3 Steps For Organizing An Education Pitch Event: Breeding Innovation Through Competition

How To Organize An Education Pitch Event- Case Study: PitchLX

What would Shark Tank meets TEDx look like in Higher Ed? Change is inevitable and time fleeting, so increasingly, startup and business success is predicated on the ability to effectively pitch a new idea, product, or service to potential stakeholders. Shouldn’t educational institutions incorporate a similar competitive landscape to breed innovative thinking and cultivate ideas that meet the ever-changing expectations of students? MSU Denver has been cultivating a collaborative network to support a new pilot project, Prospective Innovations in Teaching and Learning Experiences (PitchLX), and in this article we hope that sharing our experience in organizing an education pitch event might help to catalyze nation-wide innovation.

1. Plan An Initial Education Pitch Event

Breeding innovation within higher education doesn’t always come easy, but we think initiatives like PitchLX could represent a hopeful solution, so why not plan a pilot event? Open to all higher education personnel (faculty, staff, administrators, students, etc.), and driven by a live pitch-off event, PitchLX brings together 7-10 select participants to deliver two-minute pitches for existing or theorized innovative ideas which have the potential to significantly shape the future of teaching and learning with technology in higher education (we welcome moonshots). Following each pitch, a panel of expert judges conduct a live Q&A/critique, and award points based on feasibility, creativity, sound pedagogy, and overall delivery (these are certainly institution-dependent, so you might use different criteria). Prizes are awarded and resources invested, so we highly encourage innovative thinking and thoughtful preparation.

Once a PitchLX champion is crowned, we look to offer a strategic, cross-disciplinary incubation team (and perhaps eventually space) to help prototype and/or actualize the winning innovation(s). This group may consist of, but is not limited to, instructional designers, technologists, faculty, students, and/or industry experts. For a year leading up to the subsequent regional PitchLX event, ideas are refined, piloted, tweaked, and either implemented or discarded. Moving forward, we hope that events such as PitchLX lead to a distributed network of sustainable and dynamic educational environments where big ideas are welcomed and innovative thinking is celebrated.

For PitchLX, an initial pilot event was held October 2016 with 7 pitches being presented to an audience of about 40 regional attendees. Here's the pitch-list to give you a taste of what was presented:

  1. Hey Uni (not Siri)…: The Next University Management System (CU Boulder)
  2. Request for Support Alert: Saving the At-risk Learner (University of the Rockies)
  3. Customizable Digital Games for Learning Augmentation (Art Institute of Colorado)
  4. Virtual Machine 2: Electric Boogaloo (MSU Denver)
  5. Guerilluation: Capturing Data for Improvement (Pearson)
  6. The Flipped Walkthrough: A highly-focused, Critically-reflective, Asynchronous Approach to Instructional Feedback (Colorado Christian University -- Winning pitch)
  7. Video Killed the Paper Star (University of Denver)

These types of events have the potential to foster radical inter-disciplinarity and unprecedented ingenuity; allow exploration at the intersection of critical pedagogy and innovation; help to bring data-rich ideas into classrooms, offering new insights and continuous research potential regarding student engagement and teacher effectiveness; and frame focus towards teaching and learning experiences rather than overemphasizing specific tools or technologies. Through established internal partnerships and a wide array of strategic department faculty, and external partnerships with other universities, local entrepreneurial think-tanks, edTech startups, community services, and small businesses, events such as PitchLX have the potential to become a significant solution to the problem of how to effectively cultivate pedagogically sound innovation within higher education.

2. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

In most cases, piloting an initial education pitch event is the easy part; sustaining momentum and iterating is where things become challenging. Significant resources and personnel are required, added project awareness invites the need for broader institutional support, and mandates and priorities supersede "fun pilot projects" for which data-driven justification and clear ROI don't yet exist. So even if you know there's a need for a new innovative landscape, in most cases, the institutional landscape pushes back as soon as you feel you're making true progress. This creates an unquestionable challenge, but not one that can't be overcome through persistent iteration. Devote personal/weekend time, pilot on smaller scales, gain volunteer support. Do anything you can to test ideas, gain insight, modify your approach, and cyclically iterate your idea into exhaustion. Only then will you feel comfortable letting go.

3. Work Towards A Devoted Space

Given the necessary resources and attention, we believe this type of conceptual framework could eventually spawn dedicated, research-directed, cross-collaborative Learning Labs, which broadly and equitably benefit the future direction and progress of higher education, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Collaborative learning spaces would allow for the cultivation of winning innovations and could also be open to small local startups willing to interface with university faculty, staff and students in return for university-sponsored workspace. Obtaining physical space on a university campus may seem like a pipe-dream in many cases, but visualizing and planning for an eventual space can help to sustain motivation and drive key decisions that may lead to the space becoming a reality.

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