Taking an innovative first step

Community First hosts first Innovators Society Pitch Showdown


It might be tempting to say Project Helping, founded by Justin Kruger, was the winner of The Innovators Society’s first Pitch Showdown on Sept. 30. After all, the organization did win the $50,000 grand prize, and brought in $80,703 in donations.

But the real winner of the afternoon was mental wellness in the metro area, as the issue will receive increased attention from six innovative minds.

“We’re all here to focus on mental wellness because a thriving community is a healthy community,” said Amy Humble, member of the Innovators Society steering committee member and co-founder of HumbleBarlow Leadership. “There is going to be new faces, new ideas and new innovations in the field of mental wellness.”

The Innovators Society is a new extension of the Community First Foundation, an organization that helps connect nonprofits and donors. Six organizations were selected by Community First to participate: Bright by Three, Clayton Early Learning, Project Helping, Carson J. Spencer Foundation, Im’Unique and CU-Denver, School of Public Affairs.

All six have ideas to address the challenges of mental wellness, but their ideas had not yet been tried. Each received an initial grant of $25,000 and nine months to develop ideas.

The Pitch Showdown, held at the Lakewood Cultural Center, was the culmination of months of work with coaches and practicing for all six participants. 250 community members were invited and given $1,800 each from Community First to donate to the participant of their choice, after hearing a five-minute presentation from each. Community members were advised to not consider risk and instead think of which programs they found the most promising.

“I think it’s a fun way to raise money, and it’s great there’s so much diversity in the room,” said Katie Heideman, who was invited to participate by her employer. “It’s really unique to have a collaborative approach to giving money.”

The community members logged into Community First’s website after all the presentations were completed on their smartphones and donated in real time, and after about 15 minutes, the six innovators were able to see how much money they raised.

About 40 community leaders were selected by Community First to work with the innovators throughout the process, and they decided who won the $50,000 grand prize based on overall growth and progress.

“The idea of all this is one of the most innovative approaches I’ve seen to identifying needs and finding solutions,” said Regina Huerter, a member of the “Core 40.” “I think Community First is really onto something with this community approach-building approach.”

The approaches the innovators came up with to improve mental wellness was varied — Bright by Three offers daily parenting tips via text, the Carson J. Spencer Foundation wants to work with middle school students on suicide prevention, and Project Helping uses volunteering to combat depression and anxiety.

“It’s hard to put into words to be the grand prize winner,” Kruger said after the event. “We’re just three years old, so sometimes it’s difficult to know what works and what doesn’t.

All six innovators will use the funds to expand their projects in new and exciting ways, but the money wasn’t the only benefit.

“Getting to work with these coaches for the past nine months was so huge,” Kruger said. “Without their expertise and advice, none of this would have happened for any of us.”


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