New fund to award innovation grants for projects addressing community’s biggest human care issues

United Way, in partnership with The Primerica Foundation, The Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia, Partnership Gwinnett, the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services and the Atlanta Community Food Bank will host the 2016 Spark Prize event in Gwinnett County for community innovators* who are creating new ways to make Gwinnett county the best community it can be by addressing solutions in income, education, health and homelessness.

We are pleased to announce the finalists selected to compete for the top SPARK Prize on April 28th!


Care Closet | Lauren Seroyer (student at Peachtree Ridge High School)
CULTIVANDO!: Youth Program | Gardens4Growing Community
MHS Community Garden | Meadowcreek High School
Path Project: FCA Soccer | The Path Project
Ready By Five | Interlocking Communities, Inc.
Transaction Intercept | Street Grace

Selecting just six finalists from among so many excellent submissions was very difficult – they were all very impressive. Those interested in viewing video appliation entries can visit the Spark Prize Gwinnett You Tube here and give a “like” to their favorites.

Final pitches can be seen live at Primerica on Thursday, April 28th from 6-8 PM. This will be a community event and is free and open to the public. Click here to RSVP today to join us and learn more about Gwinnett’s key focus areas and what we can do to make our community the best it can be!

About SPARK Prize

It’s easy to apply!

  1. Submit a 3-5 minute video explaining your idea, your partnership and the problem you are attempting to solve.
  2. Videos must be submitted to our Wistia Project Folder Click here for access

    IMPORTANT: Please note, after you upload your video, the site has a pop up box that asks for your login credentials, please IGNORE. Login credentials are not needed for your video to be successfully uploaded.

  3. Click here to download and fill out our registration form then Email completed form to Tracy Christian along with a copy of your IRS tax determination (exempt) letter.

Deadline for all video submissions is March 1, 2016 by midnight.
*(Video does not have to be professionally recorded, cell phone/digital camera videos are highly encouraged.)

Would you like more information? Our webinar materials are available here.

Important dates:

United Way will hold 4 one-hour information sessions for interested applicants. Attendance is not required to apply, but is highly encouraged. Contact: to rsvp
Feb. 4, 2016 – 9 AM Conference Call
Feb. 9, 2016 – 4 PM Information session (webinar)
Feb. 19, 2016 – 9 AM, Information session (webinar)
Feb. 22, 2016 – 12-1 PM, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Room, Information session
March 1, 2016 – Deadline for video submission
April 1, 2016 – Finalists chosen
April 28, 2016 – Shark Tank-style pitches will be presented live from 6-8 PM at Primerica’s campus in Duluth. Prizes will be awarded and a celebratory reception will follow.


How much is the award?

These are micro grants that will help communities test an innovative idea. Requests can be made in any amount up to $25,000. Awards will be given based on the ability of the applicants to demonstrate a clear project plan, demonstration of sustainability beyond the award, and clear use of the funds.

How many awards will be made?

The number of awards will be based on the dollars requested and investor interests. Ultimately, the investors will determine which ideas they want to invest in. All ideas that are presented at the conference will be eligible for funding and have an opportunity for crowd-funding from the community.

Who is eligible?

Any individual, group or organization that has an innovative idea can apply with special consideration for organizations with a budget under $3,000,000. Spark Prize applicants must be either located in Gwinnett County and serve Gwinnett residents, or or located outside Gwinnett and serve Gwinnett residents. All applicants must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or a community group that has an affiliation with a registered 501(c)(3) that will serve as its fiscal agent. Applicants are not required to be a United Way of Greater Atlanta partner agency.

Is this funding renewable?

This funding supports 9-12 month projects. There is currently no commitment being made for additional funding. Having a nonprofit or small business partner may help with consideration for sustainability.

