Meet the Finalists: Q&A with the Pinellas Education Foundation

This post is part of a special “Meet the Finalists” series, featuring Q&A with the five Reach Higher Career App Challenge finalists.

As we count down to Demo Day next Thursday, July 7th, we’re thrilled to kick off our Meet the Finalists blog post series with the Pinellas Education Foundation, the team behind Future Plans®. Future Plans® is a career discovery app that assesses student aptitudes and interests to map educational pathways with in-demand career choices. The app guides students through a decision matrix to evaluate career alternatives and offers career preparation tools such as resume building, job interview tips, and job-hunting videos.

Why is this Challenge important to you? What inspired you to work on this type of app?

The Pinellas Education Foundation is committed to enhancing educational experiences for the students in our community of Pinellas County, Florida. In fact, Junior Achievement’s programs Biz Town and Finance Park originated from the Pinellas Education Foundation’s Enterprise Village and Finance Park programs, for fifth and eighth graders, respectively. The Reach Higher Challenge presented a terrific opportunity for us to expand our newly developed Future Plans® career and college planning tool, aimed at high schoolers, to a wider audience beyond Florida. We share the Reach Higher Challenge’s goal to inspire students to take charge of their futures, and the app represents a perfect platform to reach this audience.

What have been your biggest challenges and successes in developing your app?

Our biggest challenge has been determining the specific functions within the mobile app, and how to streamline and partner those features with the online Future Plans® tool. Time is a challenge because all of our schools, students, and other current customers have already expressed high demand for Future Plans® in a mobile app – “they wanted it yesterday!” While our app is still in development, our biggest success has been the positive feedback we have received from Reach Higher mentors, who have shared their confidence in our product, affirming our decision-making to date. Our involvement with Reach Higher has encouraged us to scale up and think big. We started building a new website, hired a director, formed an LLC, invested in new demand software via partnership with CareerSource Florida, and signed a contract with WestEd.

Your team has now completed the Virtual Accelerator, which included expert mentorship and curated learning modules. What’s the biggest insight you’ve uncovered through this process so far?

Participating in the Virtual Accelerator program has been an incredible learning opportunity for us. Our biggest insight has been the helpful feedback from mentors, including specific suggestions related to mobile technology (Sian Morson), use of data (Natalie Harris & Michael Koetting), and guidance on developing a sustainable business model. Feedback from guidance counselors Kim Reykdal and Katherine Pastor was invaluable and Alex Gloss provided key feedback on the importance of focusing on non-college bound audiences and making Future Plans® available to young adults and adult users. Mentor feedback helped us identify canned report options and enabled us to make counselor-friendly edits, increase job listings, and undertake a cultural bias validation.

What else do you hope to learn at Demo Day?

We hope to gain feedback from the Reach Higher panel of judges on how we can best hone Future Plans® to help guide students as they navigate their career and college planning during and after high school. We hope to learn that we successfully utilized all of the important guidance and feedback given from the mentors throughout this experience to make improvements, learn, grow, and market a comprehensive, college and career readiness planning tool. We are very grateful for this opportunity and look forward to July 7th.