BIG IdeaBounce 2024 | 14 Finalists Dazzle In SharkTank Contest

Team ASL Aspire

School Affiliation: Illinois Gies, WashU

Description: ASL Aspire is an online educational platform that teaches STEM literacy to K-12 Deaf and hard of hearing students and their teachers.

Problem:

Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children don’t have access to basic vocabulary to succeed in STEM, making them seventy times less likely to pursue STEM careers, and much more likely to be unemployed. This is a huge loss to society, as the students are unable to contribute to the development of innovation and discoveries. Our primary focus is addressing the accessibility barrier that prevents STEM terminology from reaching deaf and hard of hearing students in K-12 classrooms.

Solution:

ASL Aspire teaches STEM literacy to K-12 deaf students and their teachers through online games. Expert-made ASL lessons are integrated with minigames to help students practice new signs while having fun. Our machine-learning technology enables them to validate signs in front of their webcam. With our user-friendly dashboard, teachers can track student progress and identify areas for intervention, making in-class instruction even easier. These games have been prototyped in 4 schools around the nation as part of a paid pilot program, with customer discovery interviews run on more than 250 decision makers and educators as part of the i-Corps program.

Market:

Globally, more than 400 million deaf people learn in sign language. Our initial market is the 720,000 deaf students in North America who need these words immediately. Support for this market is strong, as the U.S. Federal funding provides $122B to special education programs. Our secondary market is hearing ASL learners. All 50 states now accept ASL as a choice to fulfill the foreign language requirement. The demand for ASL classroom tools is becoming as high as Spanish and French classrooms, but the ASL market is far less saturated. The number of hearing ASL classrooms in America has skyrocketed an incredible 1000% in the past decade, reaching over a million students annually. In recognition of varying technology accessibility worldwide, we are addressing cultural challenges by developing a new physical board game with a partner company based in Mexico. This joint effort aims to overcome cultural and technological barriers, ensuring broader market relevance and accessibility.

Competition:

While numerous ASL learning tools exist, they predominantly target beginners and lack a specific focus on STEM education. For example, widely-used resources like ASL Pocket Sign and the ASL App cater to hearing users seeking basic sign language skills. In contrast, ASL Aspire distinguishes itself by being meticulously designed for students and teachers with a proficient understanding of signs, specifically addressing the gap in STEM-focused ASL tools.

What sets ASL Aspire apart is its emphasis on classroom functionality and seamless integration into existing curriculum. Teachers can efficiently monitor student progress, assign personalized word lists, and facilitate engaging multiplayer and individual modes. Unlike existing tools that primarily serve as dictionaries, ASL Aspire offers a comprehensive educational solution. Additionally, the competition lacks regular updates to incorporate new STEM signs, a critical deficiency that our solution actively addresses.

Beyond competing with other ASL learning tools, our primary competition is the makeshift curriculums that educators of the deaf currently create to enable them to teach STEM. ASL Aspire acts as a direct intervention in these classrooms, providing a pre-built, relevant, and innovative solution. What truly sets us apart is the expertise within our team – Deaf scientists who are pioneers in their respective fields and deaf linguists actively contributing to the development of new signs. This unique combination of features positions ASL Aspire as a cutting-edge solution for STEM-focused ASL education.

Value Creation:

ASL Aspire’s sustainability in 2024 is assured through a proven proof of concept, validated by engaging with 250+ educators and administrators, and refined with ongoing input from our educator focus group. Our three-phase go-to-market strategy solidifies this sustainability: Phase 1 secures partnerships with current schools and deaf residential programs; Phase 2 targets the broader public school market, including hearing students; and Phase 3 focuses on global expansion in collaboration with sign language companies, initiating pilot programs in negotiation in Mexico and Canada. Strategically balancing revenue generation and social impact at each step, ASL Aspire not only ensures financial sustainability but also advances its mission of inclusivity for deaf and hard-of-hearing students globally. With a commitment to sustainability beyond a vision, we only need four schools signed on to achieve sustainability in 2024.

In addition to its potential for financial sustainability, ASL Aspire emphasizes fostering positive social and environmental impact. Our innovative education platform empowers deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, breaking down barriers and promoting inclusivity. Enhancing linguistic and academic skills, the program nurtures a supportive community, encouraging self-expression and confidence. Furthermore, ASL Aspire empowers students by showcasing deaf scientists in America as living proof that it is possible to be anyone they want to be. This representation inspires limitless opportunities, contributing to the personal and professional growth of each student within our society.

The Team:

Mona Jawad, PhD Candidate in Speech and Hearing Science (2028); Ayesha Kazi, MS in Computer Science, Business Management (2025); Hamnah Razzak, BS in Finance (2025); Manuel Jacobo, BS in Finance (2025)

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