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Challenge 4: Connect Tech Innovations

Winner: Coming Soon

Challenge Goal

1. Accelerate entrepreneurs and technology-driven businesses to promote economic recovery from the pandemic and enhance resiliency in the Massachusetts economy.

2. Foster technology that builds on pandemic-inspired innovations that will thrive in the post-COVID era.

Accelerator Program Overview

This is a 6-week acceleration program for early-stage companies. The acceleration program will culminate with a pitch competition to be juried by a panel of independent experts. The winner receives a $40,000 grant and the runner-up receives a $10,000 grant. This funding is to be used to advance the good/service described at the pitch event.

Meet the finalists

Edgi Learning
Josh Shapiro
Stockbridge, MA

Outside Interactive
Gary McNamee
Hopkinton, MA

Keva Health
Jyotsna Mehta
Lexington, MA

Polis
Michael Tworek
Cambridge, MA

Omnistrat
Matt Johnson
Concord, MA

Thrive Community
Shainoor Kohja
Boston, MA

EDGI LEARNING

Edgi cofounders Josh Shapiro and Tinsley Maier

“It was totally relevant to my life, which was a breath of fresh air.”

That’s what one high school student participating in Edgi Learning’s Fall 2020 pilot had to say about “Technology and the Future of Work,” a discussion-based course on the ethical implications of advancing technology led by Josh Shapiro, who co-founded edgi with Tinsley Maier.

In high school, both Shapiro and Maier struggled; Shapiro was kicked out of boarding school, and Maier opted to finish her high school degree online. Their nontraditional paths brought them together in college at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, which allows students to design their own college experience and major.

Shapiro’s senior project, a conference on rethinking high school education, grew into the 2019 Edify Symposium, which had Berkshire County high schoolers redesign their school and curriculum. Shapiro, who grew up in Stockbridge, Mass., said the results were eye-opening. “Many of them are frustrated they don’t have a voice in their education, and their classes in school often feel irrelevant to their futures,” Shapiro said.

A third Edify Symposium was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Maier and Shapiro still wanted to offer local high schoolers a chance to engage with the issues relevant to their lives. They decided to adapt a seminar Shapiro teaches at NYU and reached out to a guidance counselor at Monument Mountain High School in Stockbridge to spread the word. 30 students signed up right away.

They’ve since piloted several programs for more than 150 students in Berkshire County, with funding and support from local banks and the Berkshire Innovation Center. They’ve been able to scale small group discussions by having high schoolers themselves lead the sessions. A few students have even signed up from areas across the country, including New York City and rural Oklahoma. “When you have student-led discussions, students feel comfortable expressing their perspectives openly without having to worry about getting an answer wrong,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro and Maier hope to expand edgi’s offerings and create a new league of “educational influencers” who can connect with high schoolers. “We know students spend a lot of time on social media and often seek out educational content there,” Shapiro said. Edgi’s TikTok channel, where they release all program content for free, has millions of views and over 125,000 followers.

“We’re really leaning into how we can make the community aspect of the program even stronger,” said Maier. “We want to get students from across the world to share their perspectives with each other. One student told me edgi helped her realize that voicing her opinions isn’t such a bad thing.”

KEVA HEALTH

Jyotsna Mehta CEO & Founder

Keva Health’s app is already helping hundreds of people manage their asthma. Now, CEO and founder Jyotsna Mehta and her team are working to grow that number with new partnerships and pilot opportunities.

Mehta got the idea for Keva Health when her daughter was diagnosed with asthma at age 4. “As parents, we had no clue how to take care of her disease at home,” she said. “This was new to us. It’s a chronic condition you have to learn to manage, and every patient’s asthma is unique.”

She saw that since everyone’s asthma is different, everyone’s care plan is different, too. It occurred to her that the need for tailored care could be met with customizable technology.

The result: Keva Health Asthma Advisor, an app that empowers patients to manage their own care with access to their doctors and care plans, the ability to track peak flow, and lots of educational resources about asthma treatments and Keva365, a SaaS platform, that allows allergists and pulmonologists to optimize care and reduce time spent on ongoing care management. It’s also fully reimbursable by most insurers. Health care companies, ever more focused on prevention, are incorporating it into their coverage options.

