Pittsburgh area startups Conversant Labs, Marinus Analytics and PHRQL recognized for their transformative business ideas to address social challenges
NEW YORK and PITTSBURGH, Aug. 3, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- UpPrize has named Conversant Labs, Marinus Analytics and PHRQL as the winners of BNY Mellon's $1 million Social Innovation Challenge. The winning ideas will expand digital access for visually-impaired people, help government agencies fight human trafficking, and ensure poor families have access to healthier foods. UpPrize, a unique collaboration between BNY Mellon, the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania and The Forbes Funds, combines impact investing with a research-based social innovation challenge.
The first-place prize is a combination of a $200,000 investment and $200,000 in grants. Each runner-up prize is an investment of $150,000, plus a grant of $50,000. All three UpPrize challenge winners, as well as the competition's five other finalists received two months of personalized support during the competition, including $10,000 seed grants. In total, the BNY Mellon Social Innovation Challenge has awarded approximately $1 million in investments, grants and technical assistance.
UpPrize was developed to bridge the gap between the nonprofit and entrepreneurial communities as well as to increase the supply of investment-ready solutions targeted to address critical social challenges.
"We believe social finance investments are key to enabling positive change in society, and this year have formalized a firm-wide effort to help investors in their pursuit of social finance opportunities," said Don Heberle, president, BNY Mellon of Pennsylvania. "UpPrize, the BNY Mellon social innovation challenge, encourages impact investing activity in southwestern Pennsylvania, a region that's home to a robust nonprofit community and a growing technology sector. It links the private sector with the Pittsburgh region's nonprofits to identify breakthrough innovations that address critical needs and service gaps, while also producing meaningful and measurable financial benefits."
First-place winner Conversant Labs is led by Chris Maury, an entrepreneur who founded the company when he received a diagnosis of a degenerative eye disease. Conversant seeks to dramatically improve the quality of life for the visually impaired. The company's most recent application, "Say Shopping," has been licensed by a well-known national retailer as its exclusive voice-enabled retail app.
Second-place winner Marinus Analytics, led by Carnegie Mellon University alumna Emily Kennedy, has created a crime-fighting tool that enables law enforcement agencies, criminal intelligence centers, and victim services organizations to fight human trafficking through investigative, machine learning software and big data technology. Kennedy is actively exploring this technology for use in other areas of law enforcement, including the online resale of counterfeit goods.
Rounding out the top three, PHRQL (pronounced "freckle") brings its health and nutrition-based educational tool for grocery store consumers in 16 states to the food pantry, where choices take on added significance and consequence. A food pantry may be a family's only meal. For at-risk populations, PHRQL's tool has the potential to educate families and reduce emergency healthcare costs.
"Our top finishers represent the creative and passionate teams of Pittsburgh-area entrepreneurs who are working to solve some of the most pressing social issues in our communities," said Kenya Boswell, president, BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania. "We are proud to support and invest in these innovators as they partner with local nonprofits to deliver even stronger social and financial returns."
The UpPrize challenges were the product of months of research with more than 150 local nonprofit practitioners. All of the UpPrize finalists worked closely with at least one regional nonprofit as showcased during the final pitch event made live before an audience of more than 350 innovators, investors and entrepreneurs gathered for the UpPrize finale event at the New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh's historic North Side. UpPrize finalists met a rigorous set of criteria that assessed both the feasibility of the business model and the social impact potential of the product. The winners of the UpPrize were determined by a panel of judges who evaluated the finalists' ideas to determine prize funding, which included a combination of investments and grants to bring their products to market.
"UpPrize connects innovators to this market of service providers who are hungry for innovation that will enable them to accomplish their missions more effectively and with even greater impact," said Kate Dewey, president of The Forbes Funds.
UpPrize received more than 100 applications from talented Pittsburgh-area entrepreneurs. Leading up to the selection of the eight finalists, 20 semi-finalists met with the Challenge's judges and advisers for in-person interviews. UpPrize judges and advisers represent local and national experts from a variety of sectors including government, for-profit, nonprofit and investment communities.
"UpPrize is truly a community endeavor," said Matt Zieger, vice-president of The Forbes Funds. "We have been humbled by the generous support we've received, specifically from our advisory team, as well as number of other partners. Pittsburgh has all the pieces needed to be a national leader in socially-focused innovation, and UpPrize demonstrates the social impact potential of these groups when they come together."
To learn more about the UpPrize winners and the overall competition, visit UpPrize.org.
BNY Mellon offers a wide range of products and services that help mainstream investors meet their return/risk goals while considering the environmental, social and governance (ESG) impact of their investments. Learn more about social finance at BNY Mellon, bnymellon.com/socialfinance.
BNY Mellon is a global investments company dedicated to helping its clients manage and service their financial assets throughout the investment lifecycle. Whether providing financial services for institutions, corporations or individual investors, BNY Mellon delivers informed investment management and investment services in 35 countries and more than 100 markets. As of June 30, 2015, BNY Mellon had $28.6 trillion in assets under custody and/or administration, and $1.7 trillion in assets under management. BNY Mellon can act as a single point of contact for clients looking to create, trade, hold, manage, service, distribute or restructure investments. BNY Mellon is the corporate brand of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (NYSE: BK). Additional information is available on www.bnymellon.com. Follow us on Twitter @BNYMellon or visit our newsroom at www.bnymellon.com/newsroom for the latest company news.
The Forbes Funds builds the management capacity and impact of community-based nonprofits individually and collectively. A supporting organization of the Pittsburgh Foundation, The Forbes Funds has more than 30 years of experience in providing technical assistance, research, and leadership to advance a more effective and sustainable nonprofit sector. Additional information is available at forbesfunds.org, or on Twitter @theforbesfunds and @UpPrize.
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