weekend, a challenge hosted by Repair the World: Pittsburgh to bring together local entrepreneurs and students with solutions that address pressing community issues. Participants were required to submit an idea in one of three categories: Art Innovation, Faith-based Innovation or Innovation Through Technology.
After three days of working with mentors, nine groups pitched their ideas last night to panels of judges during an event at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.
Among the judges was Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who cited the event as an example of how Pittsburgh is working to ensure that everyone benefits from the city’s latest renaissance.
“We have a moral obligation to ensure that economic change comes with societal change,” he said during a short speech.
Each pitch lasted three minutes and was followed by a five-minute Q&A. RecoverEQ received first place for its concept of a wearable technology that tracks physical signs, such as heart rate or sleep patterns, and alerts counselors and sponsors when a recovering addict is at risk of relapse. RecoverEQ team member Courtney McFeathers, an entrepreneur who also struggled with drug abuse, said the device could help the 2.6 million people across the US grappling with opioid addiction.
Coming in second place was FarePost, a grocery delivery service for SNAP recipients and other populations in Pittsburgh unable to access healthy food. Inner-City International, an educational travel abroad program tailored for African-American children and young adults, came in third place after a lively presentation by team lead Kelauni Cook.
The winners received cash prizes totaling, in descending order, $2,000, $1,500 and $1,000. All the participating teams will receive free legal counseling services from Cherin Law Offices to help them with developing their products and services.
The remaining groups represented a diverse array of ideas that tackled everything from healthcare to employment. The Ella app, a pitch from Annia Aleman and Marcus Jeter, uses online reviews and ratings to help solo women travelers identify safe places to visit. Aleman said the service would also support great local businesses in so-called “bad neighborhoods,” using the example of Everyday Cafe in Homewood.
Some pitches had a youthful appeal to them. The couple behind Our Story, a video project geared toward teens of color in Pittsburgh, and the team who created the mobile maker space StudioThink, are all in their early 20s.
Other pitches included the community-based food hub Hanging Gardens, Covivi, a member-owned and run business platform for freelance workers, and CARE, an alternative approach to providing affordable healthcare for contract workers and small business owners.