Freedom Greens and Gardens won the nod from the judges and the audience, scoring $17,500

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When Nicole Kenney found out her project won $10,000 in the Well City Challenge, she was literally speechless. It took her nearly 30 seconds to find her voice and start thanking people, as hundreds watched eagerly on Zoom.

With the win, the West Philadelphia native also scored a spot in the Well City Accelerator, which will help her develop and grow “Hey Auntie!” into something that can help even more Philly millennials thrive via multi-generational conversations.

She’ll be joined by the other judges’ panel winners — Jiana Murdic, for community gardening program Freedom Greens and Gardens, and McKenzie Nash, for barber shop mental health program Shear Balance — plus two People’s Choice winners, which were announced Tuesday.

As part of the social impact platform launched by the Economy League and Independence Blue Cross last winter, regular folks got to vote for their favorite pitch of each category, awarding them $7,500 and a place in the accelerator.

One of the audience winners ended up being the same as the judges’ selection: Freedom Greens and Gardens, for which Murdic now has a total of $17,500 in new seed funding.

The other two were new: Immigrant connection project Let’s Talk Philly Conversation Circles, and running community group Strides.

For these five winners, even more funding is at stake: as they work through the accelerator, they’ll compete to earn the grand prize: a $50,000 investment in their organization.

Hundreds attend ‘Shark Tank’-style pitch events

Fifteen finalists had been vying for the opportunity, spending weeks preparing for the trio of pitch events last week. Nearly 1,000 people registered to attend the virtual gatherings.

The competitions were held in the style of “Shark Tank,” the popular ABC venture capital show. Finalists pre-recorded video pitches that explained their idea and what got them started. Then they showed up live, answering one question from each of three judges. Lastly, audience members had two minutes to ask their questions.

Time was up when the bell commanded the room with its startling ring.

Day one was ideas from the Community and Social Connection group. Each idea pitched was based on networking and creating social interactions with others. The winning team of Community and Social Connection was, in fact, the first pitch of the competition, Hey Auntie!

Hey Auntie! was created by Nicole Kenney, who experienced first-hand the different barriers black women face in different areas. She created a matching service for millennial women to meet seasoned women and discuss love, work, life, and everything else.

People’s Choice winner Let’s Talk Philly Conversation Circles was in this competition too. In partnership with The Welcoming Center, the idea offers immigrant millennials a chance to improve their English and immigrant wellness through conversation.

Day two was the Food and Nutrition pitch competition, with all ideas relating to food and building healthy and nutritious relationships. Comments swarmed in during this session — but in the end, the Freedom Greens and Gardens Project caught both the audience and the judges’ eyes to take both crowns.

Jiana Murdic created the idea to increase black millennials’ wellness by using West Philadelphia resources to help transition to a plant-based lifestyle. Murdic makes home delivery boxes and teaches virtual cooking classes.

Day three brought the contestants in the Mind/Body category, with projects dedicated to providing relief and education for mental health and wellness. McKenzie Nash won the judges over with Shear Balance, a program designated to provide knowledge about mental health awareness to beauty salons and barbershops.

Takia McClendon and her running shoes took the people’s choice for the Mind/Body category. Strides combines running and circuit training for well-balanced workouts to improve one’s health and get them in shape.