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Educational Social Entrepreneurs Win $100K from United Way GroundFloor

The two nonprofits were selected by celebrity judges and a live audience during the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas' OneUp the Pitch competition.

Two educational social entrepreneurs collectively scored $100,000 in prize money after winning the votes of five celebrity judges and a live audience at the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ second annual OneUp the Pitch competition.

ScholarShot, led by founding executive director Dan Hooper, won the top prize of $75,000 and was named Social Innovator of the Year. Meanwhile, Education Opens Doors, led by founding executive director Jayda Batchelder, was the audience favorite, landing a $25,000 prize after a live vote. The two nonprofits beat out three competitors Wednesday night at The Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum. The competition was for fellows of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ GroundFloor accelerator program.

“I’m just so grateful,” Hooper said after winning the top prize. “For all of these organizations, just being on the stage is a huge boost in regards to awareness and funding.”

The Social Innovator of the Year winner was determined by returning judges David Brown, retired Dallas police chief; Amber Venz Box, president and co-founder of RewardStyle and LikeToKnow.It; and Todd Wagner, founder and CEO of Charity Network and CEO of 2929 Entertainment. New judges were Jack Furst, founder and CEO of Oak Stream Investors; and Ken Hersh, president and CEO of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Judges were instructed to score contestants based on impact (30 percent), innovation (30 percent), sustainability (20 percent), and presentation (20 percent).

ScholarShot, which was founded in 2009, helps at-risk students complete associate, vocational, and undergraduate degrees. The nonprofit uses academic managers, each of whom aid 50 students at a time, to mentor students and aid with financial management. The nonprofit has funded more than 100 scholars, helped more than 25 students earn degrees, and is brought on about 40 scholars for the 2017-2018 school year. Hooper said ScholarShot has developed a formula to reverse statistics that show that nine out of 10 at-risk kids drop out of college. The $100,000 prize money will help the nonprofit hire two more managers, aiding 100 more students, he said.

“Thank you for investing for our young kids and particularly our kids of diversity,” Brown, a product of Dallas ISD, said to Hooper after his pitch. “I wouldn’t be here without people like you.”

To date, ScholarShot has raised nearly $2 million. Its current annual budget is $1 million, 30 percent of which is provided by corporate community commitments. ScholarShot also leverages public funds to stretch every dollar donated. So with the help of grants and government funding, it is able to make a $1 donation equal $4 or $5, Hooper said. So the $100,000 from the OneUp the Pitch competition becomes $500,000.

“A dollar goes such a long way when it’s spent and invested properly,” said Hersh, who also runs a family investment firm. “Thinking about a charity as an investment, a charitable dollar as an invested dollar, ScholarShot has a huge return and is a very high-touch organization.”

“This was my pick for the winner, so I was really excited they won,” said Venz Box.

Audience favorite Education Opens Doors will use its $25,000 prize to help it launch a digital version of its Roadmap to Success program, which equips middle and high school teachers with curriculum to help students navigate to college. Since the Roadmap to Success program was launched in 2012, it has impacted more than 15,000 students and has had a 100 percent return rate from principals who chose to purchase the program.

Also presenting at OneUp the Pitch was Center for Employment Opportunities, which helps people who were incarcerated transition to jobs; First3Years, which provides training for professionals whose work impacts the development of infants and toddlers; and Youth with Faces, which helps youths in the juvenile justice system learn social, job, and life skills.

After the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas launched the competition last year, it immediately began receiving calls for the following year’s event. Two of those calls came from Accenture, which opted into a $500,000 sponsorship for two years, and Ashlee and Chris Kleinert, who offered to provide the prize money through 2020. The Kleinerts also helped retool the judging criteria—last year all criteria were equally weighted.

The competition has provided a chance for the GroundFloor nonprofits to get more exposure to the greater community. Venz Box, who has been working with her husband and cofounder Baxter Box to make more philanthropic investments, said she expects some of the presenters to get follow-up calls from folks willing to donate. Furst and Wagner were moved by several of the presenters and after the pitches told United Way of Metropolitan Dallas CEO Jennifer Sampson that they’d like to get more involved with the GroundFloor nonprofits.

“It’s absolutely driving more interest,” Sampson said about the contest. “Were giving these social entrepreneurs a platform to tell their story in front of a completely new audience. In many cases, people in the audience, their heartstrings are pulled … and they want to get involved.”

After last year’s competition, Brown joined United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ board of directors.

“I’m following through on some of the mentoring I received in my career as police officer and police chief,” said Brown. “It was that once I retire, my obligation to the city continues … it continues until you take your last breath.”

ScholarShot and Education Opens Doors follow last year’s winners Akola, which won the judges vote, and audience favorite Bonton Farms.