Here's our transcript of Pitchwerks #100 with Nadyli Nuñez of the Forbes Funds, talking about the UpPrize competitions for social innovation.
UpPrize is accessible to anyone. If you have a good idea - when it's just an idea, we started a great ideas competition this year. Or you are you working on something, just come to us! You might not have a CMU education, you might not come from a high income class family... Come and we will help you in whatever way.
Hey everybody it's Scot, it's Wednesday and all that makes this the Pitchwerks podcast, thanks for tuning in. This week. I've got Nadyli Nunez, she's a director over at UpPrize which is it's a really cool program designed to make the world a little bit better every single year with a pitch competition and all these types of supports for people that have great ideas. If you think you're among those, you should definitely listen to the show.
I'm gonna ask you to rate and review because, Hey, it's been a week since I did it. So it seems like it's probably time... You know what that means. Go in to iTunes, give us a star rating, then type up an answer as far as why that star rating felt like the right one. All that information helps other listeners find this podcast and basically figure out whether or not it's right for them.
Let's talk to Nadyli, this is, this is truly an impressive program. I think you're gonna like what you hear.
Finally, in the Pitchwerks Epicast studios Really Nadyli, she's giggling already folks, Nadyli Nunez, director over at UpPrize. How are you?
I'm great, you enjoy that too much.
I do, it's great. And I think only just because when I met you, and Tomer from Blastpoint is the one that introduced us and he says, "Look you're gonna have this urge to say Natalie when you see her name written out and that's not it. He's like, "It's Nadyli... And I said, "Okay fine, that's not the most uncommon, again I'm MacTaggart for God's sake.
You gotta have a sense of relativism, here.
And then I started following you on Twitter pretty much right after that, and I caught your handle, was @ReallyNadyli and I went... Oh God, that's - from a brander and marketers perspective, that's brilliant.
Well thank you...
I can't compliment you enough because you have to have problems with people pronouncing your name correctly...
Absolutely, I mean, I get Natalie, Na-die-lee... I will admit, when I went to elementary school for three years, I wanted to fit in 'cause everyone knew each other so I did let them call me Natalie for three years.
Make sense these... Well, think for my name right, yeah, yeah.
So what is UpPrize for the people who weren't already familiar?
Sure, UpPrize, the BNY Mellon Social Innovation Challenge, looks for ideas and solutions that can improve the operations of non-profits or improve the lives of marginalized populations in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
That's really... Well, this is not an accusation, but that sounds well-rehearsed.
I write it so much when we have to write press releases or we have to explain it to someone. This is a sentence, I write all the time to the point where whenever there's a word that has two PS I capitalize the second P in it.
That's how you spell UpPrize.
So UpPrize helps to improve the operation of non-profits. Let's start with that part. Because in my experience, non-profits, a lot of times are underfunded. Is that a fair statement?
And the people that are there, I can liken them a lot of times to start-ups that have people who know the product, but maybe don't understand the legal or the accounting or whatever like they're really good at the thing that they focus on and they're trying to grow and expand and serve more people but the capacity is not there. So here comes UpPrize, to say, like here's a way to optimize your operation is that it?
that's exactly right. Non-profits are facing dwindling budgets but increasing demand for their services, and so they are in a really tough position, and oftentimes non-profits are some of the last adopters of technology, and they don't have the money to test out an app or software or build one. So, UpPrize fills in or create-serves as more of a bridge.
You're really the evaluation arm in a way, right?
So a lot of times... So, people come with a claim, but you can't evaluate is so you're doing the evaluation step that a big company would do...
Exactly and measure the risk, and really test out does this...
Don't bet the future. Let us evaluate this first.
Exactly. And a lot of times, also, some of these companies wanna help non-profits which is wonderful, but they might not necessarily have the background of what it means to work for a non-profit. And so through the UpPrize process, we do advise a... Well, maybe you wanna pivot this in a different way or have the business model a bit different way so that it better serves the non-profits.
That honestly, as a value statement I think is easy for people who don't live with non-profits, day-to-day.
