Inaugural Goldman Prize Competition Seeks to Improve Education Through Innovation

  • On Sept. 25, the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and Pitt Innovation Institute hosted the inaugural Goldman Prize Competition for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Education. Sponsored by a gift from Pitt alumni and educational entrepreneurs Richard and Renée Goldman, the contest awarded $30,000 in prizes to three companies with plans to transform educational practices in and out of the classroom. The contest is part of an ongoing effort on behalf of the Goldmans to support educational entrepreneurship and Pitt's School of Education.
  • Participants of the inaugural Goldman Prize Competition for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Education. Left to right: Alan Lesgold, former dean of Pitt School of Education and moderator; Mary Margaret Kerr, Pitt professor and co-founder of Triple Note; Laurel Chiappetta, Pitt instructor and Triple Note co-founder; Richard Goldman, contest co-founder; Alicia Johnson, counselor at the Falk School and The Future of Belonging founder; Barbara Hasson, Pitt alumnus and founder of Through the Coach's Eye; Mahender Mandala, Pitt assistant professor and Peerval 3-D Digital Design Critique founder; Karen Boodhoo, counselor and founder of Interactive Mentoring Software; Eva Wegrzecka-Kowalewski, Pitt instructor and founder of Critical Thinking in Academic Literacy: Online Courses for International Students Preparing for U.S. Study; Renée Goldman, contest co-founder.
  • School of Education Dean Valerie Kinloch announces that Pitt assistant professor Mahender Mandala won the top prize of $15,000 for his company Peerval 3-D Digital Design Critique, which allows groups to view, manipulate and annotate 3-D models from a browser.
  • Dean Valerie Kinloch (right) tells Laurel Chiappetta (left) and Mary Margaret Kerr (center) that their business Triple Note: A Data Collection and Instruction App won $10,000 through the Goldman Prize for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Education.
  • Alicia Johnson, founder of The Future of Belonging, pitches the business to Goldman Prize judges. Johnson won a $5,000 prize for her business, which builds toys that collect social and emotional data from elementary and middle school students for counselors to analyze.
  • Barbara Hasson, founder of Through the Coach's Eye, presents to judges. From left to right: Evan Facher, interim director of Pitt's Innovation Institute; Carol Wooten, co-founder and superintendent of Propel Schools; Arnold Rintzler, president of AWR Business Concepts; Lutitia Clipper, CEO of Clipper Enterprises; and Valerie Kinloch, the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.
  • Eva Wegrzecka-Kowalewski, an instructor in the School of Education, pitches her business, Critical Thinking in Academic Literacy: Online Courses for International Students Preparing for U.S. Study.
  • Alan Lesgold, former dean of the School of Education, served as emcee and moderator during the inaugural Goldman Prize for Innovation in Education.

As teachers, counselors and graduate students presented before a “Shark Tank”-style panel of judges, the aspiring entrepreneur in all of them took center stage to address problems in American education through innovation.

The merger of educational expertise and business acumen during the inaugural Goldman Prize competition, which supports entrepreneurship in education, fell in line with the vision set out by Richard and Renée Goldman.

About the Goldmans

The Goldman Prize is Richard and Renée Goldman’s most recent effort to strengthen education at the University and across the nation. In 2013, they launched the $50,000 Richard M. and Renée K. Goldman Educational Entrepreneurial Fund to support the creation of online programs for educational entrepreneurship. A year later, they dedicated $3 million to Pitt’s School of Education to establish an endowed deanship.

The Goldmans are founders of the Florida-based Xceed Preparatory Academy and the Smart Horizons Career Online High School, in addition to several other educational ventures.

“I want the Goldman Prize to be a catalyst for why education is added to the list of why Pittsburgh is famous for innovation,” said Richard Goldman during his introduction at the event.

The Goldmans, who are alumni of Pitt’s School of Education, sponsored the contest. The judges awarded $30,000, which was shared among three winners of the event, held at Pitt’s University Club this September.

The competition concept was first developed by Interim Dean of Education Lindsay Matsumura and was then refined by the Goldmans, current Dean Valerie Kinloch and Dean Emeritus Alan Lesgold to encourage ideas from innovation teams composed mainly of Pitt students, alumni and faculty, though others from the community were invited as well.

After presentations and deliberation, the judges awarded the prize money as follows:

  • Peerval 3-D Digital Design Critique took home the top prize of $15,000. Mahender Mandala, an assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering, and his team developed an app that allows large groups of students and teachers to access, map and annotate 3-D digital designs from an internet browser.
  • Triple Note: A Data Collection and Instruction App won $10,000. Mary Margaret Kerr, professor of psychology in education and psychiatry, and Laurel Chiappetta, a statistics instructor, developed the app to help field researchers store and access data, video, images, audio and other information in a single cloud-based source.
  • The Future of Belonging won $5,000. Alicia Johnson, a Falk Laboratory School counselor, and her company created dolls that use artificial intelligence to listen to students’ concerns and provide data to counselors.

Mandala said the prize will allow the company to hire employees and continue testing the concept with potential customers.

“I really am hopeful the money will help us go to the next step and acquire more funding,” he said.

Mandala also participated in the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Grant program for educational tech businesses through Pitt’s Innovation Institute, which provided $53,000 in funding to test his idea with potential customers with the guidance of a professional business mentor.

Philip Brooks, executive in residence at the Innovation Institute, said Mandala’s idea is one of many being created on campus that could be built into full-fledged businesses with the help of the Goldman Prize.

“By providing prize money, that’s a huge added incentive to make people think maybe we should commercialize whatever we’re doing and make it accessible to more people than just those at Pitt,” he said.

Other participants at the competition included:

  • Karen Boodhoo, academic counselor at South University, whose Interactive Mentoring Software would provide consistent mentoring to transient, low-income students as they move to different school systems.
  • Barbara Hasson, School of Education alumna who presented her Feedback App-Through the Coach’s Eye. The proposed app would allow new teachers to reach out to longtime teachers for real-time classroom advice.
  • Eva Wegrzecka-Kowalewski, School of Education instructor, for her Online Courses for International Students. The proposed course would emphasize critical thinking and the academic study of literature for students from China coming to U.S. universities.