The inaugural SVPAZ Ed Pitch event was a success! Our seven student finalists entertained and inspired the more than 200 guests in attendance as they presented their ideas to advance Arizona’s education system to a top 10 ranked school system by 2030.
In addition to the finalist pitches, a number of special guests joined SVPAZ to lend their voices of support for this important cause. We were honored to have Steve Seleznow, President & CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation, and Phoenix Councilman Daniel Valenzuela speak at the beginning of the program and set the stage for why SVPAZ’s focus on education is so important to the community.
Shane Cox, a Shark Tank winner and inventor of the Qball, offered a keynote presentation discussing why entrepreneurial disruption, while difficult, is so important in the field of education. Bringing new systems and hardware to classrooms is important to provide state-of-the-art tools to students and teachers, but these innovations have measurable impacts to student success.
Then it was on to the main event – our finalists’ Ed Pitch presentations, which included:
- Samantha Mooney and Karis Felthouse, of Arizona State University, who proposed placing volunteer retirees in schools to provide career development for students from vulnerable populations.
- Amanda Gryzkewicz, of Northern Arizona University, whose “I Can Math” program will teach foundational math skills to preschool children, an idea supported by research that shows early math understanding translates to long-term academic success.
- Christopher Figueroa, of Paradise Valley Community College, whose Z Connect mentoring program will match high school students with community college student mentors to improve college attainment rates.
- Alex Mooney and Cyrus Commissariat, of Arizona State University, who proposed to bring KidzLit, a reading enrichment program for grades K–8 that designed for out-of-school settings, to Boys & Girls clubs that serve the urban Native American communities.
- Filiberto Vargas, of Arizona State University, who plans to use a gaming approach to teach language arts via a personalized, blended learning approach for each student.
Following each five-minute pitch, the finalists fielded two questions from our panel of judges. SVPAZ was honored to be joined by a distinguished panel of judges from the leading businesses and education nonprofits in the community, including:
- Christine Thompson, the new president & CEO of Expect More Arizona.
- Ray Schey, publisher of the Phoenix Business Journal.
- Matthew Pittinsky, CEO of Parchment& co-founder and former CEO of Blackboard Inc., both education startups.
- Drena Kusari, general manager of Lyft for the Phoenix area.
- Vince Yanez, senior vice president for Arizona community engagement at the Helios Education Foundation.
Guests were invited to attend a reception in the Great Hall while the judges deliberated. In addition, guests could also vote via text message for their favorite pitch to receive the Audience Choice award.
And the winners are:
- Audience Choice award ($5,000) – Filiberto Vargas, Blended Learning
- SVPAZ Partner Award ($7,500 and Southwest ticket vouchers) – Christopher Figueroa, Z Connect
- Judges Choice Award ($50,000) – Amanda Gryzkewicz, I Can Math
In addition, because all of the student presentations were so compelling, the Burton Family Foundation generously awarded the remaining two teams $5,000 each to continue the work to implement their ideas. The Burton Family Foundation also provided $1,000 stipends for the students leading up to the event.
SVPAZ would like to thanks all of the Ed Pitch sponsors who made the evening possible – Arizona Community Foundation, the Burton Family Foundation, the Armstrong Family Foundation, APS, KJZZ, SRP, Season for Sharing, Helios Education Foundation, Intel, and Southwest Airlines. In addition, we would like to also especially acknowledge our emcee for the evening, Kim Covington of Arizona Community Foundation.
Finally, thank you to all the SVPAZ Partners for your support and encouragement during this process. Ed Pitch would not have been possible without your commitment to connecting with causes that make a difference. We are looking forward to seeing where the next step in our journey to elevate education in Arizona will lead!