Because there's someone... And let's just pick generic Fortune 1000 type company, they have maybe a division of their purchasing department or maybe a division of their R-D: Group or, or their business process analysis folks who take proposals and they say, If we spend 10 thousand will we get that 10,000 back? Or will we lose money by doing this or will we blow that number out of the water and it's a no-brainer for us to adopt it. They have the bandwidth to devote to that. But again, when you're back to a non-profit that maybe is just trying to, for example, bring literacy to places where for whatever reason, it hasn't taken as deep of a root. They don't have a group of Skunk Works R&D people, to evaluate a new distribution model, or a new way to communicate with their embedded base. So, that's an interesting angle. It's sort of a way for them to test instead of trust.
Now tell me about the prize angle.
The prize. Oh, there's so many prizes it's my favorite part of UpPrize!
I think it's actually really good because it makes people want to know more about it, where no disrespect to other people, a lot of these programs tend to have a more, they're not as approachable because they feel like they are outside of my universe, they are somewhat academic in nature. I will never understand what's going on.
So, you introduce the prize and all of a sudden. It's like, "Oh you are trying to reach me." But let's tell people about what the prizes actually look like. Like what, when I enter what am I trying to win?
Sure before I do answer that...
There's been a lot of work and time and resources put into having people feel that UpPrize is accessible to anyone, but if you have a good idea where it's just an idea, we started a great ideas. Competition this year. Or you are working on something just come to us. You might not have a CMU education, you might not come from a high income class family, - come and we will help you in whatever way. And that took the form of us going to a lot of communities and having a lot of community meetings, going to Carnegie libraries of Bloomfield Garfield and holding different info sessions and letting people know, do you have questions, do you not know what a pitch is? But you have a good idea, we'll talk.
Right. Yeah, I mean, and I not to be crass about it, but what you just described takes a lot of funding, takes a lot of time, takes a lot of resources. So where does that come from? Where is UpPrize get the resources in order to provide that extra level of support for the people who might have a winning idea, but can't necessarily convert.
We've been very fortunate to have funding from BNY Mellon. They fund the whole thing.
Do they really? !
Yes, they do. And The Forbes Funds provides the operational support to actually execute the project. So I work for the Forbes Funds which is an amazing non-profit that focuses on capacity building for nonprofits, so it fits really well for UpPrize to be there.
So they fund it and they give us a budget, and we figure out, Well, how do we divvy it up so that we have the events but including the prizes, but how much does it cost to really go into the community and connect with people, it also takes a lot of time and if you want--
Basically everything that's scarce is what you need.
Exactly! Which is really fun to manage, but we've been incredibly lucky to have such great support from the community and the entrepreneurship community just the community in general, the non-profit community who give a space, time, who share the information.
I've definitely noticed that start-ups are behind you for sure.
Yes yes it's great, but there's still so many people who don't know about UpPrize and when they hear and we'll get to the prizes... They're like, "This is too good to be true.
Well, and I mean honestly that was sort of where my question comes from in terms of the resources and what not. This is a very complicated set of things to balance. There need to be people, there need to be programs, there needs to be money, there needs to be space for all of these things to occupy. There's a lot of moving parts and you know I don't have any relationship with BNY Mellon but I'm pretty impressed by the fact that they're footing the bill for everything and the Forbes Funds being capacity building. That's an interesting aspect that I didn't see. Capacity building is a term I've heard, right? When we had PACE in here, we talked about capacity building that was maybe my first understanding of that as a necessary part of the non-profit universe, right? And I would encourage people to start digging into those, non-profits that do focus on capacity building because that's interesting. It's like a multiplier for good ideas. And now you start to see how hard this is to put together little to keep running and like I said, on top of all that you're handing out prizes which is definitely increasing people's interest level. So okay, I've got a really good idea I am going to, I don't have an idea I'm I'm lying to you.
You really let me down here. You worked your way up and...
That's gonna happen, but all seriousness, the muse strikes. I've got this great idea and I'm just your average person. I don't have a start-up, I don't have funding, but I'm sitting on something that maybe... Let's go to PACE for example, 'cause those are friends of ours. And we say This is something that we saw pace could use... And I'm sure other non-profits could also use it. So what's the first step?