Users are reporting how well they’re breathing and their medication data, so “there’s a complete record of medications and graphs that show patient history,” Mehta said. “That allows the physician to understand what happened between visits.” Keva Health Advisor has also come in handy through the COVID-19 pandemic, as many doctor’s offices shifted to telehealth when possible.

The Keva Health team has now conducted plenty of R&D, asking patient focus groups as well as allergists and pulmonologists what kinds of features they’d like to see, from measurement and analysis to information about daily pollen counts and environmental factors.

In 2021, Keva Health was awarded $25,000 to work with Baystate Health in Springfield on further development of this platform; the funding covers setup for a pilot with Baystate Health asthma patients, which will give Keva Health valuable information about how to continue refining its product.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America named Springfield as one of its ten “allergy capitals,” difficult places to live for asthma and allergy sufferers due to high pollen counts and air quality. Effective asthma treatment “is an important problem to address across Springfield, as well as for Baystate,” said Mehta. “We hope we can help patients benefit from the technology and solution we’re offering.”

Mehta also will expand Keva Health Advisor to also include people suffering with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a respiratory disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. “Those patients are also in need of in-home care solutions,” she said.

OMNISTRAT

Matt and Susy Johnson, founders of Omnistrat

The era of remote work is upon us—can task management software keep up?

In business, change is the only constant; add COVID-19 to the mix, and it’s harder than ever for businesses to plan, adapt, and act on strategy while keeping their entire companies aligned. This is exactly the problem that Omnistrat founder Matt Johnson has been working on.

Johnson has decades of experience working in enterprise software companies and has seen organizations struggle to keep their teams aligned. Companies are good at setting goals, but often lack coordination when it comes to execution. Team collaboration tools like Slack are helpful, especially now that a huge sector of the population works remotely. Because workers are isolated and conversations are out of context, Johnson said, it’s easy to lose perspective.

Omnistrat offers a collaborative environment for setting goals and also allows everyone on a team to see how all team members are contributing. This can go a long way toward breaking down silos created by too many single-point solutions; employees and leadership can easily see and understand how their work relates to the company plan by using Omnistrat.

Johnson had shelved Omnistrat in 2009 after working on the initial concept. In hindsight, he was ahead of his time. Last year,fter seeing a work shift in response to the pandemic, Johnson revived the concept and his wife, Susy Johnson, joined the team. Together they have years of experience in sales and consulting. They’ve worked together to refine and test the product over the past year.

“During the early days of COVID, planning became a top priority because companies were dealing with so much change. Many organizations needed to come up with a new status quo,” Johnson said. “If you don’t have a place where a physical plan, and the steps being taken on that plan, are visible, you’re untethered. Employees drift from the main goals because there are more things that can distract them.” “Omnistrat guides the complex collaborations required to solve complex problems,” he said. “You’re able to go through the process of planning and execution, anchored by a plan, with everyone collaborating around that.”

Though Johnson was originally looking at marketing Omnistrat to small and medium-sized businesses, he also sees potential for this software for economic development groups and initiatives, which often bring together representatives from the municipal, business, and academic worlds. This is work that’s anchored by a strategic vision, with disparate members making very different individual contributions.

“There’s no organizational structure or standardized tools in that model—an all-in-one planning and execution tool is a perfect fit,” Johnson said.

Matt and Susy Johnson are using Omnistrat to stay mission-focused as they further refine their product. “To use it in the day-to-day, and see all our work mapped out, is enriching, educational, and helpful to keep you focused and on track,” said Susy Johnson. “It really helps you understand the ‘why.’”

OUTSIDE INTERACTIVE

One of Outside Interactive’s race cameras in action

Running on a treadmill is boring. Gary McNamee knows this well.

About a decade ago, while training for the Boston marathon on a snowy February day, McNamee was stuck in his basement. “On mile 12, as I was staring at the wall, the idea came to me,” he said: What if there was a way to create an interactive virtual road race, complete with inclines and declines?

After years of research and development—from asking other runners what they thought of the idea to figuring out the best way to film a marathon to troubleshooting applying this technology to multiple treadmill brands at once—Outside Interactive is off and running.

