HATCH 2018: Hatching New Ideas in Central Wisconsin
By Taylor J. Hale
PLOVER — The HATCH entrepreneurial pitch program chose its small business regional winner of the $5,000 grand prize Nov. 7 at the Noel Car Barn.
The winning organization, Amira Learning, specializes in AI-based education software geared to help children in kindergarten through third-grade read and develop their phonetic skills.
“Our mission is to use artificial intelligence to change the way people and children learn to read. This idea came to my partner and I while working at Renaissance Learning. Since then we have split out on our own to pursue this project,” explained Pete Jungwirth, Founder of Amira Learning.
Amira Learning uses voice recognition along with a powerful AI engine to assess, analyze, and coach readers to fully optimize their literary skills. Jungwirth is a Wisconsin Rapids native with over 16 years of experience in the educational technology industry. He was an employee at Renaissance Learning, the Wisconsin based education software company, before leaving to work full-time on Amira Learning.
“We are going to use the winnings from tonight’s HATCH event to run pilot tests and buy Chromebook laptops for the schools and students who have donated their time to help us develop this software,” said Jungwirth.
This year is HATCH’s second event in central Wisconsin. HATCH is a program designed to give- small business owners, inventors, and entrepreneurs a platform to broadcast their ideas to receptive ears in the community, giving them a chance to win some seed money while also providing a nexus to network with others in the business realm. The BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation, WDC, and the NEWaukee group came up with the concept. The goal was to build upon the entrepreneurial ecosystem in central Wisconsin.
“This is our second year doing the event in central Wisconsin. It is also our first year setting up other similar HATCH events in Eau Claire and Racine,” said Todd Kuckkahn, Executive Director of the Portage County Business Council. “Programs like this are important for a lot of reasons. It shows people no matter what your idea is, you can have an opportunity to get it off the ground and make it a real thing. A lot of these small businesses grow into bigger things and eventually bring more jobs and money into the community.”
The HATCH events are formatted similarly to ABC’s “Shark Tank” TV series. Six entrepreneurs compete and give product presentations to a panel of judges who vote on a winner. This year’s central Wisconsin competition also included a baby and toddler sleep enhancement device, a line of high-quality sipping vinegar, a one-handed powder and liquid measurement tool, a comic book pricing and collecting app, and a state of the art wine preservation apparatus.
One thing that differentiates this event from others is that the audience has a say in the vote, too. Attendees can cast their ballots, the organization with the most audience nominations wins the title of People’s Choice. This fun, public engagement, does not affect the judging panel votes.
The People’s Choice winner this year was Siren Shrub, the elegant sipping vinegar company based in Stevens Point.
UPDATE: During the award presentations at the end of the evening, Fred Raasch of BrightStar incorrectly announced that Siren Shrub was the winner of the People’s Choice Award, determined by a popular vote of those
The correct recipient of the People’s Choice Award and $500 cash prize was Michael More and his
product, the Scape, while Siren Shrub earned the BrightStar Entrepreneur Award and a $500 cash prize.
The Scape is a unique product that synchronizes aspects of mobiles, light projectors and sound machines to
help babies and adults sleep. More and The Scape product won the local Hatch event in Stevens Point to
qualify for the finale.
Even with the stiff competition, Jungwirth’s articulate delivery and groundbreaking product brought Amira Learning and him the win. He is passionate about bringing new industries and business to the area, and he hopes he can inspire others while he continues on his mission.
“I think it’s really important for young kids in central Wisconsin to realize and feel that there are important things they can do in the entrepreneurial world without leaving their hometown,” said Jungwirth.