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Finalists for WGU's Ed-Tech Accelerator Focus on AI, Accessibility

Competing at a national summit next month, the first five new companies recognized by Western Governors University Labs’ Accelerator Pitch Competition address critical challenges in education.

Inclusivity, accessibility and artificial intelligence-driven innovation are major focuses of the startups selected Tuesday for Western Governors University (WGU) Labs’ inaugural Accelerator Pitch Competition.

The five finalists chosen from the field of more than 60 submissions “identify and support innovative solutions poised to transform the educational landscape through technology,” according to a news release Tuesday. They will continue on to the ASU+GSV (Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley) Summit in San Diego next month to pitch for the top prize of cash, services and opportunities valued at $100,000.

WGU Labs, a nonprofit arm of the university based in Salt Lake City, works to identify challenges in education through research, consulting and supporting startups, in which it invested $850,000 last year. The Accelerator program is specifically aimed at lowering student costs and increasing access to education. The news release said entries for the 2024 competition had to meet at least one of the following criteria: simplified access to financial aid, personalized learning paths, AI-powered support, skills-based hiring solutions and empowering underrepresented talent.

The finalists demonstrated that they are capable of addressing critical challenges in education and bringing their visions to life, according to Brad Bernatek, WGU Labs Accelerator managing director.

“Their approaches underscore the importance of technology in enhancing learning outcomes and reflect a deeper understanding of the diverse needs of learners across the country,” he said in a public statement.

The five finalists include:

  • REACH Pathways: Through gamification, this tool teaches low-income and first-generation college students how to secure financial aid and mentorship opportunities, according to the company website. “The in-app journey builds their skills in a way that feels more like Fortnite and less like homework,” the website says.

  • Studious: This AI-powered tool helps students prepare for the Chartered Financial Analyst exam by learning more about them, analyzing their study methods and providing a personalized success plan ahead of the exam date, according to its website.

  • Alma Learning: This technology is designed to help high school and college educators conduct virtual class discussions by creating an AI assistant that interacts with each student. According to the company website, it can summarize and analyze student answers to questions, observe whether they're actually typing the answers themselves in real time rather than copying and pasting, and personalizes its approach according to what it learns about the students.

  • Making Space: This company offers free skill-building courses, backed by employers, to job seekers who are disabled or come from underrepresented communities. It also matches users with potential jobs based on their interests and skills.

  • The ApplyAI: This application allows job hunters to communicate by voice or text to an AI-powered assistant that provides feedback and helps with cover letters, resumes, LinkedIn pages and other online tools used for employment searches, according to its website.