Catching up with past Social Innovation Accelerator Fellows | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

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Catching up with past Social Innovation Accelerator Fellows

Launching a fledgling enterprise is strife with challenges. Fortunately, some local entrepreneurs don’t have to go it alone, thanks to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

Through our Social Innovation Accelerator program, United Way identifies promising initiatives that provide a creative solution to some of our community’s most significant challenges in the areas of education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity. The goal of the program is to fuel lasting change in North Texas by empowering local startups and non-profits to take their enterprises to the next level.

Each year, United Way invites 10 organizations to become fellows of the Social Innovation Accelerator. The program includes three components that are designed to support entrepreneurs as they hone their focus and grow their new ventures: funding, mentorship and community connections. Fellows gain numerous benefits throughout the program, including social media training and strategy support from Accenture, as well as the opportunity to earn one of five coveted finalist spots at The Pitch.

The Pitch is a live annual event where fellows present their big ideas and compete for additional funding. At this year’s event, held virtually tomorrow night, April 22 at 6 p.m., the finalists will compete for $250,000, including the $25,000 Audience Choice Award. To sign up for a free ticket and vote for your favorite finalist, register here.

To understand the impact of the Social Innovation Accelerator on these social entrepreneurs, we recently caught up with three alumni of the program: HaeSung Han, co-founder of Poetic, and Rebecca Feickert and Brian Reynolds, the co-founders and co-CEOs of Trey Athletes. These individuals are inspiring examples of how the program transforms local organizations into meaningful influencers of change and progress.


How does your work align with one or several of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ focus areas of education, income and health?

Han: At Poetic, we build a pipeline out of the juvenile justice and foster care system for vulnerable youth with a history of child maltreatment, exploitation and trafficking. We do this by ensuring equitable access to high-quality education, therapy and career opportunities. This aligns with United Way’s focus areas of education, income and health. 

Feickert and Reynolds: We teach athletes how to make informed college decisions, build a well-rounded identity outside of sports, apply athletic-based leadership skills to post-sport life, and leverage their immense influence to create positive community change. We represent 43 ZIP codes, and nearly as many high schools, across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Nearly 85 percent of our athletes self-identify as belonging to a racial or ethnic minority group, and 100 percent of Trey Athletes are likely to play their sport in college.


How did the Social Innovation Accelerator enable you to grow your impact?

Han: The SIA program was a true accelerator for Poetic, as it opened many doors of opportunity and funding at a pivotal moment of our growth and expansion. In addition to deepening our work with juvenile-justice-involved youth, due to the exposure of the program, we were approached to develop a program specific for foster youth. We continue to grow by targeting the systems where vulnerabilities are found, while bringing innovative and best-practice services to bridge gaps.

Feickert and Reynolds: Through our work as Social Innovation Accelerator fellows, we grew Trey Athletes’ in-person programming by 50 percent. Our athletes serve as role models and leaders on their teams, in their schools and in their communities across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

Subsequent to the Accelerator, and thanks to the funding we received for winning the Audience Choice Award at The Pitch, we launched Trey SZN 3: a 10-week virtual programming series serving more than 400 participants across Dallas-Fort Worth, including high school athletes, coaches and families.


What were the key lessons, connections or outcomes of the Social Innovation Accelerator for your organization?

Feickert and Reynolds: We learned a ton from our mentors, Erik Laney and Rick Jackson; our fellow nonprofit leaders in the cohort; and the content in Bootcamp, which provided us with the tools needed for non-profit management, governance and earned revenue exploration to ensure Trey is an impactful and sustainable organization.

Being selected for the Social Innovation Accelerator has further strengthened our credibility and trust with funders, both in Dallas-Fort Worth and globally. For example, take our investment by the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, which selects fewer than 20 non-profits globally to participate in their three-year venture philanthropy program. The Accelerator has also helped us form strategic partnerships with schools and other non-profits, such as our mentors’ introductions to Bonton Farms and Café Momentum.


What was your favorite part of the Social Innovation Accelerator and The Pitch?

Han: The relationships made with fellow participants, as well as the mentors and advisors, was by far my favorite part. The cohesion, camaraderie and support were genuine and incredibly impactful. We are stronger as an organization due to the program, and we are so grateful to United Way for offering this impactful program in our community. 

Feickert and Reynolds:  For us at Trey Athletes, relationships and people matter most—whether it’s our Social Innovation Accelerator mentor, Erik Laney, who joined Trey Athletes’ board of directors; our YPO mentor Renee George, who has become an amazing supporter of us as individuals and of Trey’s mission; Ann Montgomery and Jamey Applegate from United Way, who continue to help resource and collaborate with us as Trey grows and scales; or United Way leadership, such as CEO Jennifer Sampson or Chief Impact and Strategy Officer Susan Hoff, who continue to support us every step of the way. We’re thrilled to have been a part of the United Way Social Innovation Accelerator, and our athletes served are better for it, too.

Join Us at The Pitch

There’s still time to join us (virtually) at The Pitch, held tomorrow night at 6 p.m.


Interested in getting involved with our social innovation efforts?
Find out how to give, advocate or volunteer with United Way Dallas.

This article was published on: Apr 21, 2021