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United Way of the Greater Triangle, an organization that pools donations from corporations and their employees to fund local nonprofits, is taking a new approach to serve its mission while also supporting minority-led startups and fueling the entrepreneurial spirit in the Triangle. 

On May 20th United Way holds the first Idea Generation(Next), a competition for female entrepreneurs and those of color to pitch ideas to improve health and human services in the organization's four-county territory. An application deadline to pitch is approaching at midnight tonight. Apply here.

Idea Generation(Next) is one of the ways the nonprofit is changing its business model to adapt to the needs of the community and create more lasting impact. Specifically, it wants to dial back an alarming disparity of wealth and prosperity in the Triangle. Though our community continues to earn top rankings for quality of life, social mobility and business opportunity, the number of people living in poverty here has doubled since 2000. 

United Way has named its new "social innovation initiative" Innovate United, and a key tenet is to include community members and entrepreneurs in dreaming up new ways to approach community issues like childhood hunger, poverty and literacy. 

In doing so, United Way wants the nonprofits it traditionally funds to address complex issues in a more innovative and collaborative way than in the past, says Allison Warren-Barbour, senior vice president of research, development & engagement for the United Way of the Greater Triangle. In September, the organization launched a new strategic plan that limited traditional allotments to nonprofits, instead awarding the majority of funds for projects that are collaborative in nature.

At Idea Generation(Next), United Way will host a “Shark Tank” style competition that allows female and minority entrepreneurs to pitch their startup or nonprofit ideas. Audience members will bid against each other to fund each project and LeadersUnited, the chapter's top donor group, will provide grants to match the top bid to each team. United Way will also provide winners with access to professional expertise and potential mentors. 

Underrepresented communities are a target for the contest “because we believe we can use the United Way platform to remove barriers to capital for these communities” says Melanie Davis Jones, a representative for the Triangle chapter. 

The idea for Idea Generation(Next) was born from United Way’s 2014 Social Innovation Challenge, where 50 teams competed to find a solution to childhood hunger in the Triangle. The competition included an accelerator program that took participants through training, workshops and mentorship over the span of three months. 

The winner was Durham Public Schools, which received $50,000 to create a new program to serve lunch to every student in five or six elementary schools, reducing the stigma of free lunch for kids in need. The funds also allowed for 400,000 more meals to be provided to kids during the summer. 

That challenge will be repeated this year, with 15 finalists participating in a final pitch, accessible via Periscope, on April 29th. 

More immediately, the United Way needs strong applicants for its newest initiative, and leaders believes there are many women and minorities in the region that fit the bill. Through Idea Generation(Next), United Way might just give them the funding to get their projects launched and tested here and a platform to build a bigger footprint for their business or nonprofit in the future.