United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

United Way recently gave local nonprofits $225,000 reasons to compete

by FWD>DFW and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas | April 23, 2019

Last week, five North Texas social entrepreneurs stood onstage at Gilley’s Dallas for The Pitch, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ Social Innovation Accelerator. An esteemed panel of judges sat to the side. A packed audience of more than 1,200 including local dignitaries, influencers, and leaders looked on.

In this “Shark Tank” for social good, the stakes were high — as high as $225,000 in combined funding across a range of competition categories, including online votes.

These five entrepreneurs brought their A-plus game for their five-minute pitches — the intelligence behind their innovative companies only matched by their passion for helping others in our community. For them, this night was the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of hard work.

“We’re giving these social entrepreneurs a platform to tell their story in front of a completely new audience. In many cases, people in the audience’s heartstrings are pulled … and they want to get involved,” says Jennifer Sampson, McDermott Templeton President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

Participants in this year’s social innovation competition

POETIC | Jennifer Tinker, co-founder and co-CEO
Social Innovator of the Year ($75,00)
POETIC ends the cycle of re-victimization for juvenile justice-involved girls with a history of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. POETIC builds a pipeline out of the juvenile justice system and into intensive aftercare programming for girls who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking through an intensive aftercare model that includes an on-site school, 24/7 access to their therapist and caseworker, art therapy, and paid internships.

My Possibilities | Michael Thomas, executive director
1st Runner Up ($50,00)
My Possibilities provides adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities with a path to inclusion through continued education and community employment. Key to that success is work experience and a new for-profit, on-site retail training center that will support people with disabilities seeking competitive employment in the community.

Readers 2 Leaders | Norma Nelson, executive director
Readers 2 Leaders has packaged its highly successful literacy program to equip out-of-school time providers with the tools they need to integrate reading into their programs. With a model that is proven to grow and develop the reading skills of elementary school aged children, Readers 2 Leaders can now reach exponentially more kids where they are – in after-school care, soccer practice and summer camp.

Rosa es Rojo | Aidee Granados, founder and CEO
Vote Prize #2 – $10,000
Rosa es Rojo makes wellness and cancer prevention accessible for Latina women in America, starting in North Texas. The program promotes nutrition, physical activity, emotional health, and positive thinking through an educational model, “The Rojo Way,” that is shared 100% in Spanish and enables women to apply their learning and share it with others in their community.

Student Success Agency | EJ Carrion, co-founder and CEO
Vote Prize #1, #2, and Grand Vote Prize ($65,000 combined)
Student Success Agency is an interactive digital mentoring platform that allows students to receive on-demand access to an array of student support services traditionally offered only by school counselors during school hours. The program connects high school students with near-peer mentors via their mobile devices, providing access to quality mentoring, tutoring, and college advising without the restrictions of time or place.

The judging panel

This year’s judging panel included many notable business and community leaders:

  • Emcee Anne Chow, president, national business of AT&T
  • Jack D. Furst, founder and CEO of Oak Stream Investors
  • Ken Hersh, president and CEO of the George W Bush Presidential Center
  • Sandra Phillips Rogers, group vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel & corporate secretary of Toyota Motor North America
  • Mary Templeton, co-Chair of United Way’s Annual Campaign
  • Henry Timms, president and CEO of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
  • Steven Williams, senior VP and chief commercial officer of Frito-Lay

“It’s a lot of pressure, “ said Norma Nelson, executive director of Readers 2 Leaders. “But we’ve been working on our presentation for months. We’ll be ready.”

For Jennifer Tinker, co-founder and co-CEO of POETIC, the large audience and notable judges are just one more reason to step up her game. “The issue of sex trafficking is leading national headlines, so it’s a privilege to share POETIC’s solution on this stage.”

The way of social innovation

Launched in 2013, United Way’s Social Innovation Accelerator helps encourage the creation of bold new solutions for community problems.

Many established non-profits can’t feasibly change course or divert resources to explore new offerings, explains Sampson. “So we created the Social Innovation Accelerator to help bring new ideas to life. “

The program invests in local initiatives that address issues of education, income and health — what Sampson calls “the building blocks of opportunity”— and provides the critical resources needed for these ventures to grow and succeed.

But the process is not a simple one. This is no “submit an application, get a check” kind of deal. Participants must complete an intense boot camp curriculum specifically designed to set up the organizations for future success.

Over months of serious prep work, participants refine their business plans, set milestone goals and receive one-on-one mentoring from experienced professionals strategically paired based on expertise and need.

Seed funding is tied the completion of program activities and the achievement of milestone goals. And those who excel are selected to participate in the annual social innovation competition.

“The Social Innovation Accelerator has been instrumental in a number of ways,” said Michael Thomas, executive director of My Possibilities. “Between the mentors, our peers, and the content provided, it took an idea seven or eight months ago and escalated it very quickly to a reality inside its first year.”

“It’s been a great experience,” said Aidee Granados, founder and CEO of Rosa es Rojo. “We’ve changed many things and today we have real clarity on what we need to work on to grow and touch more lives.”

Tech start-up Student Success Agency sees a real difference in the program compared to other accelerators that merely focus on growth and scale. “I think there’s something really powerful that there’s a heart piece to it,” said EJ Carrion, co-founder and CEO. “If you’re doing something meaningful and fighting a mission, there’s an accelerator out there that focuses on making an impact and not just how big a business you can grow.”

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