That's a great start, actually, for our Great Ideas competition, which is different from the previous UpPrize iterations that people have seen. So for the Great Ideas, you really just have to have this kind of concept and of course you have to have a little bit more thought into it. Ideally maybe spoken to PACE for example.
Probably back it up somehow... This is how I know it's true...
We just wanna make sure you're not thinking of an idea in a vacuum, and we see that so much. So you have an idea and you apply for the Great Ideas competition and the prize for that is 5000, just to get you started.
Right. And now by applying and getting that 5000 I am now in charge of this idea, yes?
You are now in charge of it.
I can't just go here's an idea, I'm outie.
No there's a contract that you need to sign and we check in with you make sure that you're using it...
So you better make sure you actually wanna be in this.
Yeah, you... We also check in to see, "is there anything we can help 'cause we have a network, we have so many resources and we are so open to sharing that with anyone who applies really the people who apply and don't move forward and they reach out and they ask why... And I move forward and we help them. We provide feedback and say... But if you wanna talk to someone, we try to connect them to someone that can, if we can't help them, or they haven't moved in our process, we can connect them to someone else.
The idea and the payoff are really still the mission. So yeah, if somebody throws you a great idea, it's not like it's wasted, it's just they can't... The 5000 prize for this particular contest is to help you build what you imagined and if you reach the semi-finalist level, we do provide a mentor for you connected with mentors and leverage our network for that and we offer pitch training which sometimes the hardest part is how do you talk about your idea in a way that it makes sense to someone else, maybe not even in that industry.
Yeah, I know a guy who does a show like that.
You've got jokes! Work on them.
OOOOOOHHHHHHH... Anyway. Judges? Yes, In fact she IS allowed to make fun of me at my own table. That's alright.
But with the Great Ideas, the only requirements that it has to be technology-based. So that is one of the requirements for UpPrize and we understand that innovation takes multiple forms, but just for this competition, it has to be technology based... And you can't have a prototype. It needs to be a conceptual thing.
That's an interesting...
But when you get to the Great Solutions Competition...
AAAAAHHHHH 'cause it's a different competition.
So I was waiting for that. Yeah, it's a different competition, the Great Solutions, now, that's the more traditional UpPrize that people who are familiar with it have seen. You need to have at least some kind of MVP or prototype or you might already be in market and you can still apply.
That's interesting, that's what I'm more used to is someone... Because I think a lot of times, the initial due diligence you were talking about, you have to talk to the non-profit, you have to make sure that this is actually something that would solve something... A lot of that is done by a prototype for more complex ideas, at least, it's like, Okay, let's make sure this thing actually does what you think it does. And do they actually want that interface do they actually want another computer, do they actually wanna have a little black box running somewhere? These are hard things to figure out.
Can I tell you about the prizes for the Great Solutions?
I don't know you, you have a dollar?
I'm sorry, I'm sorry I read the wrong line of the script. What I meant to say was, yes, please tell us about the prizes for the great solutions.
So the Great Solutions, the benefits start from the applicant level. And I would say that, even for the Great Ideas, we use a platform called F6S which is being used more often for the application and when people even create an account there, they already have access to a bunch of other startups that are... Starting up? They have access to investors, discounts for different things.
Invest in her uses this platform too...
Yes, yes! AlphaLab Gear - sorry The Hardware Cup - uses...
That's true too. Yeah, I've seen it there.
That's where I learned... I got the idea from them, so I...
And it's the letter F, 6, and then an S.
and I learned why it's called that and we'll probably cut this part out, but-
I don't care lets go nuts, let's be boring.
But I'm curious, and I thought, "Oh it's like F... And then 'success' you know, a weird thing 'cause they're from London, maybe they're just strange like that. Okay, and I asked and they said, It's actually founders. And for whatever reason, there's an abbreviation of terminology where there are six letters between F and S when you spell founders and that's why it's called F6S, which is not as compelling as I would have wished it would be, But.
That is, potentially, the dumbest shit ever...
HAHAHAHAHA I'll pass on the feedback! Other than the interesting name, they've been incredibly helpful. They're super responsive.