How will award winners be selected?
  • All videos will be reviewed by a panel of community leaders, including entrepreneurs, nonprofit service leaders, issue experts and others who will be vetting ideas for:
    • Creativity/Innovation – ability to demonstrate creativity, new or unconventional thinking
    • Solution Oriented – clearly articulated need with goals that directly address a particular community/social problem, removes barriers that individuals and families have in accessing services, or increases efficiencies in how services are provided to individuals and families
    • Thoughtful Implementation – feasibility of the implementation plan (sufficient resources, feasible scope of work and timeline, clear goals and objectives)
    • Leverage/Sustainability – Ability to use funds to leverage additional skills, expertise, human capital and other resources to ensure project’s success and long term viability (Examples: engage 100 community volunteers, 25 hrs. in-kind web development expertise, or $2,000 matching funds)
  • Finalists will be selected from the larger pool of applicants and will be required to submit a three page proposal and a formal presentation at the April 28 event. Presentation on April 28 event is required to be considered for awards.
  • The final winners will be selected by a panel of investors live at the Primerica campus on April 28, 2016 from 6-8 PM using a set of criteria. The final scores will also take into consideration online voting from the broader community. Votes will be based on applicants’ ability to promote their video submission and receive the most ‘likes.’
Why is Spark Prize Gwinnett being offered now?

United Way of Greater Atlanta and our partners are committed to solving complex community problems and building a community of leaders who are continuously looking for innovative and creative solutions. The Spark Prize awards grew out of listening to our stakeholders – both nonprofit agencies and donors. They both expressed a desire to support innovative and collaborative ideas. United Way has offered similar opportunities (Dare to Forget the Box) that were more suited for large organizations and recognized that small nonprofit agencies face the same limited resources to innovate. By partnering with these esteemed organizations and community stakeholders we are allowed to extend our reach and demonstrate a collaborative impact as we move the needle to positively impact the well-being of children and families.

Why invest in small nonprofits?

Innovation often emerges from small, nimble organizations, but their creativity and innovative solutions can lay dormant because of lack of flexible resources. We must empower people to be innovators and assist leaders to accelerate solutions. This award is designed to reward organizations with budgets of less than $3,000,000 who provide direct service within the Gwinnett County.

Can the prize be for planning or research?

The Spark Prize is designed to reward individuals and organizations that have already spent some time planning and are ready to move into testing their idea. There should be a well thought out concept. The prize supports projects that can be implemented within 9-12 months of the award. Additionally, all funded projects will need to have clear milestones of progress and measures of success that show the impact on individuals and families.

How do I know if I have a truly innovative idea?
  • Our best experience is to test your idea with a wide variety of people and practice making your “pitch.” This will help to refine your idea and allow you to master your presentation.
  • Do a little research. As you look to apply your idea, see if anything similar exists already, here in our region or in other communities. It will also be important that you have a good understanding of the problem that your idea solves.
  • Determine what type of innovation you are proposing. United Way will categorize proposals using the following definitions:
    • Core – these types of innovation optimize existing services or functions. These innovations are usually incremental and leverages existing assets to yield a meaningful improvement in results. Often the new idea if successful will become incorporated as a standard within the organization.
    • Expansion – these types of innovation enhance or expand existing services and may have some characteristics of core and transformational innovations. Expansion innovations may use existing assets to engage with clients differently or use volunteers in a new way. These might also be initiatives from another arena that have not been applied to your organization or within your community.
    • Transformational – these innovations represent a breakthrough or significantly change how a service or function is delivered. The initiative disrupts the norm and suggests new ways of meeting a need or engaging clients that requires the organization to develop new capacities – bring on new skills.
How will these projects be supported?
  • Organizations will be provided ongoing project monitoring – to ensure progress is made towards project deliverables
  • Coaches and other capacity building strategies will be offered to help the organization embed a culture of innovation.

Finalists that go on to the pitches will be required to submit a 3 page proposal and will receive support with improving their presentations and implementation plans.

* Spark Prize applicants must be either located in Gwinnett County and serve Gwinnett residents, or located outside Gwinnett and serve Gwinnett residents. All applicants must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or a community group that has an affiliation with a registered 501(c)(3) that will serve as its fiscal agent.