Seattle Social Venture Partners Holds 4th Annual Fast Pitch

14 finalists shared their commitment to social change hoping for funds to move their projects forward

Writer Heather Larson

Published on: October 31, 2014

Our future rests in good hands. When local innovators took the stage at Seattle’s McCaw Hall during Social Venture Partners (SVP) Fast Pitch on Oct. 28, their passion for projects destined to change the world resonated throughout the auditorium. Vying for almost $300,000, presenters had five minutes to convince the panel of judges that included former Washington first lady Mona Locke, Martha Choe, former CAO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Tony Mestres, president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation.

Eight judges in all ranked the finalists on societal impact, innovation, sustainability, their leadership team and clarity of concept.

In a blend of American Idol and Shark Tank competition styles, 14 people, ranging from high school students to university students and adults, delivered fervent pleas for funding to move their projects forward. Categories included Student Venture: High School, Student Venture: University, Startup Nonprofit, Established Nonprofit and For-Profit.

The polished presentations didn’t happen overnight. Originally these 14 finalists were among 107 projects applying for a chance to win a monetary prize. Forty-one made it to the quarter finals, and then 28 walked away from the semi finals eager to hone their pitches for the finals. The process began last June. Along the way, program participants received mentoring and training to sharpen their ideas, improve their appeals and build relationships with advisors, donors, investors and partners.

“This is more than a competition, it’s a catalyst…for change,” said Paul Shoemaker, executive connector with SVP Seattle and emcee for Fast Pitch.

Helping their peers

Eli Weed, a student at Lakeside School in Seattle, had watched his cousin struggle learning to type because she suffered from dyslexia. That inspired him to design Dyslexi-type, a learn-to-type software program specifically for students with dyslexia. Besides coming in first in the high school student category and winning $1,500, Microsoft also awarded him $10,000 as the Technology for Good winner.

Second place in the high school student division and $500 went to Billy Wu and his ClubWhat app. Already available on the iOS App Store and Google Play Store, this free app helps high schoolers discover what clubs exist at their school. As the user base grows, ClubWhat plans to offer in-app advertisements to generate revenue.

In the university category, Alex Jiao, founder of miPS bank, described a process where special stem cells harvested from adults, will in the future be turned into any cell or organ in the human body. His team’s efforts were awarded $1,000 to continue their work.

David Coven, president and executive director of Scholarship Junkies, walked away with $4,000. To help potential college students lower the cost of tuition, Coven’s cadre of 25 volunteers offer feedback and editing on scholarship essays to anyone who asks, without charge. Many of the volunteers were recent scholarship winners, so they have firsthand knowledge of what works. Scholarship Junkies hold in-person workshops in libraries across the country to reach as many students as they can, said Coven. They work with individuals of any age.

Changing how schools look

Even the youngest members of society need a change in how they’re educated, noted Andrew Jay, CEO of Tiny Trees Preschool. To lower preschool costs, which can easily approach a year of college tuition, this project eliminates the overhead by holding classes outdoors in city parks. In the Startup Nonprofit category, Tiny Trees received $15,000 to put towards their goal of having six preschools, in six Seattle parks by 2016.

The Edge Foundation, another startup, focuses on increasing high school graduation rates by offering coaching to students who struggle in school. Tim Kniffin, program director, told the Fast Pitch audience that the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction asked them to expand their program because it was working so well. “It gives students an edge,” said Kniffin, who was handed a check for $3,000 at the event.

Unleash the Brilliance, in the Established Nonprofit division, earned $20,000 to further its program. Using dancing, singing, theatre and art, this organization helps apathetic, at-risk youth and young adults manage their social and emotional challenges. Founder Terrell Dorsey said he hopes to cause a ripple effect across America with this program.

Find out about more Fast Pitch winners and their projects.

Assisting nonprofits

Besides giving away money, Social Venture Partners strives to amplify the impact of those doing good — by seeking philanthropists, strengthening nonprofits and investing in solutions. Started more than 20 years ago, SVP Seattle has worked with more than a thousand people. Not only have they given them $14 million, but they’ve also provided them with 30,000 hours of help from skilled volunteers.

With more than 3,000 donors across the globe, SVP is now the world’s largest network of engaged donors.

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