UPenn GSE Pitch Fest Hands out $140K in Prizes
Ten startups, including five that are still more powerpoint than product, shared $140,000 in prize money at the sixth annual Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition, held last week in Philadelphia.
New York City-based Kinvolved won the top prize of $40,000. Co-founded in 2012 by former Teach for America educator, Alexandra Meis and parent advocate, Miriam Altman, Kinvolved, much as the name suggests, is an app that aims to improve student attendance by bolstering their family involvement through sharing more information about what's happening in school.
Mosa Mack Science, of Brooklyn, NY, won one of the $20,000 "venture" prizes, as well as a bonus $1,000 when it was named the "audience choice." Mosa Mack is a platform for teaching science, starring an (animated) girl of color character, who uses scientific thinking to solve mysteries.
Additional venture winners were:
- AdapTac Games, of Darien, CT, which is building research-based games that help special needs students (notably those suffering from ADHD) develop skills and persistence;
- Byndr, of Conshohocken, PA and India, is building a mobile-first learning management system for higher education aimed at universities, particularly those in India and other emerging markets.
- Code Monkey, of Tel Aviv, Israel, teaches students aged 9-16 to code using an engaging online game that teaches a real-world programming language. Code Monkey is currently used in half of the schools in Israel.
Companies still in gestation participated in what the GSE program dubbed the "idea path." The top $10,000 prize in this category went to Yenko, of Brooklyn, NY. Yenko is building a mobile platform that uses real-time data around academic performance and financial data to help low-income college students stay on track. Education Modified, also from Brooklyn, NY, creates research-based portfolios that support teachers crafting personalized solutions for special needs students; it captured both a $2,000 Idea prize, as well as the audience favorite for this segment of the conference (a $1,000 prize through crowd voting.
Other Ideal Prizes (each $2,000/apiece) were awarded to:
- ActualizeMe, of Philadelphia, PA, a digital platform to help high school students discover a career path.
- Course Lab, of Wilmington, DE, an interactive syllabus creation and content sharing platform to improve college-level teaching.
- JournalUp, of Philadelphia, PA, an online journaling program for seventh- and eighth grade students with interactive feedback.
The prize money is donated by a collection of organizations, starting with the Milken Family Foundation. Other significant supporters include: the ACT, American Public University System, Educational Services of America, K12 Inc., McGraw-Hill Education, Microsoft, TSL Education, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The conference held one deeply sad note, as well: Apprenet, a previous graduate of the UPenn GSE program, whose software helps instructors build effective video-based learning exercises, was scheduled to take part in the first panel of the day. Team members learned to their horror that the startup's chief executive, Rachel Jacobs, was one of the eight people killed when the Amtrak train derailed on its way into Philadelphia on Tuesday evening before the session.