Based in Hopkinton, Mass., near the starting line of the Boston Marathon, McNamee’s company now offers multiple courses for treadmills, from 5Ks to full marathons. Runners can choose from some of the country’s top races, and many are filmed during the actual event, helping people feel like they’re there in the flesh. When runners hit a hill, the treadmill adjusts to the slope of that hill, which adds to the immersive experience.

“You get all the electricity and excitement,” McNamee said. “I’m giving people the opportunity to feel Heartbreak Hill, to see the crowd, to break the finish line tape.”

In the past year, McNamee has seen more of an interest and demand for Outside Interactive’s virtual race experiences. The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled races or moved them to a virtual format, sending runners a placard and asking them to run 26.2 or 13.1 miles in the location of their choice. “COVID legitimized what we did overnight,” he said. “People have been forced to run indoors more often.”

The home-fitness market is growing, with pricey brands like Peloton gaining traction in the past few years. Outside Interactive works with the top five treadmill brands. An optional Bluetooth device strapped to a runner’s ankle controls the race video speed, which works across multiple devices. “Running is pretty basal. You don’t have to have a lot besides a pair of sneakers,” McNamee said. “Our focus is to be equipment-agnostic. We want Outside Interactive to work with the equipment you already own.”

McNamee is working with race directors across the country to add more courses, and runners looking for a taste of the virtual experience can preview courses on Outside Interactive’s website, from a 7.1-mile run in Key West, Fla., to 4.3 miles on the Washington, D.C. mall. Thousands of runners have already downloaded the apps, and Outside Interactive has garnered attention from publications like Wired, Mashable, and Runner’s World.

“We’re bringing the race to the runner,” said McNamee. “I think it’s an idea whose time has come.”

POLIS

Michael Tworek, CEO & Founder

Thousands of well-qualified adults are looking to build new skills and choose new directions in life. Polis is working to pair them with personalized advisors who can help them make the best decisions they can.

Cofounded by Dr. Michael Tworek, an associate in the Harvard History Department, Polis is currently recruiting what its team calls “personal educators”: top academics and seasoned professionals holding virtual office hours with clients who need advice on everything from research and thesis development to reviewing graduate school applications to determining the next steps in their careers. So far, around 150 educators have signed on to hold meetings on Polis’ platform at an hourly rate.

Tworek hatched the idea for Polis after his own experience in the Ph.D.-level job market, which is highly competitive. “There are a lot of people with Ph.D.s who are talented, but aren’t finding jobs,” he said. “How can we help turn them into entrepreneurs, and give them the infrastructure to do that?”

By focusing on office hours, the Polis team is working to flip the script on the more traditional path toward academic and career mentorship, which usually starts in the classroom or office, then filters down to potential opportunities for mentorship. “A lot of important learning happens in those one-on-one meetings,” said Matthew Corcoran, Polis’ chief product officer and a cofounder.

Mentors also don’t usually get paid, which can lead to mixed experiences for students taking this route or tapping into the alumni networks at their alma mater. “We want to create a proper relationship of time and value through an online marketplace,” Tworek said. “We want to create accountability, compensate the educator and match educators with learners using the latest insights from tech and education.”

Using a customized video platform rather than just developing a conduit for meetings to take place via other video conferencing software “allows us to customize it for what clients need,” said Jose Fernandez-Alcon, chief technology officer and cofounder. “We can develop our own new features and guarantee privacy for participants, which is important.”

An initial pilot test offered some solid feedback—for instance, students wanted to hear more about how to use their degrees in more unexpected ways and wanted to learn more about their personal educator before setting up a meeting. Polis is working toward a launch in the second half of 2021, with feedback from the pilot incorporated into its platform. There’s already a waiting list of about 100 learners.

Though they started working on this project well before COVID-19 normalized virtual meetings, the Polis team feels this idea’s time has come—it can match educators with students across the world, a powerful feature in any era. “One of the things we hear with a lot of students with mentor networks and even tutoring is ‘how do I find the right person for the questions I have?’” said Tworek. “We want to personalize that experience with a human+ed+tech approach.”

THRIVE COMMUNITY

Shainoor Khoja CEO & Founder

How can technology help us maintain independence as we grow older? Shainoor Khoja, CEO and founder of Thriving.AI, has an app for that.

