History of The Sprout Fund

For nearly two decades, Sprout’s partnerships with regional and national foundations helped power Pittsburgh’s grassroots response to a wide range of social, environmental, and economic challenges.

Beginnings & Early Success


Created the Seed Award as mechanism for young people to support innovative ideas to make Pittsburgh a better place to live, work, and play. Supported initially by the Richard King Mellon Foundation and Heinz Endowments.


Launched Public Art community murals program to transform the visual landscape and bring communities together around shared goals. Longstanding program supporters were PNC Foundation and Laurel Foundation.

Hosted first Hothouse event, our “live annual report” to the community and annual fundraiser until 2010. It regularly earned “best party” accolades and drew crowds to recent redevelopments.


Partnered with Club Café, The Andy Warhol Museum, and the Brew House Association to activate Pittsburgh in winter through a 3-month series of art, music, and performances.


Issued first RFPs on community-generated topics through Engage Pittsburgh after the Idea Round Up. Lead support provided by Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

Commissioned local artists to design Giant Inflatables that were erected at cultural sites throughout the city to raise awareness about the Pittsburgh Roars marketing campaign.

Growth & Expansion


Stewarded $1 million in Community Connections grants to help citizens take part in regional celebration of Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary. Worked on behalf of Allegheny Conference on Community Development.


Launched Spark program in partnership with The Grable Foundation to forge collaborations between early learning educators and digital media technologists.


Partnered with The Pittsburgh Foundation to support local efforts to enhance biodiversity when Pittsburgh was North American host city for UN World Environment Day.


Celebrated 10th anniversary of organization with TENACITY, a one-night-only performance retrospective from Sprout’s first 10 years of investments in the arts.


Formalized the learning innovation network now called Remake Learning and helped it grow from a hundred people and a few dozen organizations to thousands of teachers, techies, and civic leaders from 500+ regional orgs.

Issued first annual batch of $1,000 innovation grants that would come to be known as Grand Ideas as the conclusion of the year-long Social Innovation Exchange.

Regional & National Leadership


Secured national funding from MacArthur Foundation to establish a Hive and support Connected Learning activities for teens that were interest-driven, peer-supported, and production-centered.


Hosted an international summit in Silicon Valley to focus the attention of educators and employers on the potential of open digital badges—on behalf of MacArthur Foundation and in partnership with Digital Promise.

Established The Digital Corps to deploy trained-mentors into afterschool community centers to help improve digital literacy skills. Supported by The Grable Foundation and part of the Mozilla global community.

Piloted the use of digital badges to recognize learning and achievement through support from The Hillman Foundation. Defined shared competencies for the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of 21st century learning.


Empowered residents to take action in their communities and advance the One Northside community vision through support from The Buhl Foundation.

Published the Remake Learning Playbook to help other communities create effective regional networks for teaching and learning with support from The Grable Foundation.


Facilitated a White House event on behalf of the Office of Science & Technology Policy to discuss ways to apply maker learning principles and reimagine underutilized municipal assets.

Partnered with City of Pittsburgh on Rec2Tech to demonstrate the potential for municipal rec centers as 21st century learning labs with lead support from Comcast NBCUniversal.

Applied Sprout’s strategies for participatory events and knowledge management through national community work on behalf of LRNG and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Final Years


Used $100,000 of our organizational reserves to fund local solutions to pressing national issues during the first 100 Days of the new presidential administration.

Called on communities to create posters and yard signs in support of immigrants and refugees and convey the important idea that Pittsburgh is a place where we all belong.

Led a digital literacy collaborative for My Brother’s Keeper on behalf of the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County with support from The Heinz Endowments.

Helped regions like Springfield, Ohio, and the Research Triangle in North Carolina remix Sprout’s effective network approach and build their own learning innovation ecosystems.


Mobilized 3 working groups to develop collaborative solutions that expand economic opportunity in the region through support from the BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Announced plans to sunset the organization after 17 successful years. Published Last Will & Testament and Field Guides to document our practices. Made last round of grants to support individuals to carry forward Sprout’s ideals.