Assuming the persona of an academic in tweed and wallaby loafers, “Professor” Bernie Stukenborg walked nervously in front of the panel of judges:
I’ve been in research for over 35 years — since the mid-sixties. I’ve written over 800 papers and fostered over 50 graduate students. Graduate students need a better electronic tools, and I want to be part of that process!
After being reminded that 35 years of research puts Stukenborg back to the mid-’70s (not ’60s), he responded, “Who remembers the sixties anyway?”
This year’s SSP IN meeting focused on giving participants experience in developing new concepts, business models, and elevator sales pitches. Thursday morning, they got to sell their ideas in a 15-minute pitch to another group of participants, assuming the role of venture capitalists. Most presenters, like Stukenborg were careful to stay in their persona. The whole event was staged much like a episode of Shark Tank.
The winning product was called “Chemistry 2 Chemistry” or “C2C” for short. Adam Weiss, leader of the graduate chemistry group, designed the icon. Other members of the group included: Maxine Aldred, Judith Altreuter, Roberts Donegan, Barbara Meyers Ford, Marc Segers, and Lois Smith
Their goal was to create a better teaching tool for chemistry students. Relying on existing chemistry literature, the function of C2C was to tie the content together, allowing students to search across silos, annotate text, share and collaborate with peers and professors. “Think of an iTunes and Evernote to Chemistry!” Stukenborg said. Ending his pitch to the venture capital board, he asked, “Why invest in C2C? It results in better science!”
“What I’m about to present to you is a matter of life and death,” Byron Laws, of the Distance Education group began. There is a critical need for qualified nurses in the United States. Growing demand coupled with overcapacity at existing nursing programs has led to a shortage of nurses and its only going to get worse.
The nursing group’s proposal, NurseU.com, is a content portal for nursing education and lifelong learning. It includes content, collaborative learning tools, multimedia and mobile apps, plus modules that allows for testing and accreditation.
The NurseU.com business model is based on institutional site licensing, which then moves to individual subscriptions as the student graduates from school to the workforce.
Sensing a flaw in their proposal, one of the venture capitalists asked, “Can you really teach someone online how to insert a catheter?”
“ePak will change education as we know it today!” Gurvinder Batra and Melanie Dolechek of the Business Group co-presented their dream eTool, ePak, a curriculum development and delivery tool for business education.
Designed to meet the needs of business school students and faculty, ePak is focused on the 2,400 institutions in the United States offering business administration programs.
Displaying a schematic of how ePak works, content from journals, books, video, audio, case studies and datasets are broken into smaller parts. These “chunks” are then assembled together and delivered via an iBook, which is delivered to students on any number of platforms. Semantic filtering automatically selects content for the containers, thus saving faculty members time and allowing them to focus on their research.
“Its a simple design that is portable, scalable and customizable,” Batra continued. And addressing the current marketplace of incompatible content, “It is platform agnostic!”
The ePak delivery system allows content in the system to be branded, allowing an additional revenue stream through advertisement. In addition, the system allows students to move from a free chapter to purchasing the entire book. These profits would be shared between ePak and the publisher.
Asking for a meager investment of just U.S. $10 million, ePak will return profits of $100 million within three years. Quite a small investment for such a large and quick return, no? “ePak is the next generation tool!”
Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, Ray Alba began. “Research has shown that 80% of obese children grow up to become obese adults, and 70% of these children have at least one medical condition.”
The Medical Group presented their new dream eTool, Fit4Generations, a multi-dimensional approach that “empowers users for life in the fight against obesity.”
A join venture that brings together content, social media, gaming and mobile technology, Fit4Generation, like NurseU.com, is designed as a portal that brings together many related resources under a single product. “There is no central place for all of this information that addresses all of the target groups we’ve identified,” Alba maintained.
Targeted to medical and allied health schools, healthcare providers, HMO and insurance companies, schools and individuals, the medical group sees Fit4Generations as serving all the needs of all the stakeholders.
While seeming to make Fit4Generations all things for all people, Alba said their strategy was to first target 4 states with the highest obesity rate — Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and West Virginia.
Their business plan focused on many sources of revenue: start-up grants, subscription services, and public funding. Alba asked the venture capitalists for $10 million in start-up with an additional $15 over the next 2-5 years. A return on investment statement was conspicuously lacking.
“I represent slog.edu,” began Mady Tissenbaum, presenting last for the high-school group.
Our tag-line is “what are you working on?” Slog.edu is a simple, sparse, search-engine focused on the high-school market
Resembling a mash-up between Google and Facebook, students begin with typing in the topic of their homework assignment, Tissenbaum demonstrated. Using semantic search technology, slog.edu returns the query with a list of related searches and students who are currently logged in. The system allows for virtual homework groups to form and is designed to be used from home. “Sorry guys, no snow days!”
Most parents are concerned about what their kids do online, and yet educators are mostly absent from this space. Unlike related products like Facebook or MySpace, Slog.edu is an education-centric social networking platform, which brings kids together around homework assignments and provides opportunities for them to collaborate.
After demonstrating a mock-up of the product, Tissenbaum moved to underscore the credentials and dedication of her group:
The slog.edu development team has over 250 years of combined professional experience. In fact, two of our team members died in building this tool. We are going to build this product no matter what!
Successful social networking sites need critical numbers of users and reaching their target is slog.edu’s biggest challenge. “If kids don’t come to the site on their own accord, they ain’t gonna come,” Tissenbaum said. The first six months will be spent on getting students online. Once they are there, teachers and educators will be brought online as well.
With unwavering confidence, Tissenbaum asked the venture capitalists for only $3 million, half of which is reserved for marketing.”We’re going to put $1 million of our own money because we believe in this product.”
Unlike competing social network products, “there will be no advertising to the student anywhere on this site. This is a safe site,” Tissenbaum declared.
Describing a way to monetize the site and provide a return on investment, Slog.edu will make money by selling apps and widgets and by selling aggregated (not personal) usage data to content providers.
Answering a question about appropriate online content for children, Tissenbaum responded:
If students search for “acne” they are not going to get a professional medical article; If they search for puberty, they are not going to get a porn site. We are offering a safe site with relevant information designed at their age level. If we build it, they will come.”
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- Personas, Process, and Venture Capitalists (scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org)