Pitching innovative local ideas for environmental and social change
// By Jacqueline Brennan
Getting into Chicago a little early? You can watch emerging social entrepreneurs pitch innovative project ideas designed to solve environmental challenges at BOOST*, an Upswell Plus event on Tuesday evening. During this crowd-funded pitchfest, a live audience will vote with their ticket contributions to determine two winners, each of whom will receive a $5,000 BOOST grant.
We talked with Bill Schleizer, CEO of Delta Institute and a 2019 Upswell Fellow, to learn more about his organization and BOOST, which takes a community-driven approach to overcoming funding barriers for local entrepreneurs and engages hundreds of people to directly invest in Chicago’s future.
Q: Tell us a little about BOOST. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve, and why go about it with a pitch contest?
BS: Our associate board developed BOOST eight years ago as an opportunity to showcase Chicago’s most innovative emerging entrepreneurs in sustainability. At Delta Institute, we believe that innovation can serve as a powerful catalyst for environmental and social change. We try to innovate throughout many of our projects, whether that is by developing new financial models to promote regenerative agriculture practices or by equipping grassroots organizations with toolkits to measure their local air quality.
Regarding BOOST specifically, we value that Chicago is home to a diverse group of entrepreneurs. However, there are not many local opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas at earlier stages of development. Not only does BOOST provide that platform, but it also fosters a community among the applicants, finalists, and winners to collaborate amongst each other—you may even see a few of this year’s BOOST applicants at Upswell this year!
Q: What we like about your model is that the audience on Tuesday night isn’t just there to watch – everyone who buys a ticket gets to determine the outcome of the evening. Tell us how that works.
BS: Because Delta’s mission focuses on collaboration—specifically collaboration with communities across the Midwest to address complex, environmental issues—we bring that collaborative spirit to BOOST each year. By having each of our guests express their support for the idea they like best, we can build upon Delta’s commitment to collaboration.
At BOOST, each of the five finalists has eight minutes to pitch their idea: what is the need, how does this product or service address that need, what is the business model, etc. Throughout the evening, guests can also visit each entrepreneur’s table to learn more about each idea. At the end of the evening, everyone in the audience gets their chance to cast two votes for their favorite finalists of the five entrepreneurs. We count them up and announce the two BOOST winners that same evening! Each of the winners will walk away with their own grant of $5,000 to further develop their entrepreneurship. Not only does this make for a really fun and exciting evening with great food and drinks, but it also makes meaningful impacts for emerging entrepreneurs in sustainability.
Q: You’ve been doing this since 2012, and you’ve awarded more than $50,000 now to social innovation projects in Chicago. Can you give us one or two good examples of past winners that are making a real difference?
BS: So hard to list just a couple! One that comes to mind is our winning entrepreneur from last year, Trista Li, who founded KitcheNet. Trista founded KitcheNet in 2017 with the goal of “increasing the accessibility and affordability of local, high-quality produce in the South Side and West Side of Chicago.” Trista just shared a lovely note with us earlier last month that said, “A year ago, I was still moving fruits into my apartment using the hotel dolly. Today, we have our own production, a dedicated operation, and a sales team! In the last 12 months, we have grown 15X!”
One other example on my mind would be our 2014 BOOST winner, Fresh Coast Capital, now known as Greenprint Partners. Their mission is devoted to developing scalable, holistic, and equitable solutions in green infrastructure for communities across the U.S. Not only was Greenprint a BOOST winner, but they are now a partner and collaborator with Delta’s work. I’ll actually be speaking at a ribbon cutting of a park-like community gathering space we redeveloped together from what was once a vacant brownfield in Gary, Indiana. So meaningful for us to collaborate on a project like this with a BOOST winner!
Q: Finally, after a short night’s sleep on Tuesday(!), you’re getting up to attend Upswell starting on Wednesday. What are you most excited about, or what do you hope to gain from the experience?
BS: I have been excited to attend Upswell Chicago for months! I’m happily representing Delta Institute there after being selected by Crown Family Philanthropies as an Upswell Fellow for 2019. In particular, I am eager to hear about all the innovative approaches that other nonprofits are implementing to address the challenges facing their communities. At the heart of all Delta does in environmental sustainability and community development, we prioritize stakeholder collaboration and inclusion. Hearing about how others are collaborating with stakeholders—and sharing more about Delta’s approach—is especially exciting to me. If you see me at Upswell this year from across the room, please come up and say hi!
More information about BOOST:
Tickets are on sale now for $45, or the day of the event for $50.
Upswell attendees receive a $10 discount at checkout by registering with the BOOST19UPSWELL promo code at https://deltainstitute.salsalabs.org/boost-2019/index.html.
November 12, 2019 | 6pm-9pm
Chop Shop, 2033 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Chop Shop is located in Chicago’s Wicker Park, an artsy neighborhood with trendy eats, vintage stores, cool coffee houses, bookstores, and more! Chop Shop is easily accessible by public transit. From Hilton Chicago, take a 12-minute walk through downtown Chicago to the LaSalle Blue Line stop at LaSalle Street and Ida B. Wells Drive. Take the Blue Line toward O’Hare, and get off at the Damen stop—just steps away from Chop Shop!
Please note that transportation to BOOST is not provided. It’s about a 20-minute car ride or 30 minute L ride from the Hilton.