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A Front Row Seat at Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch Seattle Competition

By Elke Hautala

You are the thinkers, doers and dreamers in this community.”

Co-host Jacob Colker warmed up the large audience who had taken over McCaw Hall for a very different purpose from the usual artistic pursuits.

On Tuesday October 24, 2017 the Fast Pitch Seattle Final Showdown was held there. Created and produced by philanthropy group Social Venture Partners (SVP), it’s an energetic and engaging live event that aims to promote and provide funding opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The crowd cheered loudly as Jacob continued his banter with co-host Mona Lee Locke. Part business presentation, part networking event and part pep rally – the Fast Pitch Competition leaves you cheering, texting your support and googling your favorite competitors. It’s an ode to optimism.


Although it’s the seventh year for the Fast Pitch competition, SVP has been making a difference in the social and commercial landscape of Seattle for 20 years.

SVP’s approach to philanthropy is capacity building.” Cecelia Garza, Communications Manager for SVP told me. She went on to explain that they not only give grants but also provide skilled volunteers in areas that businesses need and have events such as these to “equip non-profit leaders to tell their story in a more compelling way.”

You collectively pool your funds…then they use those funds to decide who to fund within the community. It is a non-profit that then supports other non-profits “explains Leslie Gordon who joined as a partner two years ago with her husband Forest.

Both coming from a background of 30 years working for IBM, they felt passionate about using their skills to support non-profits. Forest shared his enthusiasm for ReadySetVote.org, which seeks to explain and simplify the voting process while Leslie championed the work that Eco-Shelter was doing with bamboo resin to create sound structures in communities that needed them.


The diversity of the attendees spoke to the possibility for creating a community around doing good; everyone from high school students and retirees to artistic millennials and corporate representatives rubbed elbows. Even some grade school aged entrepreneurs-in-training came with their parents. The receptions surrounding the main event attested to the success with steady lines around the competitors’ presentations in the lobby.

The innovation extended beyond the stage too. SVP has created an event that harnesses interactivity and technology. The audience is invited to text the guiding principles of the competition after each presenter to share how they were affected by the pitch with results shared in real time. You could choose between innovation, impact or inspiration.

The Angel Awards also boosts the attendees’ contributions and adds a dash of fun. Audience member’s names are selected and shared on screen at various times throughout the event. If your name is randomly chosen, an angel (literally a volunteer with wings) will give you a check worth a couple of hundred dollars to present to the competitor of your choice. What an incredible way to spread the joy of giving!

Although the stage time was reserved for those who had made it to the finals, the semi-finalists were also allowed to talk about their concepts at the reception time prior to the event. The wealth of talent and exciting ideas was palpable in the event hall.


I spoke with two female entrepreneurs looking to create change in the areas of co-working and commuting. Marlene Weiss & Sarah Hines both part of the team that launched the inc. in February 2017, “the first nonprofit coworking with childcare space in the United States,” and Celeste Jalbert of Bike City whose for profit startup “is a B2B urban mobility solution” using electric bikes.

14 individuals representing ventures in several different categories took the stage one at a time for a five-minute presentation. These finalists had been honing their pitch for months now including coaching and mentorship from Social Venture Partners.

A myriad of different personalities and styles were on display each making their case for a worthy cause.

Liz Hadley with Adi Collective tackled the very current issue of refugee job placement and tugged on the heartstrings. She offered a flexible and well-paid job opportunity “through sewing artisanship that produces high-quality, simple and natural clothing for Pacific NW women. “ She won multiple awards including the 2nd place Audience Award – a very strong finish especially for a company that has only been around for 6 months.


Emily Zulauf also offered the emotional story of criminal turned mural artist with a heartwarming ending for her Seattle Clemency Project, a company she co-directs with her father. She won second place in the Startup Nonprofit category with her aim “to match reformed long-serving inmates with free legal help to file for clemency.”

First place went to an incredible pitch with a similar penal reform focus, Unloop. A unique program aimed at stopping recidivism by offering prisoners “coding and web development training” as well as job support.

The pitches started with an arts education program (Art with Heart) that helps children deal with trauma and ended with a very funny, down-to-earth presentation on a life and death subject; delivery systems for medicine to stop overdoses or allergic reactions (MedsForAll).

There were even two high school students who both showed incredible poise and passion. I had the chance to talk to Sarah and Marium Raza, who won the 2nd place award in the High School category, about their project to create education and awareness surrounding the special needs community (Aware).

Marium summed it up best when she said:  “I think what often goes unnoticed is the potential that our teens around this nation and around the world really have.”


Not only was financial support evident in individual contributions but also through corporate partnerships. There were multiple levels of sponsorship from companies often of national renown but with a Pacific Northwest focus: Microsoft, Starbucks, Comcast NBCUniversal, Amazon, Vulcan and Lane Powell to name a few.

Comcast/NBC Universal even extended their support further with a special Technology Innovation Award worth $2,500. This year’s winner was HandiMaps (pitched by Founder Vishaal Diwan) – an innovative service seeking to partner with facilities to provide accessibility information for event spaces. This is just one facet of Comcast’s support for technology with a special state-of-the-art Lab and Center recently announced to help launch these types of important start-ups.

 The auditorium overflowed with positive energy as CEO of SVP Solynn Mccurdy took the stage for the call to action. He brought a vibrant personality with an evangelical vibe. His call and response was straight from the church playbook – what time is it? It’s offering time!

The hours of practice, the ideas brought to fruition, the support given both financial and otherwise; they all were offerings indeed to a more helpful community, a more innovative Seattle and a world where business and humankind truly intersect.

For all of this year’s SVP Fast Pitch winners visit this site.

Check out more about Comcast’s philanthropy and community investment here.