Khoja, an experienced physical therapist who has also taken care of her own mother—from a distance, then in-house after a fall—has witnessed up-close the challenges of aging. It’s isolating, and injuries can go undetected for too long, bringing complications and a slow recovery.

“I thought, this isn’t how I want to age. This isn’t how I want a person I love to age,” she said. She started researching existing technologies that might help in the way she envisioned, but found lots of tools for doctor’s offices and medical billing centers, rather than families and seniors. “They were built to respond to things happening to people, rather than the people being part of the solution,” she said.

Thriving’s app lets seniors, families, and caregivers check in, monitor health and wellness, and offers ideas about connection that go beyond the daily check-in calls familiar to many adults living far from their elderly parents.

“At the heart of an ecosystem is an individual, like my mother, someone who wants to be independent.” said Barrie Hadfield, Thriving’s Chief Technology Officer. “The whole ecosystem works if you can make the center of it work.”

Seniors can use Thriving to connect with family, read articles, get health-related reminders, message their caregivers, and even run through home PT programs. AI baked into the app monitors that senior’s level of activity.

Families can get updates on what the senior is up to, from reading articles that could become conversation starters to check-ins from doctors and in-home care professionals about their family member’s well-being, and mood. Staff at nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities can use the app to send updates to residents’ families and doctors.

Thriving concept-tested the initial version of the app with the U.K.’s National Health Service, and is planning to do a future pilot test with the NHS and a major U.S. care provider. In the U.S., the app would be covered by individual insurance plans, which are interested in tools that can keep populations healthy longer, saving healthcare costs. “The app will pick up on small pieces of information that would lead caregivers to mitigate a larger issue,” said Khoja. “You tackle it earlier rather than someone waiting for it to get really bad, while keeping an open line with their family.”

Massachusetts’ population is aging; according to recent census data, 33 percent of residents are over age 50. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 25 percent of the state population will be 60 and older by the year 2030. Many of these individuals live alone, or will age in place alone. Khoja hopes Thrive will help keep them connected and healthy. “We’re not looking at a platform for replacing human touch—we’re looking at making human touch easier,” she said.

Challenge 4: Connect Tech Innovations

Winner: Coming Soon

Challenge Goal

1. Accelerate entrepreneurs and technology-driven businesses to promote economic recovery from the pandemic and enhance resiliency in the Massachusetts economy.

2. Foster technology that builds on pandemic-inspired innovations that will thrive in the post-COVID era.

Accelerator Program Overview

This is a 6-week acceleration program for early-stage companies. The acceleration program will culminate with a pitch competition to be juried by a panel of independent experts. The winner receives a $40,000 grant and the runner-up receives a $10,000 grant. This funding is to be used to advance the good/service described at the pitch event.

Meet the finalists

Edgi Learning
Matt Johnson
Stockbridge, MA

Outside Interactive
Gary McNamee
Hopkinton, MA

Keva Health
Jyotsna Mehta
Lexington, MA

Polis
Michael Tworek
Cambridge, MA

Omnistrat
Matt Johnson
Concord, MA

Thrive Community
Shainoor Khoja
Boston, MA

EDGI LEARNING

Edgi Cofounders Josh Shapiro & Tinsley Maier

“It was totally relevant to my life, which was a breath of fresh air.”

That’s what one high school student participating in Edgi Learning’s Fall 2020 pilot had to say about “Technology and the Future of Work,” a discussion-based course on the ethical implications of advancing technology led by Josh Shapiro, who co-founded edgi with Tinsley Maier.

In high school, both Shapiro and Maier struggled; Shapiro was kicked out of boarding school, and Maier opted to finish her high school degree online. Their nontraditional paths brought them together in college at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, which allows students to design their own college experience and major.

Shapiro’s senior project, a conference on rethinking high school education, grew into the 2019 Edify Symposium, which had Berkshire County high schoolers redesign their school and curriculum. Shapiro, who grew up in Stockbridge, Mass., said the results were eye-opening. “Many of them are frustrated they don’t have a voice in their education, and their classes in school often feel irrelevant to their futures,” Shapiro said.

