Virtual Accelerator Wraps Up with Demo Day on July 7th!

Over the past six weeks, the five finalists have completed the Virtual Accelerator phase of the Challenge in preparation for Demo Day, tomorrow Thursday, July 7th at the White House, where they’ll compete for the $100,000+ grand prize.

As the finalists iterated their solutions in preparation for Demo Day, each team worked with mentors with expertise in design, business modeling, civic tech, and career counseling.

We’d like to extend a huge thank you to our Challenge mentors, who generously participated in one-on-one sessions to help the finalists refine, test, and improve their solutions:

  • Alex Gloss, Graduate Research Fellow, National Science Foundation
  • Natalie Evans Harris, Senior Policy Advisor, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Michael Koetting, Director of Corporate & Business Development, Civitas Learning
  • Sian Morson, Founder & CEO, Kollective Mobile
  • Kat Pastor, School Counselor, Flagstaff High School
  • Kim Reykdal, Career & College Counselor, Olympia High School

The finalists also participated in four fantastic learning modules, where they had access to insights and advice from fellow innovators, industry experts, future customers, and the eventual end-users: students themselves.

Highlights included sessions with founders who have deep experience building for students. Tiffany Chow and Annie Mais told the story of Roadtrip Nation, which started with an idea and a van, and today is a large-scale education business that helps students explore careers. Mark Milliron from Civitas Learning offered first-hand expertise on taking an ed tech solution from concept to business in a session that covered funding considerations, identifying your user, and how to weigh partnership options during growth. These experts provided invaluable advice and lessons learned on how to take a product to market.

The finalists also heard from experts from both the private sector and government to help guide them in integrating data into their solutions. Elise Smith and Hayley Yudelman from IBM Watson demonstrated how cognitive computing can help personalize student tools, and data experts from the U.S. Department of Education guided teams through the open data resources.

During another module, finalists focused on user empathy. Sessions brought the finalists closer to understanding the needs, fears, and dreams of their users, and helped pressure test their assumptions. They heard from experts from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) and participated in a live feedback session with high school students from Code/Interactive to gain a deeper understanding of how their current solution meets (or failed to meet) the expectations of their audience.

And finally, they dove deeper into how constraints can be an asset to great design. Terri Youngblood and Don Barrett introduced finalists to the concept of design for all. Through a detailed overview of accessibility features and a live demonstration, Terri and Don helped finalists understand how various user groups could be better served and how finalists could test their apps for accessibility.

It’s been a busy few months! Thank you again to all the experts who contributed to the Virtual Accelerator phase. Your experience and insights have had immeasurable impact on our ultimate goal of helping students realize their career dreams.

Want to see what happens next? Follow along during Demo Day tomorrow at @EdPrizes and stay tuned for the winner announcement later this summer!