Michigan school innovation contest awards $20,000 to ideas in STEM, world exploration, and life skills

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LANSING, Mich. — Educators from Stockbridge, Ann Arbor, and Livonia have been chosen as the winners of the Michigan EdTech Innovation Pitch Contest, sharing $20,000 in business startup grants and legal and creative startup assistance. The concepts developed from the three winning pitches will be used to improve Michigan classrooms through innovation, technology, and firsthand educator experience. 

“As an investor, we actually see being an educator as a huge plus. That is a sign that you understand the space, and we all know this ecosystem is so complex and it really is a huge plus that you have that experience behind you,” explained Rachael Lee, a contest judge from GSV Ventures. “We want to see teachers creating these startups.” 

The first-place prize went to Robert Richards, a science teacher in Stockbridge who will receive $10,000 in business startup grant funding, plus branding and logo design support, and legal consultation for QB-Sat, a satellite-launch STEM kit and curriculum focused on engineering and space exploration. 

“QB-Sat provides an aerospace education curriculum that allows students to build a QB-sat following a blueprint type format, build the kits, and then provides the opportunity to launch them into space or fly them by other means such as drones or high altitude balloons,” said Richards. “We’re working with NASA Globe and putting together a curriculum to be funded by the National Science Foundation to provide QB-Sats for students around the world. Further, we’ve secured an orbital launch and will be going to space in the first quarter of 2023.” 

The second-place winner went to Garret Potter from Ann Arbor, who created Everstory, an audio/visual encyclopedia exploration environment for early learners. He will receive $6,000 in business startup grant funding, plus logo design support and legal consultation. 

“I asked my students what they wanted to learn most – one said ‘all the countries, and continents, and oceans!’ and 13 of my 23 students spoke two languages at home, so understanding the world we live in was their highest priority, but even the state’s most progressive social studies curriculum would not take them where they wanted to go,” explained Potter. “What if children had a resource they wanted to turn to before learning to read, where they could explore their curiosity on their own?” 

The third-place winner went to Angela Jenkins and Julie Hamrick, teachers based in Livonia, who presented Selective, an online learning tool that integrates social emotional learning with academic practice. Selective will receive $4,000 in business startup grant funding, plus logo design support and legal consultation. 

“Research shows that 85% of job success comes from well-developed soft and people skills. Therefore, teachers must include opportunities to develop these skills during class,” explained Hamrick. “After decades of focusing on cooperation and group work in education, the current ed-tech products we find most useful for practicing academics in classrooms concentrate on independent learning, which does not provide interaction, foster connection, or facilitate communication.” 

The Michigan EdTech Innovation Pitch Contest is the result of a partnership between Michigan State’s Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Spartan Innovations, a subsidiary of MSU Foundation, and Michigan Virtual, to bring educators’ ideas to life on ways to solve common classroom problems. Branding and legal support is being donated by Michigan Creative and Foster Swift

“I was totally blown away with every pitch today. There are educators out there sitting on ideas like this, to make the world a better place, and they just haven’t had an opportunity like this to share it,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of Michigan Virtual and a pitch contest judge. “Hopefully this will serve as an incentive and an inspiration for those teachers.”

The contest was open from April 4 through May 13, and finalists were notified in late May. All contest participants are eligible to attend a free Innovation Bootcamp the week of July 18. The Bootcamp is designed to help participants further explore and develop a business model around their idea while also introducing them to resources and supports that are available to entrepreneurs and innovators in Michigan, as well as opportunities to bring entrepreneurial and innovation lessons into schools and classrooms

To learn more about the contest and upcoming Bootcamp, visit michiganvirtual.org/pitch.

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About Michigan Virtual

Michigan Virtual™ (formally known as Michigan Virtual University®) provides online courses for Michigan students, professional development for educators and is the parent organization of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute®. As a nonprofit organization with more than 20 years of experience, Michigan Virtual is Michigan’s leading voice in online education. Visit us at michiganvirtual.org.

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