Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Leo Ascarate works with Elijah Roper to make a t-shirt during Teacherpreneur Pitch Night at the Chattanooga Whiskey Event Hall Sunday, October 20, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The event kicked off Start Up Week.
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Teachers return with even bigger ideas to improve education at the sixth annual Teacherpreneur Pitch Night

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Teacherpreneur Incubator:

— 1st Place: Zooom: Philip Cooper, Dalewood Middle

— 2nd Place: Preheat to English: Kristen Stackpole, East Brainerd Elementary

— 3rd Place: P3, Portable Putt-Putt: Stacey Bandy, Sequoyah High

— Crowd Favorite: Teacher Innovation Lab: Allison Fuller-Mulloy and Shannon Roddy, Signal Mountain Middle/High School

Teacherpreneur Accelerator:

— 1st Place: iGen: Beth Wilson, Red Bank Elementary

— 2nd Place: The Passage: Brittany Harris, Harrison Bay Learning Community and Colleen Ryan, Rivermont Elementary

— 3rd Place: VirtuREAL Collaborative: Shannon Seigle, STEM School Chattanooga





Chattanooga's signature event for educators to pitch their best and brightest ideas during the Innovation District's annual Startup Week was back and bigger than ever this weekend.

The Public Education Foundation of Chattanooga, in partnership with Hamilton County Schools, the Benwood Foundation, Co.Lab and others, hosted the sixth annual Teacherpreneur pitch night.

Ten educators from local schools across Hamilton County pitched their ideas — cooking classes for adult English language learners, a sports-themed middle school physics field day and virtual reality projects created together by elementary school students and high schoolers.

But the highlight of the latest Teacherpreneur cohort was the return of some of the most successful projects from years past. The seven educators behind them came to ask for help in expanding their already successful startups across the district.

"What we are seeing is the maturation of the Teacherpreneur idea," said Dan Challener, Public Education Foundation president. "It's extraordinary the impact [these projects] can have on students. Each one of them have shown that with funding and community support we've had teachers who have developed just extraordinary ideas."

Brittany Harris and Colleen Ryan have traveled more than 15,000 miles in their red mini-bus, The Passage, engaging students and families in their mobile classroom.

Tarah Kemp has lined up more than a dozen partners and hosted cooking classes for her students at Dupont Elementary.

Beth Wilson's fifth graders from Red Bank Elementary visit the Life Care Center of Red Bank weekly and participate in class activities with the elderly residents there.

The projects that were part of the Teacherpreneur Accelerator were competing for cash prizes from $500-$1,500 Sunday night, but they also showcased the entrepreneurial spirit that exists throughout Chattanooga — even in the classroom.

The goal when launching the extension of the Teacherpreneur Incubator program this year, Challener said, was to show that past projects aren't just one-off successes.

"Many of the pitches that we've seen today bring real-world, authentic experience to education," said Matthew Craig, a VW eLab specialist at Red Bank High who pitched the project "My School Ink," a model to bring Red Bank's successful screen-printing start-up and supply chain course curriculum to other schools in the district. "But how does the program continue to fund itself year after year?"

Though winners walked away with immediate cash prizes and fanfare Sunday night, the real work comes in the next few weeks, when PEF officials along with Hamilton County Schools and Benwood Foundation representatives sit down and look at the sustainability of each project.

"Working with the community, they deliberate on the viability and scalability of each project," said Michael Stone, director of innovative learning. Projects that are chosen for support can receive up to $10,000 in grant funding, with more than $90,000 being awarded to these "big ideas."

Grant Knowles, innovation coordinator for Hamilton County Schools' new Office of Choice and Innovation committed that the district would help support all teachers with out-of-the-box ideas for improving education in any way it could.

"Our job is to make sure that every student in Hamilton County has excellent choices regardless of circumstances," Knowles said. "For us, innovation is working around challenges, and it is building a network to work together to overcome those challenges. These teachers have opted in — We will find a way to support every teacher here."

Of the returning projects, Wilson's cross-generational classroom snagged first place and $1,500 in prize money.

Philip Cooper of Dalewood Middle School's sports-themed middle school physics field day, Zooom, won first place and was selected for additional funding, mentoring and sponsorship by The Enterprise Center.

Started in 2013, Chattanooga's Startup Week is designed to inspire and celebrate the success of small businesses. Startup Week includes the Chamber of Commerce's Spirit of Innovation awards, which recognize companies launching innovative products, practices or processes that give them a competitive edge in the marketplace. The week also includes Co.Lab's annual awards for top startup businesses, change-makers and ecosystem builders.

To see the full Startup Week schedule, visit

Contact Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.