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Three companies win $1 million to support their social missions in Pittsburgh

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Last year, the Richard King Mellon Foundation pledged to give $1 million in investments to for-profit companies with strong social missions as part of its first-ever pitch competition.

After receiving dozens of submissions, the foundation decided to increase its investment in socially impactful businesses.

“[O]ur greatest expectation was that through this process we would uncover a lot of talented entrepreneurs with wonderful ideas that are going to benefit southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Mellon foundation director Sam Reiman. “We found exactly that.”

The foundation announced the top three winners of the pitch competition on Wednesday. Second and third places went to Pittsburgh businesses: Medical supply company Gus Gear, and homebuilding startup Module. First prize went to the Philadelphia-based Fabric Health, which operates out of laundromats and connects underserved populations to medical care and insurance.

Fabric Health co-founder and COO Allister Chang said the $500,000 investment will help the company expand to Pittsburgh.

“Often the health care system is built for healthcare providers and for the people who work in the system,” Chang said. But that means it’s often inaccessible to many people, including shift workers and people who don’t have reliable housing or transportation.

Fabric Health has conducted more than 900 surveys to better understand the wants and needs of people seeking medical services in Philadelphia. Chang and CEO Courtney Bragg said they plan to bring a similar focus on local needs in collaboration with the Mellon Foundation when they come to Pittsburgh.

“A lot of this work is expensive,” Chang said. “And it’s important to find the partners that allow us to make this work not only sustainable, but scalable…”

Gus Gear received a $300,000 investment that CEO Sarah Palya said will allow the company to offer a 60% discount on its central line vests for children who use central lines for treatment.

“Chronic and serious illness can do a number of things to families, and one of [the things] is devastate them financially,” she said. “This investment will really help us get those products into the hands of people who truly could never afford them by offering them at a great discount.”

Module is an “early-stage startup,” and co-founder and CEO Brian Gaudio said the $250,000 investment will help them launch a workforce development program to provide opportunities for women and people of color in construction. The company is also hoping to launch an advanced manufacturing facility in the region

The competition “helped us think bigger,” said Gaudio. “The prize money of the competition won’t be sufficient to open a new factory, but it can get the conversation started.”

Foundation officials also invested more than $2 million in 13 other companies with strong social missions.

“When we got 108 applications and realized that within that there were 27 that were very well aligned with our mission, we immediately started to ask the question of ‘How many of these companies can we support?’” Reiman said.

Although the prize money won’t be enough to sustain these companies forever, it will give them some time to secure other investments.

“We wanted to send that message as well that we’re willing and able to make those larger investments in companies that share our passion for making Pittsburgh a better place,” Reiman said.

The investments ranged between $100,000 and $200,000 each.

The Mellon Foundation plans to invest $50 million in for-profit companies with a public mission over the next 10 years.

Corrected: January 26, 2022 at 5:30 PM EST
Clarified Courtney Bragg's title with Fabric Health.
Corrected: January 26, 2022 at 1:23 PM EST
Clarified information about Gus Gear.
Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at