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For Good

ECHO of Brandon claims top prize in social entrepreneurship


ECHO of Brandon, a charity whose mission is to end hunger in southeastern Hillsborough County, took the $25,000 grand prize in Social Venture Partners’ first Shark Tank-styled competition for social entrepreneurship in the Tampa Bay Area.

Social entrepreneurship is the use by nonprofits of the techniques that enable startup companies and other entrepreneurs to develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues.

“The turnout was amazing. The energy was amazing. The teams were incredible,” says Jennifer Finney, a member of the SVP committee planning the Fast Pitch competition. “It surpassed everything that I could have imagined.”

ECHO, which provides emergency food, clothing, household items and career planning, was represented by Eleanor Saunders. Saunders explained how ECHO clients upcycle donations (clothes, curtains, leather items, etc.) into sellable products such as purses, jewelry and tablecloths. The work involved provides jobs for the clients, and sales proceeds go back into the organization's operating budget, making the nonprofit more independent financially and less dependent on government funding or charitable giving. The team was coached by Joan and George Lange.

The event attracted more than 400 to the University of Tampa on Friday, Dec. 1, to hear three-minute pitches from 13 nonprofits chosen to participate in SVP’s free, two-month accelerator and mentoring program. The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and UT partnered in the event.

The $15,000 second place prize was awarded to Wheels of Success, represented by Susan Jacobs and coached by Anne Marie Campbell and Sam Giunta, and the $10,000 third place awarded was given to Girls Empowered Mentally for Success, represented by Crystal Bailes and coached by Sheryl Hunter.

Wheels of Success is dedicated to providing transportation solutions to the needy. GEMS helps at risk elementary, middle and high school girls discover their passion, and more easily transition into productive adults.

Attendees texted into a link to choose the Audience Choice Award, which went to Starting Right, Now, represented by Vicki Sokolik and coached by Lily Jin. It received $5,000. Starting Right, Now is working to end youth homelessness in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Another $5,000 prize was given to Accelerator Award winner Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative, represented by Marissa Davis and Carrie Hepburn and coached by Finney. The collaborative promotes health and wellness in vulnerable populations by addressing barriers to health and services.

“We decided to give an Accelerator Award for the team that showed up to the accelerator every time ready and eager to learn,” Finney explains.

The 13 local nonprofits were chosen from a pool of more than 50 applicants. Judging was done by Phillip E. Casey, Tom Wallace, Joe Hamilton, Rochelle Friedman-Walk and James Tully.

Other nonprofits who participated included:

  • University Area Community Development Corporation, which administers a Prodigy Cultural Arts Program to help at risk first through twelfth graders;
  • Directions for Living, which is dedicated to providing life-saving services to residents through its innovative Peanut Butter and Jelly run;
  • Bright Community Trust, whose mission is to create strong and vibrant neighborhoods;
  • Enactus at University of South Florida, an organization that helps students develop their talents and make a difference in the Tampa Bay community;
  • Just Learn, k-12 learning program that seeks to expose students to the planet’s biggest challenges like urbanization and food production;
  • Keep St. Pete Lit, an organization promoting the greater St. Petersburg literary community;
  • Inspiration Labs, the legal name for Tampa Hackerspace, where members have working space, training and tools to develop their creative projects; and
  • The Well, which runs the WellBuilt retail store that sells and repairs bicycles to fund community rides, safety workshops and sliding scale repairs.

SVP is based in Seattle; a Tampa chapter was formed in 2014.

SVP plans to make the competition an annual event, with initial work beginning in January as part of strategic planning.

“They all got incredible exposure,” Finney says. “It was really great to see everyone’s genuine interest and passion for each one of the teams.”

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. As a wife and mother, Cheryl is around town at open houses and job fairs toting her laptop and camera. She discovered her love of writing as a child when she became enthralled with Nancy Drew mysteries. She earned her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Sociology from Loyola University in New Orleans. While working at Loyola's Personnel Office, she discovered her passion for helping others find jobs. A Miami native, Cheryl moved to the Temple Terrace area in 1985 to work for the former Tampa Tribune.
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