There is a business sector in our region with over 2,000 “companies,” and more than 50 times that number nationally, in dire need of basic technology tools and systems to help efficiently manage the avalanche of business they face. In fact, they quite simply have more business than they can handle. It is a subsector that statistically has grown nearly 140 percent over the past two decades.
In Allegheny County alone, these companies account for the annual employment of 100,000 people, generate $4.3 billion dollars in revenue and produce $9.3 billion in economic output. Unfortunately, they live in an economic sector that simply is traditionally overlooked by most entrepreneurs and innovating companies seeking new customers.
Who are they? Community-serving nonprofits.
Some of these organizations provide needy families and people with food and shelter, while others offer educational opportunities, enrich our cultural experience or strengthen the vitality of our neighborhoods. They are at work in virtually every tentacle of our communities.
In looking at this disconnect, The Forbes Funds — a supporting organization of The Pittsburgh Foundation dedicated to building resilient and nimble nonprofits — has come to understand that many entrepreneurs and companies have shied away from focusing on the nonprofit marketplace, likening it to a “plate of spaghetti.”
Putting the tools in place
Fortunately, for those of us in Southwestern Pennsylvania, the leaders at BNY Mellon recognized that if a connection was to be made it needed to be jumpstarted by:
- Highlighting the market opportunity in a visible way.
- Putting real dollars without strings on the table to entice companies and entrepreneurs to respond.
- Creating a way to expedite the connection between the innovator and the target user.
They also believed that Pittsburgh had all the natural ingredients to differentiate its role in the innovation economy by focusing on technology products and tools that make a difference to community service organizations, locally and nationally.
With that in mind, in 2014 BNY Mellon partnered with The Forbes Funds to see if their instincts were right, and launched UpPrize: BNY Mellon Social Innovation Challenge.
What happened? More than we could have imagined.
After two competitive rounds, UpPrize has received over 300 applications of potential solutions and invested over $1.5 million to various companies. Here are three examples:
- Application Verification pivoted its state-of-the-art background checking service to improve volunteer screening for nonprofits. They are expanding rapidly.
- BlastPoint unlocked big data insights for nonprofits and has taken in subscription revenues exceeding their year one projections.
- HiberSense’s self-learning thermostat system is designed to save up to 40 percent of HVAC costs and increases comfort for individuals. A number of nonprofit beta sites are underway thanks to The Forbes Funds’ network.
If your company has a product or service that can help nonprofits do what they do best — and improve the quality of life for you and each of our neighbors — check out UpPrize 2018, which is launching this month.
Kate Dewey is a senior adviser at Cohen & Grigsby P.C. Kate recently stepped down as president of The Forbes Funds, a supporting organization of The Pittsburgh Foundation. She remains involved with UpPrize, a social innovation challenge that creates cross-sector partnerships to solve some of our community’s most pressing problems.