Pius X wins big in Shark Tank-style event; funds for Aboriginal antenatal program

PITCHERS: Pius X's Ros Rose, second from left, with Ryan McCathie (Hunter Rehabilitation and Health), Maz Dargan (Orange Sky Laundry), Pauline Carrigan (Upper Hunter Where There’s a Will) and Esther Sole (Orange Sky Laundry).

PITCHERS: Pius X's Ros Rose, second from left, with Ryan McCathie (Hunter Rehabilitation and Health), Maz Dargan (Orange Sky Laundry), Pauline Carrigan (Upper Hunter Where There’s a Will) and Esther Sole (Orange Sky Laundry).

MOREE’s Pius X has walked away with $47,500 after a Shark Tank-style event where audience members were given $1600 to invest as they saw fit.

The Innov8 Pitch Night was hosted by Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network (HNECC PHN) in Newcastle late last week.

Every person had four envelopes representing $400 to put into whichever – or all – of the four featured local health projects that captured their attention.

Pius X clinical program manager Ros Rose pitched to continue a pilot program that addresses the high rate of low-birthweight babies born to Aboriginal mums in Moree, Mungindi and Toomelah.

She and the three other finalists had six minutes to pitch their program, followed by six minutes to answer audience members’ questions.

Pius X clinical program manager Ros Rose's pitch. Video: HNECC PHN

Mrs Rose said her legs were shaking as she spoke in front of the 100-plus people who would decide the fate of her initiative.

“Submission writing is so easy compared to standing up in front of a crowd and telling your story,” she said.

“That was the terrifying part; you didn’t know whether you were going to be successful or not.

“They took us into another room when the bidding started, so we had no idea what the audience members were doing.

“When we walked back in the room and got told in front of the whole crowd, I did a little victory dance – well, I don’t actually remember it, but I think I did.”

PHN strategic initiatives manager Kevin Rigby said it was “a great evening of passionate storytelling”.

“We received 48 funding submissions and we were looking for grassroots organisations that were offering projects or improved access to those most marginalised and disadvantaged in the community,” Mr Rigby said.

Why is the Pius X program important?

Mrs Rose said the rate of babies born underweight in the Moree, Mungindi and Toomelah area was 6.1 per cent, compared to the NSW average of 1.6 per cent.

She said low-birthweight babies “get a poor start in life”.

“When babies are born below 2500g, it can influence their growth and mental development, and puts them at greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity and hypertension later in life,” she said.

Some of the causes of low birthweight were mothers’ low socioeconomic status, smoking, poor diet and nutrition, lack of access to fresh fruit and veggies, and limited cooking skills.

Mrs Rose said the pilot program had run from March to June, helping about 35 teens and young women across the towns.

It was facilitated by Aboriginal health worker Cheryl Hammond, and gave the girls and women access to doctors, midwives, nurses, drug and alcohol counsellors, and dietitians.

They also received a car baby seat.

While it was too early to measure its impact on birthweights, Mrs Rose said the feedback had been “excellent”.

The pitch night funds will keep the program going for another six months – and allow participants to receive a multi-purpose cooking pan as well as a car seat.

Then, Mrs Rose said, she would need to look for more funding.

“Hopefully some philanthropic person will come along will come along and say, ‘Here, Ros’,” she said.

“We all live in hope.”

Why Shark Tank-style?

Mr Rigby said the PHN decided to host the night to distribute its funds that had been allocated for seeding innovative projects.

“It was community giving with grant money that we had available,” he said.

“It was built on the concepts of live crowdfunding [such as by The Funding Network] but with the audience not needing to take money out of their own pocket.”

INNOV8 Pitch Night highlights. Video: HNECC PHN

The people with the ‘money’ were representatives from health, business, council, non-government organisations, Indigenous and education groups in the PHN area.

Mr Rigby said they had been chosen as a cross-section of regions and sectors.

It was hoped that involving these people in deciding what to fund would have a “ripple effect”.

“They will have an emotional connection and really have an input into the programs,” he said.

“I think it builds better community resilience and true community impact.

“The ones that are there in the room are local and ... can see the benefit for their community.

“The spin-off of having those people in the room is it builds capacity for those grassroots organisations to keep looking for funds [through the networks they built on the night].”

The four finalists and their pitch night pledges:

  • Pius X Aboriginal Corporation – an antenatal initiative for Aboriginal women in disadvantaged communities in north west NSW ($47,500)
  • Orange Sky Australia – addressing health access for homeless people on the Central Coast and Newcastle ($38,600)
  • Hunter Rehabilitation and Health – research and accessibility for a new model of treatment for children with cystic fibrosis ($28,200)
  • Upper Hunter Where There’s a Will – a community-led youth mental health educational model ($48,600)
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