First Lady Announces Grand Prize Winner

Today the First Lady Michelle Obama announced ThinkZone Games as the grand prize winner in the Reach Higher Career App Challenge! ThinkZone Games will receive $100,000 and additional sponsor prizes valued at $300,000 for their career exploration mobile app Hats & Ladders.

Hats & Ladders engages students from middle to high school with swipe-to-choose self-assessments, connected activities, and mini-challenges. By providing repeat exposure to a broad spectrum of careers, it enables students to draw connections between their personal attributes and multiple pathways to career success.

After their selection as a Challenge finalist, ThinkZone Games and the other 4 finalists participated in an intensive 6-week Virtual Accelerator phase to refine their business model and develop a working prototype. During this phase, they were supported by mentors with expertise in mobile design, business modeling, civic tech, and career counseling. The accelerator phase culminated with Demo Day on July 7 in Washington D.C., where ThinkZone Games presented Hats & Ladders to the Challenge judges and leaders from the private and public sector, including Megan Smith, CTO of the United States, and Eric Waldo, Executive Director of the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative. With their prize money, ThinkZone Games will complete development in preparation for a pilot with 50 middle schools in early 2017.

“The Challenge inspired us to create a new app that helps students begin figuring out who they are and what they want to be, in a way that’s connected to their everyday lives and takes advantage of opportunities and information already out there,” said Leah Potter, Director for Instructional Design for ThinkZone Games. “It provided us with just the assistance we needed to strengthen virtually every aspect of Hats & Ladders.”

The team behind Hats & Ladders at Demo Day in Washington, D.C.

The team behind Hats & Ladders at Demo Day in Washington, D.C.


The tools that emerged from this Challenge demonstrate the exciting potential for new technologies to help students map pathways to promising careers. All finalists will be invited to the Code for America Summit this November where they will join government innovators, civic-minded technologists, and entrepreneurs with a passion for building 21st century government.

We look forward to following ThinkZone Games and the other Challenge finalists over the next year as they finish developing their technologies.

Congratulations to all!