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Competition calendar    Feb 02, 2021

Q&A With The Render Competition Winners – BrainStem

Learn about one of the winners of the inaugural Render Competition and how our $100,000 investment is helping BrainSTEM University scale their educational tech startup in the Louisville region and beyond.

Last fall, we announced the eight winners of the inaugural Render Competition. Each startup received a $100,000 investment to scale their solution within and beyond the Greater Louisville region. Now, we’re catching up with each of the winning founders to hear about their Competition experience, including lessons learned and advice to future applicants, as well as getting an update from the company about what’s ahead.

First up this week, we’re excited to hear from Ricky Mason, CEO and founder of BrainSTEM University. 
BrainSTEM University is an educational tech startup that provides a virtual learning environment & social network that teaches students of all ages programming, engineering, robotics, and entrepreneurship. They are creating a pipeline that leads kids from STEM students to STEM professionals. To learn more, you can check out their video pitch here.

Why did you decide to apply for Render Competition?
I applied for the  Render Competition because I was excited about this type of investment in Louisville startups. We knew $100K and the support of a local VC would be huge for BrainSTEM’s success in the exploding edtech market. 

What was something you learned from the application process?
During the application process, we learned preparation pays off. From the time we finished the first application until hearing BrainSTEM named a Render Capital winner, we continually refined our pitch.

What did you take away from your interactions with the judges?
The judges made us realize we needed to focus on our value add in our marketing and customer acquisition strategy vs free options. 

What’s your favorite part about Louisville’s startup ecosystem?
My favorite part about Louisville’s startup ecosystem is being a part of it. Born and raised in Louisville, it brings a sense of pride to be a part of the change and growth we’re experiencing in Louisville and Southern Indiana. 

How are you using the $100k and how will it help you scale your startup?
We’re using the $100K to increase the number of students participating in BrainSTEM programs; We’re releasing new curriculum for K-2 students; We’re building the BrainSTEM VLE 2.0; We’re gamifying learning…further blurring the lines between gaming, social media, and education!

What advice would you give to a company applying for the next round of Render Competition? 

Would the current efforts of your business look different today if you did not receive this funding? If so, how?

What role do you see your startup playing in the regional economy over the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, BrainSTEM will be the flagship STEM education provider for schools, home school students, and after school programs in the Midwest and beyond, leading students from Kindergarten to STEM careers solving the tough problems of the future.

How has your business had to pivot or adjust over the past year?

Before Covid-19, we provided in-person programs through partnerships with schools and community organizations. When schools closed, we had to stop programs that included over 100 students. It was hard to know our students wouldn’t get the support and mentorship they received through BrainSTEM, in addition to the STEM lessons. We started developing our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) in March, designing a platform specifically for STEM education. In only 3 months, our founder, Ricky Mason, developed an online platform with live video, chat, and limitless storage for STEM content. In July, we hosted our first virtual STEM camp with 30 students. 

What’s next for your company in 2021? 

What inspires you to continue to grow and push forward your business every day? The future is STEM and we must ensure that our youth are prepared for it. STEM education changed my life, knowing that BrainSTEM is inspiring the next generation of leaders, dreamers, creators, and innovators is all the motivation I need. #KeepMakingMoves

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We envision a robust and thriving regional economy where entrepreneurs see the Midwest and South as a place they can find appropriate risk capital necessary for them to start and grow.

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