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This Year’s Winners from The Pitch

AES Literacy Institute named Social Innovator of the Year, taking home a total of $105,000 in prize funding

April 13, 2022

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we recently announced winners of our sixth-annual The Pitch, presented by AT&T, for finalists of the Social Innovation Accelerator program in collaboration with Accenture. The event, held on Wednesday, April 6, awarded a total of $270,000 in funding, including a $25,000 Audience Choice Award, to the winners.

AES Literacy Institute was awarded the $60,000 Judges Prize and named Social Innovator of the Year. The nonprofit enables North Texans who did not graduate high school to quickly earn their certificate of high school equivalency while accessing a variety of support services.

AES Literacy Institute also won the $10,000 Innovation Award, presented by the United Way March Tocqueville Fellows, for the highest innovation score, and the $10,000 Presentation Award, presented by Teens United, for the highest presentation score.

“Winning Social Innovator of the Year tonight was absolutely amazing, breathtaking, world-changing,” said ShaKimberly Cooper, director and cofounder of AES Literacy Institute. “It was a humble moment to know that we have worked so hard to come this far. And it’s not the end; it’s just getting started. The sky’s the limit now. I feel reinvigorated, empowered, ready to tackle this problem. It gave me a burst of energy. We really have something here, and we’re ready to change the world.”

The remaining prize winners included:

  • The $25,000 Audience Choice Award, presented by Sara and Gary Ahr, went to Wesley-Rankin Aspiring Professionals, a pre-apprenticeship program for high school students that seeks to improve workplace readiness while addressing low living wages. Wesley-Rankin received the most votes from the event’s virtual and in-person audience.
  • The $20,000 Impact Award went to Veritas Impact Partners, which provides telehealth services for workforce housing residents to overcome barriers to health care access, including benefit literacy and technology challenges. The award recognizes the fellow with the top impact score, as determined by the judges.
  • The $20,000 Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, presented by Satori Foundation, went to Yumlish, which delivers culturally competent nutrition education to minorities with diabetes to address socioeconomic barriers to healthful eating, helping patients lose weight and lower their A1C levels. The award recognizes the finalist who most inspires others to create positive change in the world, as determined by the judges.

The remaining finalist for The Pitch was The Artist Outreach, which partners with schools to teach academic concepts to early elementary students using creative arts-based activities, including music and dance.

Each fellow also received a $25,000 Acceleration Award for reaching the finals.

Anne Chow, CEO, AT&T Business and United Way’s annual campaign chair, once again served as emcee for the event. This year’s panel of judges included Jorge Corral, Accenture Dallas office managing director and United Way Board member; Billie Jo Johnson, general manager, Toyota Financial Services at Toyota; Chris Kleinert, CEO of Hunt Investment Holdings LLC and co-founder of the Kleinert Family Foundation; Amber Venz Box, co-founder of LTK; and Steven Williams, CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America.

“Through social innovation initiatives like the social innovation accelerator and the pitch, we’re able to continue our nearly 100-year legacy of uniting the community around a common goal: a North Texas where everyone has the opportunity and access to thrive.”

Jennifer Sampson, Mcdermott-Templeton President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

Innovating for the Greater Good

Our overall mission is to improve access to education, income and health—key areas that we have identified as the building blocks of opportunity in North Texas. One of the ways United Way works toward our goals is by embracing social innovation: the practice of finding new and innovative solutions for long-standing community problems that are more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than current solutions.

“Our focus on social innovation enables us to tap into the most effective new ideas for creating positive change in our region,” said Jennifer Sampson, McDermott-Templeton president and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “Through social innovation initiatives like the Social Innovation Accelerator and The Pitch, we’re able to continue our nearly 100-year legacy of uniting the community around a common goal: a North Texas where everyone has the opportunity and access to thrive.”

The Social Innovation Accelerator in collaboration with Accenture is one of the United Way programs that encourages the creation and growth of innovative new solutions to community issues in education, income and health. Each year, we select a group of social entrepreneurs whose organizations advance progress toward our Aspire United 2030 community impact goals. Each class of Social Innovation Accelerator fellows receives seed funding, boot camp-style training and professional mentoring from United Way.

At the end of the months-long Social Innovation Accelerator program, we choose five of the fellows to move on to The Pitch, a live event where they pitch their ideas to strengthen education, income and health to a live virtual audience and a panel of judges who are leaders in the local business, innovation and philanthropy communities.

Since its creation in 2013, the Social Innovation Accelerator has invested nearly $6.1 million in funding, training and mentoring for 64 North Texas social entrepreneurs. With the support of United Way’s community connections and credibility, these startup organizations have gone on to raise an additional $30.1 million, build more than 800 partnerships, receive national recognition and impact more than 150,000 North Texans.

“All aspects of our community—corporate, philanthropic, government and the public—must work together to ensure everyone has the opportunity to thrive,” said Charlene Lake, chief sustainability officer and senior vice president of corporate social responsibility at AT&T, and chair of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Board. “Programs like the Social Innovation Accelerator and The Pitch are driving lasting change by activating the solutions of incredible entrepreneurs who have their finger on the pulse of what it will take to ensure the people in their communities can live their very best lives.”

Community-Wide Investment

In addition to AT&T and Accenture, other sponsors of the event include The Eugene McDermott Foundation, Santander, Vistra, Sara and Gary Ahr, Charles Schwab, United Way Teens United, SVP Dallas, PNC, The Hoglund Foundation, The Moozie Foundation, Carol and Kevin March and the March Tocqueville Fellows, Scott and Melanie Schoenvogel, and Toyota.

“At Accenture, we aspire to make a positive impact in the communities where we live and work, and we believe that everyone should have an opportunity to succeed,” Corral said. “When we work together as a community, we can have a bigger impact. That’s why we partnered with United Way to grow the Social Innovation Accelerator, with both financial support and our Accenture team’s time and talent. It has been inspiring to see the program grow so significantly over the years, helping make North Texas a better, more equitable place for everyone.”

Chow added, “Social innovation brings an entrepreneurial mindset to community impact work, and it can be a powerful tool for change. AT&T, as well as a growing number of other business leaders, recognizes the incredible potential of social innovation. That’s why we make it a priority to invest in programs like The Pitch, which helps social entrepreneurs to exponentially grow their footprint and expand their impact here in North Texas. The result is improved access to education, income and health for our neighbors, and an even better community for us all.”