I'm sorry I did that to you.
You didn't do anything to me!
I kind of did. I still feel guilty.
No need. You need honest people in your life.
So I appreciate it a... So we use that platform so they have access to all these other things. So that's one, but once you're selected, as a semi-finalist I mentioned they also get mentors, we do a pitch training and we also connect them to a pitch coach provided by BNY Mellon specifically an executive at BNY Mellon to do a one-on-one coaching. Yeah, and pitch training. We have someone in the field who can provide just a general training for everyone because the semi-finalists do you have to deliver a pitch?
So what are they doing? General structure? Like beginning... Present your problem, present your proof that that's a problem that sort of structure kind of a thing?
Sure... So if anyone who's given pitches before they understand that the pitch changes, depending on who the audience right? Yeah, so what we can... What do you want them to do exactly, so what... And we understand that, so we tell them what is a successful pitch in UpPrize. @hat do we wanna hear? Because the whole concept about talking about social innovation and helping people is sometimes mind-boggling to people, and they focus more on how much money are we gonna make or what's the profit and we really wanna know what's the social impact of your idea of your solution. Now, we do want a company or whatever the idea to be sustainable.
You can't keep shoveling money into it, over and over again.
Exactly! And don't get me wrong. I believe the number is non-profits, and Allegheny county bring about 4.4 billion dollars in annual revenue to the County, so... That's a market that people aren't thinking about. And one of the things that we teach all the time is How can we get existing companies who've already done all the work who have already developed and worked out the kinks of their technology and see how can they maybe change it a little bit, or just offer it at a more reasonable price for non-profits.
Yeah, I get that. You guys do events. You have, I wanna say what was it March? I was at an event over at Nova Place...
Yes, it was February. But that was the launch event.
Yeah... How often do you do those types of events? 'cause that seemed like that was a huge smashing success.
That was just a way to get everyone together and say, "Oh UpPrize is starting"
But who's everyone, right? I mean that was a good group of people who I find put their money where their mouth is fairly influential people who would actually do what they can to make waves for you, make the program successful. Is that, is that gonna be like a regular thing because it seems like it went off really well. With people that will actually lead block for UpPrize and make things happen for you.
We don't do as many events like that. Because it kind of happens on its own in the background and there's so many get-togethers already-I go to a lot of entrepreneurship events and I see a lot of the same people, but...
But you wanna stand apart from a... You are trying to stand apart because you're not looking necessarily for entrepreneurs, you're looking for problem solvers.
We're looking for problem solvers, yes, and that's what innovation and social innovation is all about is how can we-it might not be what's a novel way to solve the social problems and the novel way might not be a new thing apps exist, they already exist, can we create an app that serves a non-profit, so that's the difference It makes it also really easy when you... We don't know of any Social Innovation Competition that gives this amount of money, at least for the Great Solutions.
I was gonna ask about that, yeah.
So when you are selected as a finalist, we pick five finalists, and each finalist, just for being finalists, get $10,000 grants.
That's amazing, yeah. And there were a lot of people that wanted you to come on the show because they back your work, right? So like I mentioned Tomer. Tomer's one of them, right? And Tomer is actually a past winner if I'm not mistaken, right?
Yes! They won last year.
Grand prize winner of $150,000!
It's a great product. I actually use it in my consulting firm. We use Blastpoint.
And sit people down and go like This is how your market's really gonna unfold and they can't believe how useful that is, but we're not on the non-profit plan that they created were on the for-profit, "ou wanna do market research" plan. But a lot of people wanted you to be here and I... I kept hearing one comment several times, and it was like... I think they're the only one that does exactly what they do, like I think they're the only ones in the country that works like this and... And I figured I would just throw it at you - are you that unique, are you like a one of a kind, organization for the US?
Wow, that's a big statement.
But everybody felt like they could get right up to the edge, and then go. I might be wrong, right?
Well, I will say, and I love Pittsburgh, but I do think Pittsburgh sometimes lives in its own bubble?
There's no question.
Oh okay, no there's affirmation here... But listen, as far as we can tell, we do research on... Social innovation, what's happening around the country and they are people doing work in this area but in terms of this pitch competition and the format that it holds, and the amount of money that we're giving... We don't see anything like that.
So you're distinctive... You may not necessarily be one of a kind, but you stand out on key metrics like how much money you're giving away...
How much impact you have. I mean I know you can measure that somehow, and it's hard, I mean, it's hard for people outside of that to understand that.
It's incredibly hard and... And now, keeping in mind that this is related to social innovation that helps communities not necessarily world hunger. So the XPRIZE gives I dunno... I don't know how much money, but it's so much money.
Well, if I understand the XPRIZE correctly, it's actually... Each prize is sponsored by a different group that wants to solve, so there's the Google XPRIZE to solve this problem or whatever... Interesting though and being able to say that you give away a lot of prizes and you give away a large total sum has to make you feel good, in terms of like where you work and what you do and your own personal involvement.
Absolutely. I mean, first prize 150000, we still have a second prize, which is 100000, and then we still have a third prize. That's 50000. It's a lot of money, on top of the 10000 that the finalists get...
And by contrast, I've seen a lot of startups go to Boston to try to win 10 grand in pitch competitions. Like they bought tickets, they flown? They've gotten a hotel room, they've basically cancelled the meetings, and sales that they were trying to make during that period to get a 10 000 investment in a for-profit enterprise. I mean, this is no joke.
No, now, and Tomer will back me up, Blastpoint will back me up. Money is great, money makes moves right? But it does end at some point. And one of the values that a lot of our companies express is beyond the money is the exposure that they get. And like you said, we are back to by a lot of people in the entrepreneurship community and the academic community, the non-profit community...
Community leaders, academics...
Yeah, so I... When we have semi-finals, we post them on our website. All of them, even at the semi-finalist level before they win anything.
How many would that be?
Ten, okay so you've got 10 different projects you profile.
Exactly, and then when we get to finals, we showcase those. But the exposure and connections that they received - Blastpoint, received their first client or met their first client rather and one of the UpPrize networking receptions, and that is longer lasting than the money so we give a lot of money but we also give exposure, mentorship and.
It's hard to buy that.
It's very hard.
A lot of times when you hire marketing companies, PR companies, what not, that's what you're trying to buy. You're trying to buy a a positive story, in the right timing, concurrent with maybe a news story that illustrates it, like, it's really hard to get it right and and it's really easy to burn through your whole budget just trying to get exposure to the right buyer or at least someone that can introduce you to that buyer.
And I have to give credit to Kate Dewey. And Kenya Boswell from BNY Mellon. Kate Dewey from the Forbes Funds now at Cohen and Grigsby, who are the one I just got here? So I don't have that network. They have the network, they've built, they've made so much great impact here in the city and beyond, and they're saying, "Listen I've got all these connections let's turn this around and help use those to help others.
It's hard to maintain those over a longer period.
The relationship maybe withers, people move away. People haven't seen you for a while, and that's assuming you don't do anything, right? Because as soon as you start doing things, it starts like 2ell, it is Nadyli doing this to compete with our organization. Do we have to protect ourselves? Like a good network is hard to keep... Let alone to start. I think it's harder to keep your network than it is to build one. You and I could just go find a networking event right now, somewhere at like a meeting room, at the casino, we could go around we could collect a million business cards, we could try to put on the most charming mask possible we could tell everybody what they wanna hear, we could compliment them on their shoes.
In a month, they won't remember who we are. It doesn't matter how charming you were, it doesn't matter how nice or useful or whatever exploitable you are... It takes a lot of water to keep that tree growing, right?
Kate and Kenya if you if you ever met them.
I've met Kate, I haven't met Kenya...
There's just magnets of people just want to be around them because they are some of the most authentic people you'll meet yeah, and they don't need to speak if they don't have anything to say, and they're always willing to help.
Which probably goes a long way in terms of keeping relationship, I'm just saying...
So it almost seems effortless, but I know there's just really great people. And if you ever have an opportunity to meet either of them, whoever is listening please do. Changed my life.
