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Mellon Foundation Calls For Pitches From For-Profit Businesses

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The Richard King Mellon Foundation is investing in companies that incorporate social good into their business plan.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation launched a new pitch competition last week. But the prizes won’t be going to non-profits—they’ll be going to businesses.

The foundation plans to invest $1 million in for-profit companies with social missions to improve environmental conservation throughout the United States, and economic development, economic mobility, or health and well-being of Western Pennsylvanians. It expects to invest at least $50 million in “social-impact investments” over the next 10 years.

“The goal is to only invest in those companies that can demonstrate that they’re going to help us accomplish some of the goals that we’ve laid out,” said Sam Reiman, the foundation’s director.

Three winning companies will receive a $500,000, $300,000, or $200,000 investment for a total of $1 million in prizes.

It’s not the first time the Mellon Foundation has invested in for-profit companies. Reiman said they first began to look for companies hoping to make social change with their products and services in 2018.

“If you’re a new science or technology company, or you’re a mainstream business, we’re providing support to make sure that those types of entrepreneurs or employers have the ability to get things off the ground here and grow their businesses," he said." Fundamentally, our interest in that work has not changed."

According to Reiman, the companies chosen for the new pitch competition must demonstrate the ways in which they will help the Mellon Foundation meet its philanthropic mission.

“All the companies that apply have to have those products or services that are perfectly aligned with one of our four grant-making categories: economic development, conservation, economic mobility, or health and well-being,” said Reiman. “And they have to be able to make the case very clearly as to how they would help us achieve our goals in those spaces.”

Reiman said he hopes the competition will serve as a “pipeline” to help the foundation identify companies it might invest in and support in the future. The foundation then plans to take the returns on their investments and put the money back into the community.

“There are very few—if any, that we know of—commitments to social impact investments at this scale that are in one specific geography,” Reiman said. He hopes the project will “create more visibility, attract more talent to this space, and bring more entrepreneurs to the table who may have otherwise not thought about Pittsburgh, or who were already here and thinking about leaving because they concluded that there’s better access to resources in other cities on the coast.”

The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a venture philanthropy organization, OneValley, and Ascender are also partners in the program.

Applications are open until September 1.

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