MANCHESTER — A lonely girl who needed an adult she could trust; a withdrawn teenager with no self-confidence; and a homeless man in need of health care took center stage at the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation on Tuesday night.
They weren’t there in person, but their stories were told with passion by representatives of three nonprofit agencies competing for foundation funding.
“A Pitch for Innovation” was the theme of the event, which drew nearly 700 attendees to the downtown Radisson Hotel to support the foundation and vote on the best of the three presentations.
The pitch contest has become a popular method for attracting business funding in New Hampshire, with entrepreneurs making speedy and high-energy presentations to potential financiers in the style of the popular ABC reality show, “Shark Tank.” The statewide charitable foundation, which now manages $500 million in assets, decided to bring the format to its annual meeting.
The winning pitch, and the $7,500 that went with it, was presented by Margie Wachtel, communications director for the Families First Health and Support Center in Portsmouth.
“We meet homeless people where they are, and provide the care that is needed,” she said in introducing Big Blue, the mobile health-care bus that is the center of the organization’s outreach work.
She described a client named John who worked as a truck driver for 30 years and had health insurance through his job. “But the premiums became so expensive he had to let it go,” Wachtel said. “He has lung disease, lost his job and his home.” John found Big Blue and now is getting the health care he needs.
“Big Blue looks beautiful on the outside, but like many of the people who come to her, she’s broken on the inside,” said Wachtel in urging attendees to vote for her and contribute to a new Big Blue.
Using “clicker” technology that can tabulate votes immediately, the audience demonstrated its support for Big Blue with 58 percent of the 687 votes cast after all presentations had ended.
The other two finalists were Joy Barrett, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Greater Nashua and Greater Salem; and Bobby Kessling, senior director of impact, City Year New Hampshire of Manchester.
Barrett got 31 percent of the votes and the second prize of $5,000 for her organization, while Kessling got 11 percent of the votes and $2,500 for City Year.
Barrett described her experience as a Big Sister to a girl named Alyshia, who was engaging at first, then became withdrawn and eventually disappeared. “It dawned on me that she was just trying to prove that I was another adult who was going to give up on her and abandon her,” Barrett said.
But the nonprofit CEO persevered and eventually located the girl at a middle school in Lowell, Mass. “I am going to keep showing up, and what I am asking you is to show up with me,” she told the group.
Kessling recalled how his involvement in City Year changed his life, and how it also changed the life of a young woman who was brought out of her shell through her involvement with the volunteer organization and the peer support it provided.
The program, called Making the Pitch, was the culmination of a “Pitch Camp,” in which leaders from 15 nonprofits selected by the Charitable Foundation were invited to take part in a training exercise developed by the Entrepreneurs Foundation of New Hampshire.
“Making the Pitch demonstrates the collective power of an audience to determine the project to get behind,” said Shawn McGowan, chairman of the Entrepreneurs Foundation in introducing the program.
Pitch Camp was led by John Gargasz, an investor with 10X Venture Partners; Thomas “TK” Kuegler, co-founder and general partner at Wasabi Ventures; and Mary Jo Brown, founder of Brown & Co, a Portsmouth-based advertising and design agency.
Other entrepreneurs who donated their time were Dave DeLucia of ImmuRx, Jim Alvarez of Dogbar Ventures, Dan Lynch, an investor and entrepreneur, and Matt Rightmire of Borealis Ventures.