The UpPrize Social Innovation Challenge engages the community in producing innovative solutions to meet the critical needs of our region’s nonprofits and people. In its second year, UpPrize is the most significantly capitalized social innovation competition focused on improving the quality of life for residents in Southwestern PA. The challenge is organized by The Forbes Funds in collaboration with BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Bridgeway Capital, Comcast Business, UPMC and NEXTpittsburgh. After this cycle, approximately $1 million will have been invested in sustainable solutions proposed by local entrepreneurs and nonprofits.
During the final two weeks of this cycle, we are publishing short spotlight interviews with each of the finalist teams. Our next spotlight features Oasis Farm & Fishery. Interview responses provided by Casey Clouser, Farm Manager.
Why did you apply to UpPrize?
The Oasis Project is currently looking to expand our educational initiatives in the Homewood community related to healthy food access and addressing food insecurity. In order to develop The Oasis Micro-farm and Fishery which includes a DC (direct current) powered bioshelter, rain water capture/filtration system, outdoor classroom and aquaponics system, we needed further funding to add to our existing resources. The expansion of the project allows The Oasis Project to train community youth in 21st century farming technology and teach them entrepreneurial skills related to growing, marketing, and selling food.
How did you develop your idea? How will it impact the lives of vulnerable populations in Western PA?
In previous years, The Oasis Project ran summer programming for youth called, “Lean for Teens.” During this program youth learned the Lean Canvas business model to address a social problem they identified in the community. With the Oasis Micro-farm and Fishery completed, students will now have the opportunity to use the current model to address issues of food insecurity by increased access to fresh and local food in Homewood. This model has the potential to be replicated in similar communities throughout Western Pennsylvania. We wanted our students to understand the local food ecosystem and have ownership in an innovative supply chain system that links local sustainable agriculture and business development.
What have you learned about yourself or your team as a result of the process?
The UpPrize process has been a useful way for our team to take our project to the next level by developing and focusing our project goals and mission. The guidance received via the educational classes and feedback has pushed us to strengthen our team collaboration and communication. As we continue to sharpen our focus, it has given us the opportunity to think creatively about ways to meet the needs of our community through this project. We are now prepared to make our project a reality this summer. Through our comprehensive team and other existing programs occurring at the Oasis Project, the UpPrize competition has also allowed us to consider ways our new and existing programs can work together to address community needs.
What advice do you have for anyone considering applying to UpPrize?
We would tell applicants that the UpPrize process is not just about funding, but it is about a team actively participating in a rigorous process to develop a strong business model. Through mentorship it helps teams clarify their mission, vision, goals and strategy through firsthand knowledge and expertise given by the UpPrize team. The overall process is meant to be stretching so you can improve your project and design, ultimately enabling your team to have a stronger community impact.
Where can people learn more about your idea? (website, social media, etc)
Anything you'd like to add?
The Oasis Project is honored to be chosen as a finalist for the UpPrize Social Innovation Challenge. We are excited to start the project this year and look to expand in future years including elementary students and hopefully in communities beyond Homewood.