An animated panel on impact investing in education, moderated by Richard Culatta (right), Chief Innovation Officer, State of Rhode Island, former Director of EdTech, USDOE

EdTech Companies from Baltimore’s TU Incubator Triumph at Milken-Penn GSE Competition

Last week availed a milestone for Towson University, TU Incubator, Baltimore EdTech, and, most importantly, a few unique, emerging edtech companies.

Finalists in 2016 Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition

Three (3) TU Incubator member companies were finalists in the 7th annual iteration of the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition at the University of Pennsylvania’s Houston Hall on May 10 and 11, 2016. This nationally prominent competition awards $140,000 in prize money to some of the best education ideas and emerging enterprises in the U.S. and beyond. There were twenty-one (21) finalists from hundreds of applications in Idea Path and Venture Path categories. The room was packed with attendees, panelists, judges, and education innovators exploring all manner of solutions for the betterment of learning, broadly and succinctly writ.

Ian Siegel, SmartyReader co-founder, (left) and Nestor Walker (lead developer) pitching to judges.

Baltimore-based Smarty Reader was a finalist in the Idea Path category and received public commendation for the platform’s usefulness and scale potential. SmartyReader takes the guesswork out of close-reading instruction and offers a limitless supply of Smarticles , close-reading exercises that pair challenging content with critical reading questions and vocabulary acquisition tools. The platform is being piloted by schools, families, tutors, and individual learners to prepare for standardized testing and to otherwise ensure general reading comprehension proficiency.

In the Venture Path category, Baltimore-based Communication APPtitude and OgStar Reading each won a cash prize. As matter of fact, each company’s solution was so compelling and differentiated that Mark Claypool, the CEO of ChanceLight Behavioral Health & Education, and a panel of very experienced judges, could not pick the standout reading winner and therefore split the $20,000 prize into equal parts.

Beth Lawrence (center) and Deena Seifert (right), co-founders of Communication APPtitude

Communication APPtitude (CommAPP), as posited here from a previous post and pictured above, is a company founded by two speech language pathologists, Beth Lawrence and Deena Seifert, who saw a need to scale a better solution to vocabulary instruction. Turns out the need is great, and semantic reasoning is the unique methodology the CommAPP team has patented and is converting into an enterprise solution. The Team’s InferCabulary and WordQuations consumer apps have been used by thousands of paying end users for over a year. Now, the team wants to scale the solution to students, schools, and districts across the U.S.

Stephanie Nislow (left) and Fran Bowman, EdD (right) pitch the OgStar Reading solution

OgStar Reading (OgStar), pictured above, is based on the longstanding work of colleagues Dr. Fran Bowman and Stephanie Nislow. With decades of experience tutoring and counseling thousands of students and families, the Team is building out the famed Orton Gillingham multi-sensory, structured reading methodology into a gamified solution. OgStar employs animated characters who guide you on a reading journey through the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, with vibrant graphics, clear feedback, and exciting rewards.

Thanks to Dr. Bobbi Kurshan and Penn GSE team for pulling off another great competition and conference. Albeit wearing a different hat or two, this was my fourth participation in seven years of Penn GSE’s impactful competition, but it was by leaps and bounds the most rewarding. To witness several Baltimore-based entrepreneurs as finalists, have success pitching, and be lauded publicly for the their efforts and outcomes gives ‘the work’ purpose and meaning. This competition is yet another example of education innovation along the Northeast Corridor, which is, IMHO, one of the best, connected ecosystems on the planet to build, grow, and scale an education enterprise. We, at Towson University and more particularly at TU Incubator, are happy to play our role in fostering education innovation as an entrepreneurial node along the eastern seaboard.

As Towson University’s newly wrought President Kim E. Schatzel is apt to say,

“There’s much to be proud of at Towson University, and there are great things ahead.” 

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