Academic platform lands Black Orlando Tech pitch off’s top prize

Shawntia Lee had a goal when she entered Black Orlando Tech’s recent virtual pitch competition.

She wanted to network more with Orlando’s tech community.

Exposure to a panel of experts would give her valuable feedback on her business.

However, once she won the competition, she received something else that will push her edtech platform forward. 

“The $5,000 is going to help, too,” she said with a smirk.

Black Orlando Tech’s recent “Battle of the BOTs” pitch competition awarded $8,500 in prizes to three businesses.

Artificial intelligence travel platform Concorde won $1,000 for its third-place finish.

BuildUp, a digital wallet that supports local businesses, finished second place and won $2,500.

We wanted to put skin in the game to propel our commnity and the surrounding tech community

Jehue Francois, Black Orlando Tech

But it was Lee’s platform College Thriver, a cloud-based platform that personalizes college guidance for minorities, that took home the top prize.

“She presented an answer to an ever-present need,” said Jehue Francois, BOT’s partnership and committee lead. “That is, how to help students in their pursuit of higher education. She showcased a large opportunity and potential for real staying power in edtech.”

Black Orlando Tech launched its virtual pitch competition as a way to showcase its mission of enabling financial mobility.

For many young startups, gaining traction early can be the difference between a long-lasting runway and quick failure.

“We wanted to put skin in the game to propel our community and the surrounding tech community,” Francois said.

Thus far, Lee’s prototype of College Thriver has been running a pilot with a Junior Achievement program in Orlando and Rollins College’s Upward Bound program.

The app walks students through the process of seeking, choosing and applying for college after high school.

For Lee, the effort behind the platform has been somewhat personal.

Her father never graduated from high school, earning his GED later in life.

Her mother, meanwhile, was pursuing her GED when she passed away about two years ago.

Watching her parents struggle motivated her to complete her higher education.

“That’s the woman who raised me,” Lee said. “I was determined because I saw the life my mom was going through.”

“I wanted to break the cycle,” she continued. “The only option for me was, I need to go to college.”

One differentiator of the platform is the potential to earn financial assistance through the app when certain milestones are met.

“This is a way to create and show the way to the American dream,” Lee said.

Lee’s personal academic path was a challenge, having taken seven years to finish up at Kaplan University.

At one point, she got emotional because she did not understand her statistics course and thought it would derail her education.

“Had I known my strengths in writing and communication, it would have saved me time and money,” said Lee, who grew up in Live Oak.

As she prepared for her pitch, she knew the experience would be beneficial, whether she took home the top prize or not.

“I love pitching because you learn about strategies and start to understand how the community will receive your company. But you also see the blind spots. I am too close to see them sometimes because I’m in it every day.”