Awesome Pittsburgh

In 2011, two friends, Matt Gaston and Mike Capsambelis decided it was time to bring the Awesome Foundation to Pittsburgh. The foundation, founded in 2008 in Boston, works on the premise of ten trustees giving $100 each every month toward one project—with no strings attached. Grantees use the $1000 microgrant (awarded via a microcheck) to push their ideas forward.

“We live in such an amazing city and three years ago, this groundswell was truly taking hold, so we wanted to create something that would encourage innovation at the grassroots level,” says Mike Capsambelis, one of the city’s most active supporters of entrepreneurship with his involvement in many organizations including The Forbes Funds, Uptown Partners and Entrepreneuring Youth.

Awesome Pittsburgh gave its first grant to artist Murphi Cook, for her project called the Puppet Photo Booth and to a collective looking to launch a market in Morningside called PopUp Co-op.

Since then, grants have continued to cover a diverse range of projects from small entrepreneurial endeavors such as Healcrest Urban Farm’s popular Tea Pops to tech startups like ShareCloset to big dreams such as a ZipPitt—a project that aims to put a zipline from Mt. Washington to the North Shore.

Gaston is proud of the diversity of projects Awesome Pittsburgh has funded. “The projects reflect the spirit, joy, and optimism that makes our city what it is.”

“When you see projects such as Knit the Bridge—one of the biggest yarn bombs ever pulled off—something creative and iconically Pittsburgh, it makes me smile. And projects that are smaller like G.L.A.D. Bags for Children—an initiative that gives foster children something as simple as a duffel bag instead of a trash bag for their belongings—certainly has profound impact,” adds Capsambelis.

Awesome Pittsburgh celebrated its third anniversary at The Pittsburgh Public Market last Monday and the group gave out a special $1000 grant after four projects gave a live 3-minute pitch. The four projects were chosen by the trustees from the last pool of applicants that did not receive funding. A project that will give Homewood a farmer’s market received the grant.

To date, Awesome Pittsburgh has given over $32,000 in grants. The organization’s deadline is the first of each month with winners announced monthly. A list of past grantees can be found on their website.

Editor’s Note: Leah Lizarondo, who covered this story, was one of the founding trustees of Awesome Pittsburgh and served from 2008-2009.

Leah Lizarondo

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment....