An Austin-based support group called Multicultural Refugee Coalition was the top winner at this year’s Philanthropitch, the “Shark Tank” equivalent of nonprofit awards ceremonies.
MRC Austin was among seven local nonprofit organizations that sought financial support April 27 during the third annual fast-pitch event, which is hosted by Greenlights, a local nonprofit that helps tackle complex community issues. Philanthropitch has grown from handing out $175,000 its first two years combined to awarding $133,250 in 2015 alone.
The money earned by MRC Austin will help the organization employ more refugees from war-torn areas, Executive Director Meg Erskine said. Those refugees find work at MRC Austin’s textile manufacturing business called Open Arms, which recently became the first U.S.-based social enterprise chosen by IKEA.
Their limited line debuts in June at the Round Rock and Houston IKEA locations, Erskine said. She will use the money earned during the event to create a sewing training program and advanced training programs for Open Arms’ five existing employees. Her group is also attempting to arrange a similar partnership with Whole Foods Market, she said.
“We get two to three requests per week from designers who want our products,” Erskine said. “Folks want to find U.S.-made products.”
The other six Philanthropitch participants also walked away with cash prizes. Colin’s Hope, a drowning prevention group geared toward children age 5 and under, received $28,500. Another $17,750 in combined earnings was awarded to WeViva, which hosts on-site worksite wellness programs for low-income individuals. Explore Austin, a six-year leadership program that launched in 2006, received $17,000, and H.A.N.D., or Helping The Aging, Needy and Disabled, received $16,000 to expand its transportation services for senior citizens. An additional $9,500 was awarded to Society of St. Vincent de Paul so the group can create mobile thrift shops that serve all of Central Texas, and Austin Habitat for Humanity received $5,000.
The money earned during Philanthropitch comes from a variety of sources. All seven judges contribute a minimum of $7,500 each, Greenlights contributes $20,000, BuildASign.com adds $25,000 and audience ticket sales result in an extra $25,000 of available money.
Judges can distribute their money any way they choose, BuildASign.com employees voted where their company’s contribution should go—they picked Colin’s Hope, an organization the company often serves as volunteers—and the audience picks what top two finalists should receive $15,000 and $10,000, respectively. Greenlights’s social venture partners decide what five organizations receive $4,000 grants. Recipients receive that money upon completing a five-month accelerator program, which culminates in another opportunity to seek additional investment dollars.