UR TURN earns a place as a Tekne Award Finalist

MINNEAPOLIS, Oct. 1, 2018 – UR TURN, SBC is a finalist for the Minnesota High Tech Association 2018 Tekne Awards in the Science and Technology Startup category. For the past two decades, the Tekne Awards have recognized organizations that are leading-edge innovators in science and technology Minnesota. The 2018 Tekne Awards ceremony on Nov. 29 will reveal winners among the finalists in 16 categories.

UR TURN’s innovation in ed tech software placed the company in the top three finalists due to leading-edge Artificial Intelligence/Neural Network technology.

“We are thrilled to get recognized by the Tekne judges and to be in competition with high quality companies. The competition is fierce,” said Founder and CEO Angie Eilers.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, president and CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association, said, “The Tekne Award finalists this year represent the ongoing strength of innovative Minnesota-based companies. They are pioneers in leading-edge science and technology that has impact around the globe.”

UR TURN, SBC is a B2B SaaS tool that serves middle and high school students and their families by serving as a personalized, mobile-enabled AI-driven counselor. Specifically, it is a nudging/alerting tool for 6th-12th grade students that helps them set goals and track progress.  This kind of data-driven, research-based intelligence is especially helpful for first-generation college aspirants and for low- to mid-performing students.

About the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA)

The Minnesota High Tech Association is an innovation and technology association united in fueling Minnesota’s prosperity and making Minnesota a top five technology state. We bring together the people of Minnesota’s science and technology ecosystem and lead the way in bringing science and technology issues to leaders at Minnesota’s Capitol and Washington, D.C. MHTA is the only membership organization that represents Minnesota’s entire technology-based economy. Our members include organizations of every size − involved in virtually every aspect of technology creation, production, application and education in Minnesota.

mhta.org   |   @MHTA   |   @minnesota-high-tech-association

Interview in Tech.MN with UR Turn CTO Peter Kirwin

Peter Kirwin is the CTO of edutech startup UR Turn — the developers of software designed to help students stay on track.

How long have you been working in tech for and what is your background?

I’ve always really enjoyed programming. I began seriously working with code in school for numerical simulation in physics and economics. I got into web application development in my first startup about 10 years ago. I was the industry person, not a programmer, but the programmers let me get involved with some of the math-intensive backend stuff, and got hooked.

What are you focused on right now?

I’m currently running technology for UR Turn, a Minneapolis-based education start up founded by a fellow educator, Angie Eilers.

We help schools identify students who are falling off track to meet their post-secondary education goals. In particular, we’re making some very exciting improvements to our algorithm for the upcoming academic year and working to tie into more software that schools already use.

What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?

We run a web app in ruby on rails, and we’re currently trying out some different ways of building and implementing a neural network. Our current idea for the neural network is to develop it in R, and evaluate new observations in R right out of ruby on the web server — which would be great if it works.

How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?

I advocate for using the five whys, and spending time defining problems before deciding on solutions. In technology, it’s easy to think that a problem can only be solved with cutting-edge tools. But by spending time getting to agreement on what the need is, and then drilling down to its root cause, we can separate the problems that genuinely require AI or autonomous drones from the ones that can be addressed with a well-structured Google spreadsheet. This allows us to apply our resources efficiently, and prevents us from obtaining flashy solutions to problems we don’t actually have.

 

What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?

We’re still pretty small. All told, there are four of us and we outsource some work, too. The technology/business objective alignment goes through me, but other than that we’re a very flat organization. We use some simple software to help with tracking the agile components, but beyond that it’s usually quite clear who should be doing what, and once a task lands on someone’s plate they have great autonomy how they go about addressing it. I can’t take a lot of credit for this working well; we have a small team of great people and it’s pretty easy for things to go well in that case.

How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions?

Being as small as we are, and being a startup with a laudable mission, we’ve been able to fill our positions just by reaching out to people in our network. That plan won’t work forever, but it has served us well so far.

How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?

Newsletters and blogs are great, but I find that the most interesting way get details on the important things is to intently listen to talented programmers working on new initiatives whent they complain about what’s hard at their jobs. For one thing, this focuses on technology that real companies have decided to pursue and helps avoid technology that has been ‘two years from wide adoption’ the market for the past ten years. Another advantage of this practice is that you get a more complete sense of those technologies. It’s easy to read about the selling points of new technology, but talking with someone who is currently struggling with it offers a valuable picture of what adopting it myself or in my organization would be like.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

I remember seeing robots on cartoons when I was a kid and wishing that I had something like that to do my chores for me. I’ve come to realize that we already have robots; they don’t have blinking eyes or antennae on their heads, but technology that meaningfully replaces work I don’t want to do, or enables me to do something I can’t do on my own, exists and is getting more power.

What we’re doing at UR Turn is a great example of this: some students receive sufficient advice on what they need to do in order to, say, go to college, but others don’t. We can’t afford enough school counselors to address this problem, but we can enlist the robots. We use large data sets and sophisticated algorithms to show students how their current behavior affects their ability to obtain future goals so that they can make changes if necessary.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

Technology has always been a valuable thing to own. I worry that as technology replaces humans in increasingly skilled jobs, an even smaller number of people and corporations will end up controlling even more wealth. I don’t think that our society is well equipped to deal with this, and I believe that a lot of people are going to suffer while we figure out what to do.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry – how could it be better?

I love the tech community around here. More people should use VIM, but that may be too much to hope for.

What are you into outside of technology?

Eating, and running enough to eat the things that I want to without having to buy new pants.

UR TURN chosen as Capella Prize winner for Best Ed Tech company, MN Cup Finalist, and speaker at upcoming events

Of 1300 applicants in the Minnesota Cup, a statewide innovation competition, UR Turn was selected as one of the Top 16 companies to advance to the final event on October 9.  CEO and Founder, Angie Eilers, will pitch at MN Cup as well as at WE Pitch Fest, the premier Women Entrepreneur's event on October 9.  As a featured speaker at Twin Cities Startup Week, Dr. Angie Eilers will serve on a panel of founders at Educelerate at ECMC.  Contact us for more information about attending any of these exciting events.

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UR TURN chosen as semi-finalist for 2017 Minnesota Cup competition

Of the 1, 300 applicants to the Minnesota Cup this year, UR TURN emerges as a semi-finalist. There are 80 competitors in 8 divisions in the semi-final round. UR TURN is competing in the Impact Ventures division which is for mission-based entrepreneurs that aim to have an impact on the critical challenges facing our society including education, sustainability, health, and economic and social equity.  Finalists will be announced in August, 2017. Let the games begin!