Tech companies across the country are gearing up for the annual South by Southwest event in Austin in March. A total of 740 startups applied for a place on stage in front of an audience of industry experts, media professionals and investors, but only 40 were selected to showcase their ambitious innovations. The cream of the crop features startups from various countries and US states, and one of them is representing the Windy City.
Chicago Scholars is a nonprofit organization that works to support underprivileged students through college and in their careers. While there are 4,000 students who are eligible to complete the Chicago Scholars program each year, the nonprofit can currently only accept 550 in each class. The organization recently launched Reach Pathways as a way to serve more students through the use of technology. The startup developed REACH, a virtual metaverse platform that digitizes the Chicago Scholars curriculum.
As a nonprofit organization, Chicago Scholars runs a youth-focused program that serves Chicago high school students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher who come from low-income homes or are first-generation college students. The program equips participants with skills training, college advising, mentoring, and a supportive community to help them achieve their career goals.
Reach Pathways developed the metaverse world of REACH to guide scholars through this programming in a way that feels less like homework and more like a video game, according to Jeffery Beckham Jr., Reach Pathways co-founder and CEO of Chicago. scholars. The beta version of this platform was launched in 2021 and currently has almost 3,000 users.
Within REACH, students can traverse a virtual world that resembles an urban college campus. The paths they experience there are selected based on their specific career goals. Students find gamified elements that help them progress in their program, like earning badges for interactions with mentors, watching alumni-generated video content, or completing internship applications.
As Reach Pathways prepares to roll out its “metaversity” prototype to students this summer, the company is also gearing up for its SXSW Pitch presentation.
Reach Pathways will be featured within the future of work category of the competition. In each of the eight categories, only one of the five participating startups will be named the winner and will go home with the Best in Show award for their project. The other categories include voice and artificial intelligence robotics; business and intelligent data; entertainment, media and content; food, nutrition and health; innovative global technologies; metaverse and Web3 and smart cities, transport and logistics.
To compete in the future of work category, the startup must use technology to enable, empower, change, and expand the capabilities of the professional world, something Reach Pathways strives to achieve. In addition to helping students through college, their platform aims to help address the costly problem of voluntary employee turnover by better preparing candidates for a job. Reach Pathways also wants to make sure students don’t lose a lifetime of income due to limited access to higher education and career resources.
“Reach Pathways is founded on the belief that a student’s ZIP code should not determine the outcome of their life,” Beckham told Built In by email. “At Reach Pathways, success is about empowering diverse young adults to access better careers, increase their lifetime earnings and create multi-generational wealth in Chicago and beyond.”