A third Edify Symposium was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Maier and Shapiro still wanted to offer local high schoolers a chance to engage with the issues relevant to their lives. They decided to adapt a seminar Shapiro teaches at NYU and reached out to a guidance counselor at Monument Mountain High School in Stockbridge to spread the word. 30 students signed up right away.

They’ve since piloted several programs for more than 150 students in Berkshire County, with funding and support from local banks and the Berkshire Innovation Center. They’ve been able to scale small group discussions by having high schoolers themselves lead the sessions. A few students have even signed up from areas across the country, including New York City and rural Oklahoma. “When you have student-led discussions, students feel comfortable expressing their perspectives openly without having to worry about getting an answer wrong,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro and Maier hope to expand edgi’s offerings and create a new league of “educational influencers” who can connect with high schoolers. “We know students spend a lot of time on social media and often seek out educational content there,” Shapiro said. Edgi’s TikTok channel, where they release all program content for free, has millions of views and over 125,000 followers.

“We’re really leaning into how we can make the community aspect of the program even stronger,” said Maier. “We want to get students from across the world to share their perspectives with each other. One student told me edgi helped her realize that voicing her opinions isn’t such a bad thing.”

KEVA HEALTH

Jyostna Mehta, CEO & Founder

Keva Health’s app is already helping hundreds of people manage their asthma. Now, CEO and founder Jyotsna Mehta and her team are working to grow that number with new partnerships and pilot opportunities.

Mehta got the idea for Keva Health when her daughter was diagnosed with asthma at age 4. “As parents, we had no clue how to take care of her disease at home,” she said. “This was new to us. It’s a chronic condition you have to learn to manage, and every patient’s asthma is unique.”

She saw that since everyone’s asthma is different, everyone’s care plan is different, too. It occurred to her that the need for tailored care could be met with customizable technology.

The result: Keva Health Asthma Advisor, an app that empowers patients to manage their own care with access to their doctors and care plans, the ability to track peak flow, and lots of educational resources about asthma treatments and Keva365, a SaaS platform, that allows allergists and pulmonologists to optimize care and reduce time spent on ongoing care management. It’s also fully reimbursable by most insurers. Health care companies, ever more focused on prevention, are incorporating it into their coverage options.

Users are reporting how well they’re breathing and their medication data, so “there’s a complete record of medications and graphs that show patient history,” Mehta said. “That allows the physician to understand what happened between visits.” Keva Health Advisor has also come in handy through the COVID-19 pandemic, as many doctor’s offices shifted to telehealth when possible.

The Keva Health team has now conducted plenty of R&D, asking patient focus groups as well as allergists and pulmonologists what kinds of features they’d like to see, from measurement and analysis to information about daily pollen counts and environmental factors.

In 2021, Keva Health was awarded $25,000 to work with Baystate Health in Springfield on further development of this platform; the funding covers setup for a pilot with Baystate Health asthma patients, which will give Keva Health valuable information about how to continue refining its product.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America named Springfield as one of its ten “allergy capitals,” difficult places to live for asthma and allergy sufferers due to high pollen counts and air quality. Effective asthma treatment “is an important problem to address across Springfield, as well as for Baystate,” said Mehta. “We hope we can help patients benefit from the technology and solution we’re offering.”

Mehta also will expand Keva Health Advisor to also include people suffering with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a respiratory disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. “Those patients are also in need of in-home care solutions,” she said.

OMNISTRAT

Matt & Susy Johnson, Founders

The era of remote work is upon us—can task management software keep up?

In business, change is the only constant; add COVID-19 to the mix, and it’s harder than ever for businesses to plan, adapt, and act on strategy while keeping their entire companies aligned. This is exactly the problem that Omnistrat founder Matt Johnson has been working on.

Johnson has decades of experience working in enterprise software companies and has seen organizations struggle to keep their teams aligned. Companies are good at setting goals, but often lack coordination when it comes to execution. Team collaboration tools like Slack are helpful, especially now that a huge sector of the population works remotely. Because workers are isolated and conversations are out of context, Johnson said, it’s easy to lose perspective.

Omnistrat offers a collaborative environment for setting goals and also allows everyone on a team to see how all team members are contributing. This can go a long way toward breaking down silos created by too many single-point solutions; employees and leadership can easily see and understand how their work relates to the company plan by using Omnistrat.

