Imagine Pokemon Go as an educational tool. Wesley Virt, a Purdue ’17 graduate and founder of EdTech startup Explore Interactive, believes this type of “learning in disguise,” as he puts it, could change the way technology is used in K-12 classrooms. Using augmented reality, Virt’s educational technology start-up, Explore Interactive, wants STEM learning to seem like play. With Explore! students will transform any smartphone, tablet, or computer into an appealing, 3-D learning device.
The latest version of Explore! debuted November 10th and brings advanced teaching approaches to the platform with the goal of composing lessons students want to complete.“We’re making it so that students want to come back (for more),” Virt says, We want kids to engage and learn, but to have fun, too. We want it to be open-ended and experimental.”
“We want kids to engage and learn, but to have fun, too. We want it to be open-ended and experimental.”
Virt knows firsthand the frustrations technological shortcomings in the classroom can cause. Seeking to bring clarity to AP Biology students, regarding microscopic organisms, at New Palestine High School in Indiana, he, his teacher, and classmates spent hours searching YouTube and other sources for videos. To their chagrin, these videos typically lacked detail or were poorly made. A Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse (WDPD) fellow, Virt used the skills he learned to lead and facilitate community deliberations as a launch pad for solving problems in the classroom. “Talking to people, finding their needs, and working to get something that brings value to them,” explains Virt, “that’s what this is for me. I love that experience. I want to solve problems.”
When Virt caught the entrepreneurial bug, he leaned heavily on his Wabash experiences like the WDPD as an accelerator, even using an assignment in his ENG 411 class as a catalyst to craft his business plan. Next, Virt landed a National Science Foundation grant through the Purdue University Foundry in the Summer of 2016 to expand his research to more than 200 teachers nationwide. “Our team thinks big,” Virt says. “We want this to be a new way of learning through a technology medium that increases standardized test scores.”
“We want this to be a new way of learning through a technology medium that increases standardized test scores.”
The momentum continued for Explore Interactive as they finished as a semifinalist in the Baylor University New Venture Competition in December 2016 and won the Boiler Accelerator program, making it the top undergraduate startup at Purdue in 2016-17. Along with the accolades, the pre-seed fund boost enabled Virt to add a handful of people to the project with expertise in finance, marketing, augmented reality and virtual reality education. These victories also allowed Virt to get out on the road. He traveled to Massachusetts to partner with school districts and a Harvard psychologist who now serves on the advisory board, as well as to California to chat with venture capitalists.
Jim Dreher ’85, Founder and Managing Partner of Option 3, serves as an Explore Interactive advisor and likes what he sees in the young entrepreneur. “He’s the kind of guy who makes other people want to jump in and do things,” he says. “He’s not risk-averse. Wesley has that type of resilience. He’s got something good, and he’s going for it.”
In the two years, it’s taken him to move from inspiration to innovation, Virt’s experiences don’t follow the usual recent college graduate playbook. Long hours, travel, brainstorming, and team-leading are just a few of the responsibilities that make his position anything but entry level. “I wouldn’t have it any other way because we are creating a product no one has ever done before,” Virt says. “There is not a process to follow or even a correct way. And that’s what is exciting about this current career path.”