Yeah, yeah, it seems like... What were you doing before this?
Not social innovation. I was working for a health insurance company in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Well, I was on the providers, I was provider innovation. The whole health care industry is moving to incentivizing providers to keep people out away from the emergency room and doing less fee for service, and more preventative care, and incentivizing them financially to do that, which is really fascinating and amazing but the corporate world is very different.
Well you kinda said that corporate folks don't understand the non-profit, the same is also true like the flip is also true.
Totally different mindset totally different motivation.
Obviously, one of the things, that's good for UpPrize is exposure. I would say another thing that would be good for UpPrize would be more people actually throwing their ideas into the mix. How would someone who is thinking this might suit them, how would they start the process and get involved?
What I would recommend -we are having - the allocation cycle has ended for this year. What I would recommend is that you subscribe to our newsletter or rather email distribution list, you could go to upprize dot org and that's two P's. Up Prize dot org and then you scroll down and you sign up and you'll be the first to know.
When the next cycle is starting up...
Exactly and we hold info sessions, and people come and ask questions 'cause it is a semi-long application, and even if you feel like you're not ready, just come and talk to us or, we're not... I get a lot of this. I'm not sure if I fit or, or I'm not thinking about serving non-profits, but it is something that would be interested in like... Yes, Let's to do it, yeah let's talk. And even just feeling that the application is an important exercise.
Now do you market? Do you do advertising, marketing, PR, stuff to actually attract people to apply? Is there a strategy for that?
Strategy is a strong word.
There are tactics then perhaps?
There are tactics. We have a large distribution list. People who subscribe so that makes it easy, we also have a great advisory team that represents the entrepreneurship community and their large networks as well, as the academic, a non-profit. So through them, I also developed this 293-row promotional matrix where I add to it - of non-profits that serve communities who would benefit. Who can better-who better would have an idea than the person who can benefit from it?
So even if they're not on the email list, they're on my Excel sheet and I reach out to them. And there's so many competitions as well that happened where I look at who are the companies being featured, who won or whatever and whether they're directly serving a marginalized population, non-profit or can I envision their product helping them? And then I talk to him and say, "Have you thought about this? And I add them to my list, and I send them information about it, and so that's really how it's gone.
So I'm gonna do that to you now - a "have you thought about this." We know that there is an age group that is predisposed towards social impact. It's basically, you're 30 and unders, right? We also know and actually this article was kind of... Let's just say, "Not shouted from the rooftop by a lot of corporate content consumers out there. That millennials are legitimately the worst paid generation on record, right? And then you've got a whole glut of people who have these skills, these higher technology skills, who because of say like the market crash or 10 years ago or whatever, can't get into the workplace because the people at the top of the workplace aren't exiting the people at the other end of the age spectrum are not exciting is early 'cause their retirement is not yet whole, right? I think it would be really cool if UpPrize did outreach to universities encouraging them to talk to the career development folks and say, Look you know, it's not a career, so much. It's an opportunity for you to perhaps work on a project while you're still trying to sort out what you're gonna do with this next thing. I know 26-year-olds that are still working in... I mean look, it's hard work. I'm not trying to take anything away from the job, but it's not the job they went to school for... They're making loan payments that are ridiculous, and they're not able to cover them. I would love to see the career and ongoing outreach of those universities tell former students that are not currently employed. Hey, you know how to code, you know how to engineer you know how to develop things you should at least be aware of this, maybe put a team together, and see if you can't build a prototype for this $50000, see if you can't throw a great idea for this $5000 and just see what happens.
I think that's a great idea to tap into the alumni network. We do hold information sessions at the different universities and connect with their accelerators like Project Olympus or the Innovation Institute at Pitt.
Right, but once you graduate you're kind of not on the radar.
Let's give them the URL one more time, it's up prize dot org make sure you throw both P's in there, upprize dot org, and that will take you there. And yeah, it sounds like it sounds like you could actually get the inside track if you sign up for the email.
And follow us on Twitter @UpPrize.
Nadyli Nunez, director over there at UpPrize, doing great things out there. Make sure you check them out.
Thanks for coming in, thank you for having me!
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