Johnson had shelved Omnistrat in 2009 after working on the initial concept. In hindsight, he was ahead of his time. Last year,fter seeing a work shift in response to the pandemic, Johnson revived the concept and his wife, Susy Johnson, joined the team. Together they have years of experience in sales and consulting. They’ve worked together to refine and test the product over the past year.

“During the early days of COVID, planning became a top priority because companies were dealing with so much change. Many organizations needed to come up with a new status quo,” Johnson said. “If you don’t have a place where a physical plan, and the steps being taken on that plan, are visible, you’re untethered. Employees drift from the main goals because there are more things that can distract them.” “Omnistrat guides the complex collaborations required to solve complex problems,” he said. “You’re able to go through the process of planning and execution, anchored by a plan, with everyone collaborating around that.”

Though Johnson was originally looking at marketing Omnistrat to small and medium-sized businesses, he also sees potential for this software for economic development groups and initiatives, which often bring together representatives from the municipal, business, and academic worlds. This is work that’s anchored by a strategic vision, with disparate members making very different individual contributions.

“There’s no organizational structure or standardized tools in that model—an all-in-one planning and execution tool is a perfect fit,” Johnson said.

Matt and Susy Johnson are using Omnistrat to stay mission-focused as they further refine their product. “To use it in the day-to-day, and see all our work mapped out, is enriching, educational, and helpful to keep you focused and on track,” said Susy Johnson. “It really helps you understand the ‘why.’”

OUTSIDE INTERACTIVE

Outsider Interactive software in action

Running on a treadmill is boring. Gary McNamee knows this well.

About a decade ago, while training for the Boston marathon on a snowy February day, McNamee was stuck in his basement. “On mile 12, as I was staring at the wall, the idea came to me,” he said: What if there was a way to create an interactive virtual road race, complete with inclines and declines?

After years of research and development—from asking other runners what they thought of the idea to figuring out the best way to film a marathon to troubleshooting applying this technology to multiple treadmill brands at once—Outside Interactive is off and running.

Based in Hopkinton, Mass., near the starting line of the Boston Marathon, McNamee’s company now offers multiple courses for treadmills, from 5Ks to full marathons. Runners can choose from some of the country’s top races, and many are filmed during the actual event, helping people feel like they’re there in the flesh. When runners hit a hill, the treadmill adjusts to the slope of that hill, which adds to the immersive experience.

“You get all the electricity and excitement,” McNamee said. “I’m giving people the opportunity to feel Heartbreak Hill, to see the crowd, to break the finish line tape.”

In the past year, McNamee has seen more of an interest and demand for Outside Interactive’s virtual race experiences. The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled races or moved them to a virtual format, sending runners a placard and asking them to run 26.2 or 13.1 miles in the location of their choice. “COVID legitimized what we did overnight,” he said. “People have been forced to run indoors more often.”

The home-fitness market is growing, with pricey brands like Peloton gaining traction in the past few years. Outside Interactive works with the top five treadmill brands. An optional Bluetooth device strapped to a runner’s ankle controls the race video speed, which works across multiple devices. “Running is pretty basal. You don’t have to have a lot besides a pair of sneakers,” McNamee said. “Our focus is to be equipment-agnostic. We want Outside Interactive to work with the equipment you already own.”

McNamee is working with race directors across the country to add more courses, and runners looking for a taste of the virtual experience can preview courses on Outside Interactive’s website, from a 7.1-mile run in Key West, Fla., to 4.3 miles on the Washington, D.C. mall. Thousands of runners have already downloaded the apps, and Outside Interactive has garnered attention from publications like Wired, Mashable, and Runner’s World.

“We’re bringing the race to the runner,” said McNamee. “I think it’s an idea whose time has come.”

POLIS

Michael Tworek, CEO & Founder

Thousands of well-qualified adults are looking to build new skills and choose new directions in life. Polis is working to pair them with personalized advisors who can help them make the best decisions they can.

Cofounded by Dr. Michael Tworek, an associate in the Harvard History Department, Polis is currently recruiting what its team calls “personal educators”: top academics and seasoned professionals holding virtual office hours with clients who need advice on everything from research and thesis development to reviewing graduate school applications to determining the next steps in their careers. So far, around 150 educators have signed on to hold meetings on Polis’ platform at an hourly rate.

