Photo Credit: Steph Chambers for the Post-Gazette.

Meet: Kim Eckel, founder of Footbridge for Families

We want you to meet Kim Eckel, founder of Footbridge for Families. Footbridge is the very first non-profit organization to go through an AlphaLab cohort. This was made possible by a generous grant from the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania. Footbridge was also the 2020 winner of the BNY Mellon UpPrize Social Impact Challenge . Read on to learn more about Kim and her inspiration for Footbridge!

Q: Please introduce yourself. What is your background? In your own words, what is the mission of your organization, Footbridge for Families?

A: I’m Kim Cauley Eckel, a “boomerang” who grew up in Shaler/Hampton and returned to Point Breeze eight years ago with my husband Ryan to raise our own family, which now consists of three kids and a quarantine-pup! I’ve been blessed with a fulfilling and somewhat eclectic career path that enabled me to pursue degrees at Yale, Oxford, and Boston College and accumulate job experiences ranging from business management consulting to academia to government administration. Footbridge exists so that those who want to give — corporations, health insurance plans, government entities, individuals — have an incredibly efficient way of helping families in a way that can save millions of dollars. It also exists so that families have an intervention that meets them where they are — through a trusted relationship — and offers them concrete, uncomplicated, rapid support when they need it the most in a way built to prioritize their dignity.

Q: Footbridge for Families provides real-time financial support for families in distress. Footbridge’s mission is even more crucial during a global pandemic. How do you see the role of your organization shifting?

A: We’re spending more time helping families navigate both new programming that they may be eligible for and the applications for existing programming that have new parameters in light of COVID-19.

Q: UpPrize’s mission is to help southwestern Pennsylvania nonprofits, for-profits, and social entrepreneurs create positive social returns with purpose-driven innovation. How does Footbridge for Families fit into that mission?

A: Footbridge pursued innovation in order to create positive social returns.

Q: Footbridge for Families was awarded $150,000 in grants from BNY Mellon as the first place winner of UpPrize 2020. What do you plan to do with those resources?

A: I fought for the UpPrize win — and it certainly was a rigorous experience — because I had spent 1–2 years previously researching what it would take to build the Footbridge platform; even philanthropically-minded developers were quoting me $15,000, at a minimum, to build it out.

Following the UpPrize win, the pandemic hit. Although my Department of Health Services responsibilities increased considerably during this time, I also knew that families would be facing the kinds of situations that had inspired me to build Footbridge — tenfold. [In addition to her work with Footbridge, Kim is the Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Allegheny County’s Office of Children, Youth and Families.] An amazing team of volunteers rallied around me to help build out the organization such that we now have ironed through our business processes through a pilot and moved to a tech platform that should support our plans for national growth.

The funds that I had originally squirreled away for IT will now be spent on staff who can help get the word out about the important work that we are doing and oversee the growth of Footbridge, as we formally launch this winter, leaving start-up days behind.

Q: As the first non-profit organization cohort participant, what was your experience like going through the AlphaLab accelerator program? What were some of your takeaways?

A: The AlphaLab accelerator program gave me the confidence I needed as CEO to manage a team of volunteers in getting us to where we are today. It also helped me realize how much I love entrepreneurship. I’m excited to move away from setting up operations to strategically thinking about growth and sustainability, and I suspect that the dividends of participating in AlphaLab will pay out considerably in 2021, as I’m able to leverage introductions and relationships.

Q: What is the future for Footbridge for Families? What’s next?

A: Now that our business model is scalable, we’re going to scale with the resources we have and going to spend 2021 determining how we can sustain and grow our work.

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