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Last week, six organizations with sustainable solutions to social issues pitched their ideas to judges at the Social Investors Forum, hosted by the Community Foundation of Utah. Thursday marked the third Social Investors Forum, which selected three nonprofits to receive at total of $94,000 by the end of the day. The six finalist organizations were the Community Development Fund of Utah, Sorenson Unity Center, Spy Hop, Kentlands Initiative, Kidnected World and Urban Yield.
“It’s an opportunity for nonprofits doing innovative and sustainable work to partner with angel investors and philanthropists,” said Alex Eaton, executive director of the Community Foundation of Utah. “[What we’re looking for is] more of a sustainability and business focus.”
The Community Foundation of Utah initially began the process with 54 organizations, with what the foundation calls a “clear indication of the vibrancy of our state, community needs and entrepreneurial spirit Utahns bring to solving social problems.” The judges—comprised of angel investors and philanthropists, as well as representatives from GE Capital Bank, Dumke Law, LLC, Impact Hub, Vèritè, Inc., The Lund Foundation and the State of Utah—then selected 20 nonprofits from the pool, and then narrowed the choices down further in a second round to six finalists.
On Thursday, the finalist organizations presented their mission statements, solutions, plans for sustainability and business models twice, each time to six judges. By the end of the day, it was Spy Hop, Kidnected World and Sorensen Unity Center that were selected to receive investment offers in varying amounts.
Spy Hop, a digital media arts education center located in downtown Salt Lake City, was offered a $50,000 loan to purchase camera equipment. Spy Hop has mentored about 1,800 youth K-12 yearly in digital technology and media art since 1999.
While Colby Bryson, director of Spy Hop’s alumni-operated production company, Phase 2 Productions, says that Spy Hop is 100 percent self-supporting, Spy Hop and Phase 2 Productions want to bolster their revenue, increase the quality of their productions and rely less on charitable giving by purchasing new camera equipment.
“Thus far we have been able to invest slowly and incrementally into Phase 2’s equipment, but our next step is to make a rather large camera purchase that will position us to compete at a higher level in both local and national productions,” said Colby Bryson, Phase 2 Productions director. “This is a purchase that we are unable to make alone.”
Kidnected World, an organization based around tapping into the imaginative problem-solving techniques in young children, received a $20,000 dollar investment to continue their fundraising work. Kidnected World created an app called The Wonderment, where children can learn about experiences and issues impacting other children around the world and suggest creative solutions to challenges, which can then turn into tangible spaces. For instance, based on children’s creativity, Kidnected World recently transformed a school bus into a mobile library for a community in rural Guatemala.
The $20,000 grant from the investors will be used by Kidnected World as a match for other giving in order to reach their eventual fundraising goal of $160,000. The money will go toward bolstering the app and creating more ‘pods,’ the tangible spaces made from the children’s creative solutions.
Finally, Sorensen Unity Center received $24,000 to help pay a manager for their project, a café in West Salt Lake City. Chris Peterson, director of the Sorenson Unity Center, mentioned the high dropout rate (38 percent) in West Salt Lake, as well as the dearth of entrepreneurship and employment training opportunities for youth in the area.
“There is a disparity in opportunity for local youth,” said Peterson. “What to do about this? Create new opportunities for young people that better prepare them to be drivers in the new economy.”
The center’s solution is called the Idea Factory, a café where 10-15 high school students will participate in business startup responsibilities and ongoing management in a repeating four-month cycle. Residents of the area, according to survey data, would be willing to support a local café with healthy food options, as there is no other one in the area. Three cohorts with a total of 30 students have already gone through the café since 2014, and while the Sorenson Unity Center already has a partnership team, the grant will help the center get the café through the startup phase.
The Community Foundation of Utah will hold another Social Investors Forum in December, said Eaton. Interested organizations can apply on the foundation’s website in October.