United Way and Aetna Launch $300,000 Venture Fund to Seed Innovative, Collaborative New Approaches to Community Issues

May 17, 2019

Eight Local Nonprofits to Compete for up to $75,000 each on May 22

BOSTON — United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, in collaboration with Aetna, a CVS Health company, will hold its first-ever Venture Fund competition to seed new, innovative and collaborative solutions to entrenched community issues such as family homelessness, school readiness and the need for skilled workers, among others.  During a live “pitch event” on May 22, eight finalists will present their ideas to an expert panel of judges and the broader community, and four winners will be awarded up to $75,000 on the spot from the United Way Venture Fund, presented by Aetna, to implement their initiatives.

Through this process, United Way will make one-year grants to a portfolio of nonprofit organizations that have the experience, community presence, and relationships to approach a big problem in a new way, as well as a long-term vision for how their approach can be scaled to achieve lasting change for all those who need it in their community.

“We know that together, we can do more than any one organization can do alone,” said Michael K. Durkin, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.  “We’re looking for partnerships and collaborations among existing organizations that are shovel ready and focused on creating financial opportunity and ensuring educational success for people in need in our region.”

“Health starts in the community, and the most innovative solutions to help improve community health are often developed by individuals and organizations that experience these issues firsthand on a daily basis, ” said Leila Nowroozi, Aetna Business Strategy. “We are committed to supporting community-based groups that address social determinants of health, and the grants from the United Way Venture Fund will give these organizations additional resources to make greater impact and generate data so that we can all learn from their best practices.”

United Way will award funding to existing nonprofit organizations with 501(c)3 designations that collaborate with other nonprofits, government agencies, businesses, and/or civic associations to launch an innovative approach to achieving one of United Way’s four impact goals: 1) ending homelessness, 2) moving families out of poverty, 3) giving young children a solid foundation, and 4) preparing youth for success in life.

Eight finalists will compete and present ideas in the pitch event next week:

  • Cross Roads House plans to attack three causes of homelessness: eviction, lack of affordable housing, and lack of support for housing vouchers. They’ll pioneer a unique eviction prevention program that directly engages landlords, create a property tax credit that incentivizes housing construction, and work to reduce the stigma around providing housing to those with housing vouchers or those just leaving shelter.
  • FamilyAid Boston aims to reduce homelessness by identifying students and families experiencing housing instability long before they reach a crisis point. Alongside Boston Public Schools, they’ll develop a data system that will fuel collaboration and action toward removing a family’s housing instability.
  • Family Independence Initiative will work to help people fulfill their basic needs and achieve financial stability by partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance and the City of Boston. They’ll be taking direct feedback from struggling yet dedicated families, generating data that will inform services provided on the ground. Served families will also have access to the UpTogetherFund, a digital platform connecting them to others in their position, shared resources and emergency funding, and more.
  • Lawrence CommunityWorks wants to create opportunities for struggling workers to achieve financial stability by transforming local manufacturing workplaces, shifting them into bilingual environments that can hire a Spanish-speaking workforce. They aim to close the unemployment gap by ensuring employees are ready for their jobs, ensuring employers can offer training and support, and that companies take active steps to engage in building a workforce on their own.
  • Our Neighbors’ Table wants everyone in Newburyport to have the means to achieve financial stability by bringing the entire city together to provide food security to children and families. Through strategic partnerships with organizations from city government, schools, healthcare programs, and others, this effort looks to raise awareness, increase screening and intervention, and ensure everyone has access to fresh, nutritious food.
  • The Home for Little Wanderers aims to help young children of incarcerated parents prepare to enter school ready to learn by providing the social and emotional support they sorely need. Through a partnership with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, the program will offer the services and wraparound supports an inmate’s family needs to keep their children from experiencing developmental delays.
  • Urban College of Boston will work to provide financial security for people without a postsecondary degree by creating an entirely new career path through a partnership with Tufts Medical Center. They’ll offer a brand new, one-year certificate program, and those enrolled in the program will achieve the credentials to be Clinical Research Coordinators and access entry-level opportunities in clinical research positions.  
  • UTEC aims to provide proven-risk and criminally-involved youth with the chance to succeed in school and in life by developing a first-of-its-kind street outreach training and professional development program. Designed specifically to meet their needs, this program offers these young people the chance to learn and grow personally and professionally, find economic stability, and give back to the community.

The United Way Venture Fund Pitch Event will be held Wednesday, May 22 from 5:30-8 PM at  Boston Consulting Group, 200 Pier Four Blvd in Boston.