November 8, 2012
The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation is pleased to announce that Hertz Fellow, Zachary D. Wissner-Gross and his partner, John Lee are named as winners of the $25,000 Inaugural Grant of the Newman Entrepreneurial Fund. School Yourself, the company Lee and Wissner-Gross founded earlier this year, was chosen in a highly competitive process that attracted proposals from a wide range of disciplines and entrepreneurs within the Hertz Fellows Community.
“I voice my heartiest congratulations to these deserving winners—as well as to all those who developed proposals for this Grant,” stated Harold Newman, Hertz Director and principal benefactor of the Fund. “Over the years, I have noted the astonishing number of companies formed by Hertz Fellows while in school or promptly upon graduating. Some Fellows have formed companies even within the interval between their undergraduate and graduate schools. I’ve long wanted to show my support for these new ventures. It is extremely gratifying to see how far we’ve come today.”
Applicants received first call for proposals in early July. Chaired by Bob Borchers, Hertz Director and General Partner at Opus Capital, the selection committee of Hertz Fellows and Directors including, David Galas and Stephen Fantone, as well as Fellows John Frank and Chris Loose, reviewed all proposals. Recommendations to the Hertz Foundation Board on which projects to support took place during the October 2012 Hertz Foundation Board of Directors meeting.
“This financial boost means a great deal to us as founders of a start-up,” declared Wissner-Gross. “We are passionate about our value proposition. School Yourself delivers the unique hands-on experience students now require in this age of media rich communications environments. With our books, you don’t just learn about formulas – you play with them.” As a former Physics 15a: “Introductory Mechanics and Relativity” Teaching Fellow at Harvard, Wissner-Gross said the project combined his love of teaching with his fascination with how games engage people.
School Yourself is recreating education from the ground up by reformatting textbooks to take advantage of the interactive features on a computer, tablet, or mobile device. The company is “reimagining” education with the world’s most immersive and interactive books in math and science for middle and high school students. The Hertz Foundation mission indirectly supports the mission of School Yourself: that all students should have the solid science, technology, engineering and mathematics foundation they need for today’s world. “We are dedicated to making our content as accessible as possible,” said Wisner-Gross.
“The ideas and business plans submitted as part of this initiative were simply amazing,” said Borchers. “School Yourself stood out as an accomplished team, attacking an important market, with innovative products.”
The current educational paradigm is unsustainable, according to Wissner-Gross. The trillions of taxpayer dollars spent on education exceed the national defense budget. Local districts are spending $8 billion per year on textbooks while they shed teachers due to shrinking budgets. School Yourself is part of a general trend towards more tech-savvy education. This trend includes the growing deluge of online courses like Stanford’s Coursera and the Harvard and MIT EdX. While these are similar models to School Yourself, there are almost none in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields for middle and high school students.
“The Newman Entrepreneurial Initiative Grant is a very new and different mission for the Hertz Fellowship,” stated Hertz Foundation President, Jay Davis. “Yet we believe this Fund will grow as a highly fruitful venture in the years ahead.”
About School Yourself
School Yourself, founded in 2012, is based in Boston and New York. The company is rethinking the way education is delivered, making books come alive with engaging interactive content in high school and college-level math and science subjects for students throughout the world. School Yourself is creating the highest-quality educational experience for anyone by reinventing education from the ground up. Students receive an educational experience that traditional textbooks or lectures cannot provide. The highest quality content takes full advantage of computers and mobile devices to deliver an interactive and personalized educational experience. This learning experience is made affordable, unlike almost every textbook-based approach on the market. School Yourself has assembled a team of the highest caliber scientists, teachers and software engineers to create an entirely new educational experience. While static textbooks cost as much as $100, this experience is available to anyone for as low as $5. School Yourself currently has four employees and has published two books: Trigonometry and Hands-On Pre-Calculus – now available in the iTunes App Store. School Yourself was also named a runner-up in the inaugural Harvard President’s Challenge.
About the Newman Entrepreneurial Initiative Fund
The Newman Entrepreneurial Initiative Fund was established by Hertz Foundation Director, Harold Newman in 2011 to support entrepreneurial efforts by Hertz Fellows. Mr. Newman has long been an active supporter of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, serving both as a Board Director and as a generous donor. The $500K gift provides initial support in the amount of $25,000 for each new venture selected from within the Hertz Fellows Community.
About the Hertz Foundation
Now celebrating half a century of granting the Nation’s most generous PhD Fellowship, the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation contributes to the scientific and engineering strength of this Nation. We invest in the young applied scientists and engineers whose good character and creative spirit have the power to change the world. The Hertz Foundation provides the financial support that gives Fellows the freedom to innovate in their doctoral research. The highly competitive selection process includes a comprehensive written application, four references, and two rounds of technical interviews by recognized leaders in applied science and engineering. In addition to supporting the Fellows in their graduate education, the Foundation provides unique seminars, workshops and symposia that take place away from their campus environments. These gatherings expose the in-school Fellows to national leaders and researchers. A flourishing Hertz Fellows Community sees collaboration across disciplines, augmenting the vibrancy of innovation. More information about the Hertz Foundation can be found at www.hertzfoundation.org.
About the School Yourself Founders
Zach Wissner-Gross, Co-founder, CEO—Zach, a 2007 Hertz Fellow, completed his PhD in Physics at Harvard, where he won multiple awards, including Harvard’s White Award for Excellence in Teaching, for his undergraduate teaching in Harvard Physics after receiving a near-perfect instructor rating based on student feedback. He has published papers in neuroscience, biophysics, and biotechnology, and is the recipient of the Biophysical Society’s Student Research Achievement Award. Zach attended MIT, where he majored in Physics and Biology, with Chemistry and Mathematics minors, and graduating Phi Beta Kappa.
John Lee Co-founder, Chief Engineer—John is a software engineer with a background in artificial intelligence and data mining. As a Senior Software Engineer at Google, he led the data extraction team on experimental projects to mine knowledge from the open Web and push the boundaries of open-domain question answering. He studied Physics and Computer Science at MIT and completed his Masters in Computer Science and Engineering. John has published papers in machine learning and AI and his thesis won MIT-wide and international awards.
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