What we’re working on: First Lady awards prize to close the skills gap

Open Innovation, Government, Education

Just in time for back to school, the First Lady Michelle Obama announced ThinkZone Games as the winner of the Reach Higher Career App Challenge. Over the past year, we’ve worked with the U.S. Department of Education and White House to power this initiative for new career exploration solutions that will help students identify high-demand careers and find programs to build the skills they’ll need. The Challenge is part of Ed Prizes, a series of prize competitions from the Department to help prepare students for a more competitive world.  

New York edtech company, ThinkZone Games will receive $100,000+ in prizes to deploy their Hats & Ladders app to middle and high school students. With a swipe-to-choose interface, the winning solution aims to make career discovery as seamless and engaging as using a dating app. Hats & Ladders and the other finalists’ solutions harness open data resources such as the O*NET Database and College Scorecard, and employ cognitive computing, predictive analytics, and location-based features to put leading tech innovation in the hands of students, parents, teachers, and career counselors.

The Challenge launched with a series of announcements from the First Lady, which included a shout-out on Vine. After an open call for submissions which yielded solutions from across the country, the expert jury selected 5 finalists to compete for the grand prize. The finalists then participated in a virtual accelerator which included a series of modules with leading thinkers from Roadtrip Nation, Civitas Learning, Code Interactive, and IBM Watson to improve their concepts, gain a deep understanding of student and counselor needs, develop scalable prototypes, and create sustainable business models.

At Demo Day, finalists came to the White House to present their solutions before the jury and government leaders, including Megan Smith, CTO of the United States. The Challenge has been featured in Xconomy, EdSurge, and Huffington Post as an example of how the administration is preparing students to enter the global workforce.

The work is just beginning for the Challenge finalists, who will join the Code for America 2016 Summit to showcase their work and continue the conversation about how technology can help shape 21st century government.

Congratulations to ThinkZone Games!