United Way’s The Pitch: A showcase of social innovation

Story and videos by Lawson Martin. Photos provided by United Way.

The music blasted, the crowd cheered, and dreams were turned into realities as five bold social entrepreneurs presented their solutions to modern challenges at The Pitch, presented by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

Each of the five social innovators pitched their ideas to a panel of judges to improve access to education, income, and health — three pillars United Way believes are the building blocks of opportunity.

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has a program called the Social Innovation Accelerator, where United Way, in partnership with Accenture, helps various organizations across North Texas work on new ideas to solve social problems. United Way of Metropolitan Dallas says they understand how difficult it can be to start a new social project. The Accelerator is part of their efforts to assist social innovators by giving them the tools and connections they need to grow their projects and make a positive impact.

United Way’s Social Innovation Accelerator program has existed since 2013, and in that time, it has provided 83 North Texas social entrepreneurs with life-changing funding, training, and mentoring.

United Way hosts The Pitch, powered by Amazon and PNC, every spring, where five finalists from the latest Accelerator class pitch their ideas. Prizes on the line were:

  • Social Innovator of the Year – $60K: The top overall pitch score as determined by a panel of judges
  • Audience Choice Award – $30K: The finalist with the highest percentage of votes from audience members
  • Innovation Award – $20K: The finalist with the most innovative venture as determined by the judges
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit Award – $20K: The organization with the greatest potential to grow and succeed over time as determined by the judges
  • Impact Award – $20K: The organization with the greatest potential impact as determined by the judges

United Way awarded each of the five social innovators at The Pitch with $25,000, no matter the outcome of what the judges or the audience voted.

The Pitch 2024 showcased six judges with diverse backgrounds, each highly accomplished in their respective fields:

  • Kenny Cooper Jr. – FC Dallas ambassador and former all-star forward
  • Jorge Corral – Dallas office managing director of Accenture and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas board member
  • Steve Hall – Executive chairman of Conscious Capitalism and chairman and CEO of the Make it Matter Foundation
  • Danyel Surrency Jones – Head of Amazon’s Black Business & Growth Accelerator
  • Drew Pearson – Dallas Cowboys Great and Pro Football Hall of Famer
  • Marty Turco – Former Dallas Stars all-star goaltender

The Pitch kicks off

Meet your five The Pitch contestants: Cessilye Smith, Abide Women's Health; Courtney Hamilton, Tech Savvy; Prinscilla Moore, Delighted to Doula; Robin Head, Entryway; and Roy Scott, Healthy Hip Hop.

“Tonight, you’ll be on the edge of your seats as you watch the best of the best in a night of game-changing impact and high-stakes competition, and by the size of the crowd tonight, I can see that you share in our excitement!” Jennifer Sampson, McDermott-Templeton President and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas said to the crowd.

Jennifer shared why social innovation is so important for our community, highlighting it’s crucial to find new and innovative solutions for long-standing community problems that are more effective and efficient than current solutions.

“I love the energy out there,” said the night’s emcee, Gina Miller, who is the vice president of media and communications for FC Dallas. “Let’s continue to do it bigger and better in Dallas, Texas!”

Gina introduced the panel of judges as they walked out on the stage to cheers. Drew came to the microphone to shout “Hut! Hut!” which the crowd loved.

“I just want to say that North Texas is the most philanthropic place,” Marty said. “I’m just proud to be living here, coming from Canada, and so to be a part of this is a real honor.”

After introducing the judges, it was time for the social innovators to make their pitches!

Pitch 1: Prinscilla Moore, Delighted to Doula

Prinscilla had a close friend pass away from childbirth complications, and she said her friend’s cries went unheard.

“Had she been listened to, had they heard her, had they brought her back in and asked questions, she could be here today,” Prinscilla said.

Because of this experience, Prinscilla created the nonprofit, Delighted to Doula, a community-based postpartum doula program that provides six weeks of postpartum support to mothers right after birth.

“If you’ve given birth or been part of the process, it’s often a time of great joy as new life enters the world,” Prinscilla said in her pitch. “But unfortunately, within the Black community, joy isn’t always the emotion that’s felt too frequently. That moment of joy is scarred by inadequate care and lack of support for Black women during, but especially after childbirth.”

According to Prinscilla, Black women in Texas and across the United States are dying at a rate that’s three to four times higher than that of white women.

