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First KERNEL Social Innovation Fund Grants Awarded at KERNEL LIVE!

United Way of Tarrant County is thrilled to have delivered an evening to remember Nov. 2 with the inaugural KERNEL LIVE! event, where three organizations were awarded the first grants from United Way’s new KERNEL social innovation fund. Held in downtown Fort Worth at the Four Day Weekend Theater, this unique event was the result of cross sector collaboration to advance social innovation, entrepreneurship and positive impact to the community. KERNEL LIVE! combined social innovation and improvisational comedy to create an engaging and entertaining evening for the audience, judges and finalists.

Inspired by the TV show Shark Tank, six finalists from a field of 27 applicants pitched creative solutions to critical social issues before five judges and a live audience. When the award envelopes were opened, three creative ventures walked away with more money to grow their social innovations:
kam-phillips_dream-outside-the-boxDream Outside the Box, the top awardee, received $15,000 for Dream Delivered, a program that delivers career exploration boxes to children living in what Founder and “Chief Executive Dreamer” Kam Phillips (shown here) calls “dream deserts.”



kirsten-ham_presbyterian-night-shelterPresbyterian Night Shelter’s new Clean Slate program, a group of social enterprises that provides employment for the homeless, was awarded $10,000. Clean Slate also earned the Fort Worth Weekly People’s Choice Award, based on audience voting after all of the finalists presented. The award included an in-depth feature article in the Nov. 16-22 issue of the publication and tickets to the 2016 Margarita Ball. Kirsten Ham (shown here) is Presbyterian Night Shelter Director of Social Enterprise Programs.


corinne-weaver_david-rush_catholic-charities-fw$10,000 went to Catholic Charities Fort Worth for a Fort Worth Children’s Savings Account Pilot Program that will help low-income students and parents save for college and receive financial education. Making the pitch for the program at KERNEL LIVE! were Corinne Weaver, Catholic Charities Director of Evaluation and Research; and educator David Rush.


The awardees were announced by a trio of hilarious emcees from the Four Day Weekend improv group, who themselves are an example of entrepreneurial chutzpah, having pulled up stakes in Dallas and moved to Fort Worth where they built an international reputation based on being open to any and all possibilities. (The key to their success, they shared with the audience, was replacing “no, but” with “yes, and” in their professional and personal lives.)

Start-up incubators TechFW and IDEA Works FW partnered with United Way of Tarrant County for KERNEL LIVE! and are continuing to assist all six finalists with coaching and mentorship.  As finalists, all presenters were invited to Start-Up Weekend, a 54-hour event where developers, designers and business development folks come together to pitch an idea and launch a business, all in one weekend. KERNEL finalists also receive sessions on what it means to be entrepreneurial in a nonprofit, which will be led by Michael Sherrod, the William M. Dickey Entrepreneur in Residence and Director of the TCU/Coleman Entrepreneurship Fellows Program at the TCU Neeley School of Business.

Audience members, supporters and finalists all agreed that the event was a great success and felt that KERNEL was a great way to bring social innovation to the forefront in Tarrant County. TD Smyers, Chief Operating Officer at United Way of Tarrant County exclaimed, “The inaugural KERNEL LIVE! was an enormous success for us, but more for the community we serve. We’re looking forward to an even better event next year!”

United Way of Tarrant County started KERNEL this year to find and grow new solutions to local social problems in the areas of education, income and health. It brought together a cross-section of individuals, organizations, non-profits, for-profits and entrepreneurs. Learn more by visiting