Lumina Foundation Announces
2018 Education Innovation Challenge Prizes
Each winner will receive $25,000 and in-kind support to scale projects that will help increase the share of Americans with education beyond high school
INDIANAPOLIS – The winners of Lumina Foundation’s 2018 Education Innovation Challenge were chosen last week during a competition at the Lumina Investing in Future Talent and Education (LIFTed) Convening in New York City. A live judging panel, comprising social innovation experts, voted to award $25,000 to David Helene, the co-founder of Edquity, a college planning technology platform. And the audience at Lumina’s LIFTed event voted to award another $25,000 to a tech-training program co-founded by Jerelyn Rodriguez, CEO of The Knowledge House.
Innovation challenge participants were asked to submit proposals outlining their ideas about how to develop cost-effective, scalable platforms, services, or products that can help U.S. adults with little to no college experience earn degrees, certificates, and other quality credentials by 2025. Three finalists were invited to the LIFTed event in New York to pitch their ideas to the live judging panel and an audience that included potential funders, investors, fellow entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders in postsecondary education. The finalists were: Building Skills Partnership, Edquity, and The Knowledge House.
“The Lumina Innovation Challenge is meant to stimulate innovation in higher education, highlighting both social enterprises and nonprofit entities doing effective work,” said John Duong, managing director of Lumina Impact Ventures. “The competition allows Lumina to give exposure to promising solutions to some of the bigger challenges within the sector.”
Edquity, a college planning and financial matching platform, offers an app that supports learners through every financial challenge related to the college decision-making process. Edquity can help students identify essential services such as on-campus food assistance, child care, and emergency grant programs. The software also allows users to create custom financial plans to understand their projected living expenses, the number of hours of work per week they may have to put in, and what their potential earnings might be after graduation.
“What we care about at Edquity is that 50 percent of all college learners drop out, and of those learners 70 percent do so for financial reasons. At the same time, a new student loan is going into default every 29 seconds in the United States,” said David Helene, Edquity co-founder and CEO. “College itself is setting millions of our students up for failure, and we want to change that. We want to put all students on a path to future financial success.”
The Knowledge House is a nonprofit located in the South Bronx, home to the poorest congressional district in the country, with more than 250,000 people living below the poverty line. The organization provides young adults with technical and career training aimed at creating pathways to technology employment or entrepreneurship. The organization offers its training partners curricula that can be modified and adapted to include topics such as social justice, video gaming, and hip-hop. From beginner coders to IT professionals wanting to gain programming skills to become full-stack web developers, all students receive full access to The Knowledge House’s project-based curriculum, teachers who work in the field, and a diverse mentor network.
“To date, we have served 1,000 students, and in the past two years 75 percent of our graduates have been placed into entry-level positions,” said Jerelyn Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of The Knowledge House. “We have a strong support system—all of us are people of color, 50 percent of us are women, and 50 percent of us have a coding or computer science background.”
Building Skills Partnership developed a Green Janitor Education Program with a mission of improving the lives of service workers in California. The program provides training and certification in the LEED system and green building best practices that cover energy and water conservation, waste removal, and other critical aspects of sustainability.
“Janitors work late at night, many times unseen or forgotten and considered unskilled,” said Aida Cardenas, executive director of Building Skills Partnership. “But in truth, they are the ambassadors of our sustainable buildings and understand tenant practices better than anybody. By providing new training and certification opportunities, we want to bring service workers out of the shadows to create a new standard for the role of janitors.”
The Education Innovation Prize is awarded as part of a Lumina initiative called Lumina Impact Ventures, which drives social investment capital into sustainable and scalable approaches for increasing the number of people with education beyond high school.
Lumina Impact Ventures invests in companies and nonprofits that are aligned with Lumina's mission of helping to ensure 60 percent of working-age people have degrees, certificates, and other credentials by 2025. Through direct investments, the foundation partners with entrepreneurs to help them scale their companies, leveraging Lumina's brand and relationships, both externally and internally across the foundation to inform the growth and development of these social ventures.
“Lumina Impact Ventures is a tool we use to invest in solutions that have reach and scalability. It complements our grantmaking activities and ultimately drives the foundation’s mission,” Jamie Merisotis, Lumina Foundation’s president and CEO said. “We approach this from the perspective of a strategic investor, not only regarding the capital we’re investing, but also regarding the partnerships we can create and the innovation we can promote.”
To learn more about the initiative, visit: Lumina Impact Ventures.
About Lumina Foundation: Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. Lumina envisions a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. The Foundation’s goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.
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