“We need to address the injustices, racial bias, and unequal treatment that is happening to our Black mothers within the healthcare system,” she said.

Delighted to Doula educates mothers by providing baby care education, including understanding baby cues and bottle feeding/breastfeeding support and support for moms in recovery. They offer a full year of at-home visits to help mothers build theri confidence by supporting them as they transition into parenthood.

Leaders of this organization hope that through these services, they can reduce maternal mortality.

“We have built a system that’s saving lives, and United Way has put us on a platform so that people can see that we’re changing lives,” Prinscilla said.

After Princilla’s pitch, we asked her what advice she would give to any innovator or entrepreneur looking to break into the space. She said, “Find a program like United Way where you can understand how to navigate the nonprofit space, how to build your infrastructure, and how to scale and grow.”

Click here to learn more about Delighted to Doula.

Pitch 2: Courtney Hamilton, Tech Savvy DFW

Tech Savvy DFW advocates for young adults, teens, and children to get excited and engaged with technology and pursue careers in the field.

“We have a problem,” Courtney said in his pitch. “Current estimates show that there are over 40 million unfilled tech jobs today, and this number is projected to rise to about 85 million by 2030.”

He added that the tech industry lacks diversity among its existing workforce, so he created Tech Savvy DFW, an organization dedicated to revolutionizing the future for students and adults in historically underserved and underprivileged communities. Tech Savvy DFW offers IT accelerated career training in computer and network administration and PC essentials, career services, STEM camps, and more to open young people’s eyes to the world of technology.

Courtney’s goal through Tech Savvy DFW is to expose young adults to technology careers, many of which do not require a four-year degree. He said he joined the Accelerator program because his organization is now at a point where it needs to scale and grow.

Click here to learn more about Tech Savvy DFW.

Pitch 3: Robin Head, Entryway

How do you get a job without an address, and how do you keep an address without a job? Entryway is a nonprofit that provides career, employment, and housing opportunities for those facing homelessness.

Local nonprofits and training partners refer qualified individuals at risk or already experiencing situational homelessness interested in pursuing positions in the apartment industry. Entryway then screens the applicants and interviews them. After that, Entryway trains participants with technical training, soft skills, and financial literacy. They also receive resume and interview coaching.

Entryway refers the trained participants to their apartment industry partners nationwide for employment opportunities and housing. The participants are offered jobs in their communities, such as groundskeepers, maintenance techs, and leasing agents.

This gives them the opportunity for a job and a place to live simultaneously while they cultivate a sense of pride and ownership in their future.

“The impactful for each of our participants?” Robin said in her pitch. “On average, they get a 140% increase in hourly wages. Thirty-three percent of those we serve have children. Can you imagine the generational difference that makes for those families? Eighty-seven percent report raises our promotions in the first year.”

Robin thanked United Way and the Accelerator program for the knowledge she gained in operating a new nonprofit.

“Starting a new organization was new for me,” she said. And I feel like the Accelerator, through the mentors, has really given me knowledge that I would not have had if I had tried to do it on my own.”

Click here to learn more about Entryway.

Pitch 4: Roy Scott, Healthy Hip Hop

Healthy Hip Hop elevates student learning by creating fun, classroom friendly hip-hop music that educators use to engage students in new and exciting ways.

“We found success with using (hip-hop) as a learning tool to improve focus, engagement, and behavior with kids at school and home,” said Roy Scott, founder of Healthy Hip Hop.

Healthy Hip Hop created an online platform where educators can gain access to their content and resources and livestream them directly into the classroom. Roy loves showing students that education can be cool and fun by incorporating something they love into the lessons.

This year alone, Healthy Hip Hop has impacted more than 5,000 students while encouraging more than 10,000 hours of physical activity. So far, it has received a 90% approval rating from school teachers and administrators, who say it has improved focus and engagement in their classrooms.

“Our programming is backed by science and empowered by youth culture to ensure it’s effective and engaging,” Roy said in his pitch.

Roy believes healthy hip hop is the trailblazer of children’s hip hop.

“Hip hop is the voice of our youth, influencing everything from social justice to politics to fashion, you name it,” Roy said. What does the next 50 years of hip-hop look like for our kids? This is where healthy hip hop steps in transforming the generation through music, mindfulness, and motivation.”

Click here to learn more about Healthy Hip Hop.

