Intervention Program for Early Readers Wins Propeller Pitch

NEW ORLEANS – It was a big night for budding entrepreneurs.

On Thursday, Oct. 18, "PitchNOLA: Education" presented by Capital One, the Propeller business incubator awarded $11,500 to entrepreneurs working to narrow the achievement gap in New Orleans.

Dwann Wagner and Barbara M. Wagner of the "Excellent Readers" organization won the first place prize of $5,000. It was awarded by judges Amanda Kruger Hill (executive director, Cowen Institute), Tayanna Teel (principal community relations associate, Capital One), Aaron Walker (CEO, Camelback Ventures), and Nadiya Williams (11th-grade student, KIPP Booker T. Washington High School). 

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"Excellent Readers isn't just a program; it's also a reading class for struggling students," said Dwann Wagner. We'll deliver multi-sensory and systematic lessons that these students need to understand why our English language works the way it does, why we spell words the way we do, and why sounds make the sounds that they make."  

"Forty percent of the people in the Greater New Orleans area are reading and spelling below a fifth grade level, and that means they are four times less likely to graduate high school. So our common sense solution is the Excellent Readers Pilot Program," he added.

Audience members also selected Excellent Readers to receive the Audience Favorite award of $500. Excellent Readers will use the prize money to pilot their early education intervention program, designed to address areas of reading difficulty by building the foundation for phonics, reading, and spelling skills in a multi-sensory, playful, and age-appropriate way.

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The first runner-up prize of $1,000 was awarded to Ben Ifshin and Leah Lykins of "WhereWeGo" – a matchmaking app designed to help first generation and low-income students find the right college. 

"Students build basic profiles with things like their GPA, their ACT scores, their interests, and their potential majors, and we match them with schools based on very difficult to find, critical and overlooked, data," said Ben Ifshin.

The event also included a keynote speech by Dr. Calvin Mackie of STEM NOLA, and a showcase of five education ventures who have graduated from Propeller’s accelerator programs. Propeller presented each graduate with an award of $1,000 to support their growth. The recipients include Brothers Empowered 2 Teach, Healthy School Food Collaborative, Royal Castle Child Development Center, STEM Library Lab, and Sugar Roots Farm. 

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Winners were chosen based on the following criteria: potential for social impact, financial sustainability, and viability. 

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