ReadAskChat, a 2016 finalist in the John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC), has some exciting news to share: the launch of its educational app for families with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

As one of the leaders of this effort—and as a 2016 graduate from Chicago Booth—I credit the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation with helping to get this social venture off the ground.  Matt Rubin

In late 2015, the Rustandy Center connected me with the cofounders of ReadAskChat, Alice Letvin and Carolyn Saper. At the time, I was hoping to participate in SNVC, the social impact track of the nationally ranked Edward Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge run by the Rustandy Center and the Polsky Center.

I spoke with several SNVC teams before deciding to join ReadAskChat. I was drawn to the cofounders’ commitment to help close opportunity gaps between academically at-risk children and those from more affluent families by fostering school readiness. I was impressed with their vision and method, and thought their prototype product showed promise. 

(Educators have long understood the importance of reading with young children, but busy parents have less and less time to do so. The ReadAskChat digital library comprises short, content-rich stories, songs, poems, and science features. Each reading is accompanied by embedded “conversation starters” at three developmental levels to guide parents in having brain-building, back-and-forth exchanges with their children—even with babies. The ReadAskChat continuum coaches parents to be active in their children's learning during the foundational period of cognitive growth—ages 0–3.)

After competing in SNVC and placing as a finalist, I continued working with the cofounders to apply for a prestigious National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (NSF-SBIR) grant. I also received coaching from experts at the Polsky Exchange and I-Corps programs.

In December 2016, ReadAskChat received a $225,000 nondilutive investment from NSF. Program officers recognized the great quality and potential impact of our product, saying we could be “transformative.” By that time, I had become an equity partner and Head of Strategy.

Periodically, my partners and I reflect that we could never have come this far without each other. My partners value the Booth skillset I bring to our business, just as I value their education expertise.

The next step? We’re applying for an even bigger, Phase II grant from NSF later this year.

Stay tuned.

You can support the ReadAskChat mission by downloading the free app on the Apple or Google Play Store today!

Read more in Coaching Parents Digitally: ReadAskChat and the Mission to Close Achievement Gaps before School Begins in the April 24, 2017, edition of Social Innovations Journal.