Joyce Howard, business development manager, Innovation Works, at a launch event for UpPrize on May 12 at BNY Mellon Innovation Center. Photo by Emmai Alaquiva.

This year’s UpPrize Social Innovation Challenge will award a total of $300,000 to three organizations that are using technology solutions to address racial and economic justice.

Applications for this year’s competition are being accepted from for-profit and nonprofit entities in southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Since the 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, “we’ve sharpened and heightened our awareness of providing equity in technology and entrepreneurial opportunities,” says Joyce Howard, business development manager at Innovation Works, a North Side-based organization that invests in and assists tech startups.

Innovation Works administers the UpPrize, which is funded by the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Eric Boughner, chairman of BNY Mellon Pennsylvania and the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Photo by Emmai Alaquiva.

The focus on racial and economic justice “underscores our company value of strength in diversity and our commitment to seeking out who is missing and helping everyone feel included,” says Eric Boughner, chairman of BNY Mellon Pennsylvania and the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

All interested applicants this year are eligible to attend an UpPrize boot camp consisting of six free sessions where Innovation Works staff and others will provide guidance on marketing, branding “and the unique nuances of running a social enterprise,” says Howard. 

The education sessions, which haven’t been scheduled yet, aim to generate more participation from minority entrepreneurs.

The deadline to apply is July 15. Semi-finalists will be chosen in August and the final pitch showcase will take place on Nov. 10. Complete rules are available online.

Andréa Stanford, Pittsburgh regional manager with BNY Mellon. Photo by Emmai Alaquiva.

UpPrize was launched in 2015 to generate funding and support for ideas and tech-based solutions to societal problems. The program has invested more than $2.5 million in grants and technical assistance to date. 

Top winners in the past include Footbridge for Families, a nonprofit that channels donations from individuals, corporations and foundations directly to families, along with referrals and help from health care and social services professionals; TalkMeUp, a firm that started at Carnegie Mellon University and uses artificial intelligence to train people in public speaking and other forms of communication; Conversant Labs, which uses voice-based technology to help people who can’t see perform everyday tasks such as shopping and cooking; and BlastPoint, a firm that makes large, expensive data research accessible to more people. 

UpPrize “continues as a platform for investing in breakthrough ideas and bridging the gap between aspiring entrepreneurs and critical social needs,” says Boughner. 

Community engagement sessions about UpPrize will be held on Monday, May 23, at Nova Place on the North Side and on Tuesday, May 24, at The Corner in New Kensington. 

Joyce Gannon is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.