Want the opportunity to win big prize money while working to change Pittsburgh for the better?

Here’s your chance with UpPrize, the social innovation challenge sponsored by BNY Mellon, BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania and The Forbes Funds, designed to help nonprofits in southwestern PA.

The idea is to connect Pittsburgh-based entrepreneurs and innovators—the people who will compete for up to $1 million in prize money—with the region’s nonprofits and the people they serve.

It’s about “the application of a few great products from local firms to really change and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of nonprofits,” says Matt Zieger, Executive in Residence for Innovation at The Forbes Funds. “The big second goal is about ecosystem development and helping traditional investors, entrepreneurs and incubators see themselves as part of the network to drive innovation that effects real social challenges.”

It’s an investment in innovative solutions that will help nonprofits reduce their service delivery costs or expand their impact and reach, says Kenya Boswell, president of the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern PA. “With this type of catalytic philanthropy, the nonprofit community will be able to direct even more of their resources toward the people who need them most.”

Participants have until April 15 to compete for prizes in cash and technical assistance.

While the hunt is on for breakthrough ideas, they don’t have to be new. “A lot of the products and expertise are already out there,” says Zieger.

To identify the biggest challenges nonprofits have in common, more than 150 participated in three research sessions, says Zieger.  The Forbes Funds partnered with Truefit, a local product design firm, to guide participants through research exercises typically used in designing consumer products.

Nonprofits participated in research sessions guided by local product design firm Truefit.

Together they learned what worked well and where they needed help.

In the end, they identified a dozen significant challenges common to nonprofits and narrowed them down to three key challenges that comprise the core opportunities of the UpPrize competition:

1. Independence: This category includes products and applications that will equip people to become better caretakers of themselves and their neighbors, including wearable devices and mobile applications as well as traditional products.

2. Access: This area includes products and applications designed to reduce physical barriers to accessing products and opportunities. The challenge stems from the need from clients, staff and volunteers of nonprofits to move people to better access key services—such as getting food or medical help, including doctor visits.

3. Coordination: This category includes innovations that will help nonprofits across the board be more effective and efficient in coordinating and distributing services. For example, how can an organization find ways to share staff and big expenditures with other organizations in the area?

Based on the premise that not all innovation is created equal, the goal behind UpPrize is to invest in innovation that has the potential to lift up those who are the most vulnerable in our community.

“Pittsburgh has everything needed to lead the world in purpose-driven innovation,” says Kate Dewey, president of The Forbes Funds. “If you combine our start-up culture, universities, philanthropies and corporate citizens such as BNY Mellon — our community can invest in and build a better future for everyone.

Figuring out common challenges for the UpPrize competition.
Figuring out common challenges for the UpPrize competition.

“Any one of these assets on its own can make an impressive impact, but their collective strength offers a model for solving entrenched challenges at the heart of improving the community experience. UpPrize can help make this happen.”

UpPrize welcomes products and applications from anyone, including students, entrepreneurs, innovators, makers, coders, designers and researchers. Applications will be judged by an independent panel of national innovation experts and winners will be announced in August. To enter your video submission go to UpPrize.org. 

Look for the UpPrize networking event on March 24th at AlphaLab Gear for all participants and anyone interested in innovation and change for the better in Pittsburgh. Details coming soon.

Tracy is the founder and Editor at Large of NEXTpittsburgh which she started in March 2014 and sold in December 2020. She is passionate about making Pittsburgh a better place for all and connecting people to do the same.