Awards / Funding / Philanthropy / Pitches / Startups

RK Mellon Foundation picked these 4 startup winners for its second annual pitch competition

The Pittsburgh org awarded $1.35 million as part of a larger initiative to invest in social enterprises.

Element Exo's exoskeleton device in action. (Courtesy photo)
Pittsburgh’s Richard King Mellon Foundation is unique in its approach to funding startups — meaning it’s unique that it funds startups at all.

While investments in local tech are a small percentage of the org’s overall charitable giving, they represent a valuable source of homegrown funding for founders looking to scale the industries of the future. As of 2021, it awarded more than $3.3 million to a host of for-profit startups that line up with its philanthropic vision.

Today, RK Mellon shared that four new companies will be joining the fold by winning a total of $1.35 million in the foundation’s second-ever Social-Impact Investment Pitch Competition.

Since the competition was launched, the foundation has stated that it seeks out companies that have displayed a commitment to benefiting the community with their products and services. Out of a total of 92 submissions, here are the companies that were ultimately selected, as described by the foundation:

  • First place, with an investment of $500,000 — Resilient Lifescience is a startup combating drug overdose with wearable, intelligent drug delivery systems.
  • Second place, with an investment of $400,000 — Element Exo is a hardware startup improving employee well-being with an innovative exoskeleton.
  • Third place, with an investment of $300,000 — Sustainable Composites is a circular economy startup that processes waste leather scrap into new products.
  • Fourth place, with an investment of $150,000 — CodeJoy is an edtech startup developing interactive remote robotics and coding classes for students and educators.

Resilient Lifescience was also recently named to’s 2023 RealLIST Startups list for Pittsburgh.

“This second Pitch Competition builds on the first and makes abundantly clear what we suspected when we first launched the Social-Impact Investment program: Pittsburgh has a wealth of promising for-profit startups that are committed to using their businesses to achieve social good,” said Sam Reiman, director of the foundation, in the release.

On the companies’ part, the consensus is that the funding will assist them in continuing their growth. Brad Holden, cofounder and CEO of Resilient Lifescience, said the funding would be put toward further developing the company’s product. The sentiment was echoed by the likes of CodeJoy cofounder Kelsey Derringer and Sustainable Composites President and CEO Don Morrison, who said in the release that they plan to use the funding to expand their operations.

The latter company is headquartered in Lancaster, but plans to expand locally. The other investees are based in Pittsburgh.

“Their investment is a vote of confidence in our game-changing technology and business model,” Morrison said. “With funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, we are exploring the establishment of a leather recycling and production facility in Pittsburgh to support our business operation that could become a model for expansion to other markets.”

In 2022, the inaugural winners were awarded $1 million, along with 13 other startups that received a total of $2.3 million through the foundation’s social impact investment program. This year, the org said it wants to reaffirm that the Steel City is still a home to a host of promising startups. As a part of its 10-year-strategic plan to invest $50 million in startups, the goal of the competition is not only to bring funding, but to create a positive social impact.

“There is a new generation of compassionate entrepreneurs who are using their  talents to create businesses designed to improve our communities,” Reiman said. “Too often they are unable to obtain the financial support they need to make their dreams a reality. Our SII Program is affirming that their ideas are worthwhile — and that Pittsburgh is an ideal city to launch and grow such companies.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Resilient Lifescience / Richard King Mellon Foundation

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