Pitch 5: Cessilye Smith, Abide Women's Health

Adibe Women’s Health offers culturally informed, low-cost prenatal and postnatal healthcare to reduce infant and maternal mortality among BIPOC individuals.

Like Prinscilla with Delighted to Doula, Cessilye Smith, the founder and CEO of Abide, stressed that Black women die three to four times the rate of white women due to childbirth-related causes and Black babies die at two to three times the rate of white babies before they reach their first birthday. Cessilye founded Abide Women’s Health Services to improve birth outcomes.

She believes Black women across the country have been shouting these statistics for decades to no avail.

“At Abide, we know that with the disparities that exist in this country, centering Black women in this care is what saves lives,” she said. “There’s no better way than to make a positive, long-lasting impact when we start at the very beginning, at pregnancy and birth.”

Abide helps women by providing them with compassionate, safe, respectful, unbiased midwifery care.

“Care that sees individuals not as a number, but human beings whose lives are precious,” Cessilye said.

Abide opened its clinic in 2020 and became the country’s first nationally accredited easy-access clinic in 2021. In 2020, Abide served 23 clients across two programs and grew to a thriving clinic that served 454 clients in 2023. This year alone, Cessilye said they anticipate supporting over 1,200 clients across all programs, including new initiatives such as a mobile clinic, transportation services, and the expansion of their flagship location and birth center, making them the first healthcare system of its kind in DFW.

“At the end of the day, we want our babies born at term thriving in their first year, and we want their mothers to live to see them,” Cessilye said. “I am proud to say that Abide has had zero reported infant and maternal deaths.

Abide is reaching its next level and is ready to expand its human and geographic impact.

“Join us as we create a healthcare ecosystem that says Black women do, in fact, matter,” Cessilye said.

Click here to learn more about Abide Women’s Health.

And the winner is!

After all five social innovators pitched their innovations, the judges deliberated on who they thought should win Social Innovator of the Year and other major awards. The audience also voted on their phones to decide who would win the Audience Choice Award.

Organizers presented all five finalists with $25,000 for participating in The Pitch.

Adibe Women’s Health won the Audience Choice Award and the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, which gave her $40,000 in additional funds. Healthy Hip Hop won the Impact Award and the Innovation Award, which also awarded him $40,000 in extra funding.

And then it was time for the emcee, Gina, to announce the Social Innovator of the Year.

“I don’t envy the judges’ decisions this evening as they choose the Social Innovator of the Year because all five competitors are outstanding and driving impact to ensure that everyone in North Texas has the access and opportunity to thrive,” said Jennifer, United Way’s CEO.

“Are you guys ready?” Gina shouted to the crowd, which was followed by cheers. “This year’s winner of the Social Innovator of the Year sponsored by Amazon is Adibe Women’s Health.”

Colorful confetti and balloons flew in the air as Cessilye came out onto the stage with a massive smile to claim her $60,000 check. Cessiyle danced to music on the stage and hugged all the judges. Shortly after, Cessilye’s friends, family, and coworkers joined her on the stage to celebrate with her.

We caught up with Cessilye after her huge win to see how she was feeling, and she said she felt “absolutely amazing and incredibly overwhelmed.”

“To be honest with you, I was not expecting that many wins today, but I feel like they see our work, and it’s incredibly validated,” she said.

After Cessilye’s name was announced, her family, including her children, came onto the stage to give her the biggest hug.

“I feel like I’ve made a lot of sacrifices, especially when I first started the organization, and I missed out on a lot with some of my children,” she said. “And to have them there to see what I’ve built and how we’re growing means the world to me.”

When we asked what was next for her and Abide, Cessilye laughed, “I would say for me personally, I’m taking a vacation.” She then added that they would continue the process of acquiring a flagship location for Abide and growing the organization.

Cessilye encourages anyone dreaming of what she’s doing to dream big.

“Don’t be afraid to dream,” she said.

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’s McDermott-Templeton President and CEO, Jennifer, agreed with Cessilye, adding that she encourages everyone to take risks and not fear failure.

“Communities across the country and worldwide are counting on entrepreneurs and innovators to help drive lasting change,” said Jennifer. “We need new solutions to our existing challenges and problems, and those new ideas come from innovators willing to take the risk to develop something new. So keep innovating. Don’t be afraid of failure, and keep focusing on driving measurable impact here in North Texas.”

Click here to learn more about United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’s Social Innovation Accelerator Program.