Modeled after hit television show, Shark Tank, an annual virtual technology competition called LaunchPad, spearheaded by the Language Flagship Technology Innovation Center (Tech Center) in the College of Arts, Languages & Letters at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, welcomed first-time entrepreneurs to key up their submissions. Four startup companies pitched technology products intended to impact world language education.
“We think it is important for nascent companies to receive early feedback from the profession,“ said Julio Rodriguez, director at the Tech Center. “It’s a win-win situation. Companies receive feedback to better align their products to the research and needs in language education; and language educators get a chance to shape new products in ways that best suit their needs.”
The competition’s panel of highly specialized judges reviewed submissions that ranged from apps that help learners rapidly jumpstart their Mandarin speaking skills, an English vocabulary and pronunciation platform, conversational language activities to using popular music lyrics to grasp a new language.
Mobile application Lirica earned top marks from the judges and won the LaunchPad Award capturing the honorary plaque. The digital platform matches up core language components with the lyrics of different pieces of popular music. The company is founded on the premise that songs make language memorable. With each song, users learn vocabulary, grammar and listening comprehension in context, with the hope of it being reinforced each time they listen.
“Lirica’s application represents a unique approach that leverages both self-directed and teacher facilitated learning,” said Richard Medina, project lead and specialist at the Tech Center. “Their contribution occupies a niche in the world of language learning technology that really impressed the judges. We are excited to see where they go from here!”
Products are judged on various criteria, such as product alignment, pitch quality, innovation, user experience and potential for use in the Language Flagship, a network of 31 Flagship Programs at 23 higher education institutions across the country, including two programs at UH in Chinese and Korean.
The People’s Choice Award was given to Charlala, which netted a majority of votes from the competition’s online audience. The conversational language app converts any device into a digital canvas to engage students in authentic conversations through a variety of communicative activities including card talks, weekend chats and storytelling.
Participating startups gain exposure to thousands of language educators and several successful companies in the field. UH’s Tech Center started the LaunchPad competition in 2017, inspired by popular Japanese TV show Dragon’s Den, and its U.S. successor, Shark Tank. The annual event is designed to facilitate early dialogs between startup companies and world language professionals.