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GSA Launchpad

GSA Launchpad


Office: New York


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A platform for smart kids to come together and tackle the world's biggest challenges

More students than ever are pursuing STEM education, yet the amount of unfilled STEM jobs is greater than ever. This is the heart of the STEM Paradox and our driving motivation as we embarked on a journey with the New York Academy of Science to use technology to foster the leading scientific minds of our next generation.

When The New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) approached Beyond, their mission was clear, but not simple: the NYAS wanted to use technology to encourage a larger, more diverse range of students to follow their interest in STEM. Together with the support of their Global STEM Alliance — a partnership of more than 140 different companies, governments, and stakeholders with investment in STEM growth— NYAS wanted us to reinvent the way students use technology to not just learn in STEM fields, but to create and innovate using STEM skills.

Our original pitch for NYAS was a platform called Launchpad — a learning hub that combined the project-centric focus of Kickstarter with the social and physical elements of sites like MeetUp, and a dash of LinkedIn’s professional and academic networking. It would make STEM fun and interesting, by creating a platform to collaborate on projects with other students around the country and share each other’s work. It was an ambitious concept, and NYAS was excited enough about the idea that they wanted to start right away, skipping the typical research process.

But after meeting with other stakeholders, it became clear that a strong research process was key to creating a valuable and intuitive platform for students. We wanted more validation about who the right user is for Launchpad and what they need. During our nearly three-month long research effort, we interviewed a wide cross-section of students across the economic spectrum in New York. This led us to low-income students in the Bronx, traditionally-labelled Gifted & Talented students at the most prestigious STEM schools, and everyone in-between.

We took these student insights and worked together with educational thought leaders and lifelong educators who have a passion for innovative, project-based learning methods, including the educational leads at Google and LEGO’s hands-on learning experts. After that, we matched these experiential insights with market analysis of other educational platforms to see what worked and what didn’t.

Our analysis helped us hone in on the real problem: the glaring gap in project-based learning opportunities that “spark”  students in their development and lifelong passion for STEM. Equally, companies are actively seeking to grow a long-term talent pipeline and want to connect with the next generation of innovators. Connecting these two sides of the ecosystem made perfect sense.

But it was a big bet.

Given NYAS was already hosting a series of STEM challenges in March of 2016— a 250 student competition with PepsiCo and major semiconductor manufacturer ARM sponsoring— we decided to leverage these programs and build a minimum viable product in the form of a  technology platform to test our hypotheses, providing a viable student collaboration experience.

The production schedule was a breakneck pace— starting in December 2015, the NYAS team worked out of Beyond’s NYC office three days a week, allowing for close collaboration. The atmosphere was almost collegial at times— when a problem or design decision arose, we were in close enough proximity that we would all gather together for hour-long discussions, as our designer on the project sketched out potential ideas in real time. It was the same kind of collaborative energy we were trying to create for the students who used Launchpad, and the effect translated to the product.

We supplemented this work with informal student testing throughout the process, and by March 2016, we had a minimum viable product.

Our 3-month lean product development process created a product that enabled:

  • Students to form virtual teams from all around the world
  • A forum & conversation experience to discuss ideas
  • Creation of project teams in response to a corporate challenge (Pepsi and ARM)
  • An assigned mentor for each project team
  • Private team collaboration – sharing messages, documents and even integration with Google Hangouts
  • Assigned milestones for projects that populate on the team’s public project wall

Our 3-month beta closed and we had 250+ satisfied students and mentors who provided valuable feedback that is leading to the ongoing development of the product roadmap. In total, 85% of the students reported an increase in leadership skills and 9 out of 10 mentors said they would recommend joining Launchpad.

But the story of Launchpad isn’t finished. With room for growth and a potential to find new ways to apply the platform to larger educational groups, Beyond and the New York Academy of Sciences are excited to work together to explore the next chapter in Launchpad’s story, and find a way to help connect bright young minds with growing business leaders in STEM.

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