Tworek hatched the idea for Polis after his own experience in the Ph.D.-level job market, which is highly competitive. “There are a lot of people with Ph.D.s who are talented, but aren’t finding jobs,” he said. “How can we help turn them into entrepreneurs, and give them the infrastructure to do that?”

By focusing on office hours, the Polis team is working to flip the script on the more traditional path toward academic and career mentorship, which usually starts in the classroom or office, then filters down to potential opportunities for mentorship. “A lot of important learning happens in those one-on-one meetings,” said Matthew Corcoran, Polis’ chief product officer and a cofounder.

Mentors also don’t usually get paid, which can lead to mixed experiences for students taking this route or tapping into the alumni networks at their alma mater. “We want to create a proper relationship of time and value through an online marketplace,” Tworek said. “We want to create accountability, compensate the educator and match educators with learners using the latest insights from tech and education.”

Using a customized video platform rather than just developing a conduit for meetings to take place via other video conferencing software “allows us to customize it for what clients need,” said Jose Fernandez-Alcon, chief technology officer and cofounder. “We can develop our own new features and guarantee privacy for participants, which is important.”

An initial pilot test offered some solid feedback—for instance, students wanted to hear more about how to use their degrees in more unexpected ways and wanted to learn more about their personal educator before setting up a meeting. Polis is working toward a launch in the second half of 2021, with feedback from the pilot incorporated into its platform. There’s already a waiting list of about 100 learners.

Though they started working on this project well before COVID-19 normalized virtual meetings, the Polis team feels this idea’s time has come—it can match educators with students across the world, a powerful feature in any era. “One of the things we hear with a lot of students with mentor networks and even tutoring is ‘how do I find the right person for the questions I have?’” said Tworek. “We want to personalize that experience with a human+ed+tech approach.”

THRIVE COMMUNITY

Shainoor Khoja, CEO & Founder

How can technology help us maintain independence as we grow older? Shainoor Khoja, CEO and founder of Thriving.AI, has an app for that.

Khoja, an experienced physical therapist who has also taken care of her own mother—from a distance, then in-house after a fall—has witnessed up-close the challenges of aging. It’s isolating, and injuries can go undetected for too long, bringing complications and a slow recovery.

“I thought, this isn’t how I want to age. This isn’t how I want a person I love to age,” she said. She started researching existing technologies that might help in the way she envisioned, but found lots of tools for doctor’s offices and medical billing centers, rather than families and seniors. “They were built to respond to things happening to people, rather than the people being part of the solution,” she said.

Thriving’s app lets seniors, families, and caregivers check in, monitor health and wellness, and offers ideas about connection that go beyond the daily check-in calls familiar to many adults living far from their elderly parents.

“At the heart of an ecosystem is an individual, like my mother, someone who wants to be independent.” said Barrie Hadfield, Thriving’s Chief Technology Officer. “The whole ecosystem works if you can make the center of it work.”

Seniors can use Thriving to connect with family, read articles, get health-related reminders, message their caregivers, and even run through home PT programs. AI baked into the app monitors that senior’s level of activity.

Families can get updates on what the senior is up to, from reading articles that could become conversation starters to check-ins from doctors and in-home care professionals about their family member’s well-being, and mood. Staff at nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities can use the app to send updates to residents’ families and doctors.

Thriving concept-tested the initial version of the app with the U.K.’s National Health Service, and is planning to do a future pilot test with the NHS and a major U.S. care provider. In the U.S., the app would be covered by individual insurance plans, which are interested in tools that can keep populations healthy longer, saving healthcare costs. “The app will pick up on small pieces of information that would lead caregivers to mitigate a larger issue,” said Khoja. “You tackle it earlier rather than someone waiting for it to get really bad, while keeping an open line with their family.”

Massachusetts’ population is aging; according to recent census data, 33 percent of residents are over age 50. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 25 percent of the state population will be 60 and older by the year 2030. Many of these individuals live alone, or will age in place alone. Khoja hopes Thrive will help keep them connected and healthy. “We’re not looking at a platform for replacing human touch—we’re looking at making human touch easier,” she said.

 

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