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Chico nonprofit has enough bite to claim ‘Fast Pitch’ payoff

Wind Youth’s director of development, Sarah Mullin, reacts after the hosts announce that her nonprofit won the Audience’s Choice award.
Wind Youth’s director of development, Sarah Mullin, reacts after the hosts announce that her nonprofit won the Audience’s Choice award. bnguyen@sacbee.com

A Chico-based student mentoring program went from worst to first in claiming the $10,000 “Fast Pitch” top prize, the culmination of an eight-week program to help nonprofits hone their fundraising and business skills.

That money, awarded at Social Venture Partners’ “Fast Pitch” event Friday, will help SAGE Global expand its program of teaching socially conscious entrepreneurship to high school students, said Curtis DeBerg, the CSU Chico professor who created the SAGE Global program.

In addition to collecting the $10,000 prize awarded by judges, SAGE also receives a proportional share ($2,500) of the $1 per vote in the online voting competition, tallied prior to the event.

“This $12,500 will be returned to Sacramento to the first three schools who say we want (SAGE),” DeBerg said. SAGE Global students and their startup businesses compete at regional, national and international events. The program, formally called Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship, currently has 11,000 students participating from 21 different countries.

SAGE Global was among 10 nonprofits that competed for prize money. Thirteen semifinalists were given eight weeks of training with two coaches to sharpen their delivery to potential investors. The 10 finalists had three minutes Friday to make their case.

Social Venture Partners of Sacramento is modeled after a national program. The Sacramento chapter, formed in 2008, directs its resources to nonprofits improving education opportunities.

“The founders saw education as the tide that lifts all ships,” said Bree Cahill, executive director of SVP Sacramento.

Friday’s event at the McGeorge Law School auditorium was the organization’s first pitch event.

The event is loosely modeled after the TV program “Shark Tank,” where entrepreneurs seek investments from celebrity “sharks,” including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. In Sacramento, the celebrity judges were Sacramento City Councilman Rick Jennings; Scott Moak, executive director of the Sacramento Kings Foundation; Jeanne Reaves, president of Jeanne Reaves Consulting; and Christi Black-Davis, executive vice president in the Sacramento office of Edelman. Unlike their TV show counterparts, these philanthropic sharks had no bite. The evening was hosted by Rob Scherer, owner of a Dale Carnegie Training center in Sacramento.

In addition to the $10,000 awarded by the judges, another $10,000 was awarded based on votes by the audience, coaches and online.

Program participants and organizers said the benefits far exceed the prize money.

“Now they know how to tell their story with their passion up front,” said Kim Tucker, a vice president at 3 Fold Communications and one of the 26 coaches. “Everybody who participated will be able to tell their story better.”

Indeed SAGE’s DeBerg said he was at the bottom of the class when the coaches first scored their pitches.

“This experience has been the most challenging professional experience for me in the last 15 years,” DeBerg said. “The key was to remain authentic even though every word was planned.”

DeBerg said he had a tendency to ramble when he first started getting coaching. “Forcing me to make this three minutes has made me a much better agent for this organization,” he said.

The Fast Pitch event also fosters relationships that will lead to more giving, Cahill said. She suggested that everyone in attendance consider giving to one of the nonprofits who were seeking funding that night.

“If we made their tasks come true, think how much better Sacramento would be,” she said.

Indeed, B Street Theatre came Friday seeking $50,000 for a new van, trailer and gear to keep their theaters-in-schools program going. After Moak bemoaned: “Somebody get (Bill Blake) a van,” an audience member raised his hand and promised a financial commitment to get B Street a new van.

Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.

‘Fast Pitch’ winners

In a recent Social Venture Partners mentoring event, $25,000 in cash and services were awarded to competing nonprofit groups:

People’s choice online vote, $1,000 – 916 Ink

Audience vote, $3,000 – Wind Youth Services

Coaches’ choice, $5,000 – 916 Ink

Uptown Studios media makeover, $6,000 (in-kind) – Youth Development Network

Random act of kindness, $1,500 – Green Technical Education & Employment

Judges’ choice, $10,000 – SAGE Global

Note: Each nonprofit earned an additional $1 for each online vote it earned.

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