NYU Awards $1.1 Million to Companies Making Education Accessible for All Families

Gabriel Brodbar, the director of the NYU Social Entrepreneurship Program, speaks at the event.

Almost every founder claims they are changing the world, but only a few actually are. As a part of its inaugural Algorithm for Change competition, which wrapped up last month, NYU — in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — awarded $1.1 million to four organizations that are genuinely leaving a positive mark on the world.

This national competition — hosted by the NYU Social Entrepreneurship Program — focuses on the application of emerging technologies to help low-income, underrepresented minority and first-generation students succeed in education. Embodying those qualities, this year’s winners were crowned victorious from over 70 other applicants.

Courtesy of Christopher Ernst
Students present their ideas to the panel.

The 70 organizations that competed were categorized by their stage in the development process. BestFit, Inc. an application that helps connect students with near-peer mentors, won $100,000 in the ideation tier. TalkingPoints — a communication platform that bridges language barriers in diverse areas — won $200,000, and college financial tool Edquity won $300,000, both falling in the validation tier. Smart Sparrow, a learning design platform, won $500,000 in the commercialization tier, equivalent to the competition’s first place.

Gabriel Brodbar, the program’s director, emphasized that one of the fundamental goals of this competition was to find ways in which businesses can innovatively harness technology to foster change. That was a factor the judges considered when combing through the applications from social entrepreneurs across the country — spanning industries such as arts, non-profit organizations and financial services.


“Artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality are not being effectively leveraged in the education-technology space,” Bordbar said in an interview with WSN. “They are especially not being effectively leveraged when it comes to low-income, minority, first-generation students.”

Courtesy of Christopher Ernst
The panel of judges.

Brodbar said officials from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation approached him last year to create a competition that would alleviate some of those problems. The judge panel included distinguished members like Jill Ford, head of AI for Toyota and Margenett Roberts, former head of Yahoo!’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion in addition to many others.

One company that thoroughly impressed judges was education-technology provider Smart Sparrow. Smart Sparrow is an online platform that, through the use of machine learning, improves the online classroom experience with interactive design and personalized structure. The company began by designing online science courses with the intention of helping students with limited access to resources.

Courtesy of Christopher Ernst
Winners are announced at the Algorithm for Change competition.

Smart Sparrow Founder, Dr. Dror Ben-Naim said the eight-year-old company plans to use the funds from the competition to fully integrate artificial intelligence into its courseware to provide engaging learning experiences that can be used everywhere from elementary schools to investment banks.

“We believe that education can be powered by technology,” Ben-Naim said. “Where we’re going is straight for the heart of the matter, which is that you should have an engaging learning experience. If we can achieve that, then a lot of the problems in education will fade away.”


Email Ryan Jackloski at ne[email protected]



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