And the winner of the BB&T Discovery Forum is…

Over the weekend, we welcomed fifteen teams of young entrepreneurs – all winners of our regional Discovery Forum series – to Hunt Library for the BB&T Leadership Symposium, with each team pitching their social entrepreneurship venture for the chance to win $10,000! We’re so proud of each our participants for their ingenuity, dedication, creativity and commitment to their local community.

DF Collage

We’ve been talking a lot at the Institute about the importance of project-based learning (PBL), a theme that resonated through each of our five FutureWork Day Two Leadership Hackathons. These innovative young upstarts – all ages 18 to 30 – demonstrate the need in North Carolina for more PBL initiatives, including on-the-job skills training, to prepare our next generation for the future of work. Without preparation for work from PBL, we could be missing out on similar brilliance from bright young minds; hands-on training can light the spark on the next great idea to improve the future of North Carolina!

We’ll be talking more over the next few weeks about this event and our ties to civic engagement, but learn a bit about our three finalists below.

And, without further ado, the winner of the BB&T Leadership Symposium – FreshSpire!


A little about our three finalists:

  • FreshSpire (winner!) partners with grocery stores so that consumers can get updated notifications on marked down perishables like meats, breads, dairy, and produce. We recover nutritious food that would otherwise end up in our landfills.
  • According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, 1 in 5 local households (nearly 200,000 citizens) do not have a home computer, affecting nearly every aspect of economic and educational achievement for those affected families. Informative Technologies has sucessfully piloted a solution to this “Digital Divide” by creating ReviveDrive™computers: recycled laptops pre-loaded with our multi-lingual, Windows-compatible operating system, tested and packaged by high school interns, and sold at a wholesale price of $100 to area schools and nonprofits as a profitable fund-raiser. The technology allows “reduced-lunch” families to connect to subsidized broadband at home.
  • Special Pedals, Inc. is a non-profit bike shop that trains and employs adults with disabilities, while offering convenient low-cost bikes and bike repairs to UNC Wilmington students. Special Pedals, Inc. seeks to build a community where adults with disabilities are employed in positions that offer equal hours, pay, and quality of life. The mission of Special Pedals, Inc. is to offer individualized training programs and employment opportunities for adults with disabilities

For more information on the Discovery Forum series, visit our website.

Care about project-based learning and its impact on North Carolina? Register for next week’s FutureWork Virtual Engagements in five sectors: Banking & Finance, EdTech, Energy, Goverment/Smart Communities and Healthcare!


InnovateSENC: Perspectives on PBL

UNCW CollageOur partners at InnovateNC traveled to Wilmington last week for the InnovateSENC (Wilmington/Carolina Coast) cross-city convening! In touring its facilities, like the Center for Marine Science at UNC Wilmington (pictured above); businesses like MARBIONC and literal makerspace Manufacturing Methods; and community colleges like Cape Fear Community College and Brunswick Community College, we learned a great deal about project-based learning, innovation and the future of work.

These hubs of innovation are using project-based learning to equip their students and young workers with the skills necessary to thrive in industry. Students at Cape Fear Community College, for instance, can  enroll in its nationally recognized marine tech program and spend 32 days at sea on Cape Hatteras, getting their hands wet – literally. Wilmington and its coastal neighbors are at the forefront of innovation, and by embracing project-based learning, they’re well-suited to weather the changing future of work.

Check out the full InnovateNC/project-based learning conversation via Storify!

IEI Environments Newsletter: March!

author-1Ivan copy2Our March Environments Newsletter is out!
We’re thrilled to welcome old friend Diane Cherry and FutureWork Leadership Hackathon panelist Ivan Urlaub as expert voices for this edition of the Environments Newsletter.

Cherry and Urlaub, both of the NC Sustainable Energy Association, tackled how to best develop North Carolina’s Energy Vision:

As part of FutureWork, stakeholders participated in a special energy sector “Leadership Hackathon” focusing on an important question: What can North Carolina do now to ensure the right mix of new employees given the utility business model changes?

Future Works, 2016 IEI Forum

After their work was done, participants voted for strategies they felt were the most important. Topping the list was a unanimous decision that we must first develop an energy vision for North Carolina’s energy economy before considering other workforce development strategies.

Read more from Cherry and Urlaub, and subscribe to all of our sector-area newsletters.

Anita in China: We have work to do in NC

author-v2I’ve loved the experience of being in Beijing. That said, I am more than ready to be back in North Carolina. It’s time to put my learning to work.

I’ve noted the way government officials, educators and business leaders are working together to build a culture of innovation in China. Take, for instance, the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition (BYSCC). Hundreds of projects on display at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, significant cash prizes, high-level leaders using the opportunity to encourage school teachers, and an award ceremony reminiscent of a Hollywood affair.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair will be held this weekend, at Meredith College in Raleigh.

I’ve been talking to Tom Williams, who is also here in Beijing. He explains our event will be heroically pulled together by a hearty group of volunteers, supported by limited ever-faithful sponsors, and is unlikely to attract the high-level policy officials who should most celebrate its existence. We can change that.

I’m committed to working to support the 2017 North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair, to help it reach a new scale. I hope you’ll join me.


Many thanks to the NC Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center for inviting me to serve as a delegate this year. I’m grateful to my colleagues, to my fellow travelers, and to the wonderful students we went to support. I have many ideas for how to implement the lessons I’ve learned here in North Carolina; I’m off to work!

Anita in China: Treasure, Treasure

author-v2I’m writing to affirm the Chinese proverb, “A nation’s treasures are in its scholars.” I’ve spent days with amazing young people from across the world, and I was most impressed with the four North Carolina students here for the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition.

Our students wowed the Chinese judges, and racked up on the medals for their projects.

Meet them:

IMG_0670.JPG-150x150Jonathon Kuo
NC School of Science and Mathematics

Jonathon’s Project: Making and testing a fuel cell that does not require the membrane or many of the other costly components of a traditional ethanol fuel cell, lowering the overall cost of making the cell. By further refining the components of the fuel cell and thus improving the performance, ethanol fuel cells can be made into viable, less expensive sources of energy.

IMG_0671.JPG-150x150.jpegNimit Desai
NC School of Science and Mathematics

Nimit’s Project: Discovering how to selectively activate certain beneficial protein pathways and not activate harmful pathways, thus improving therapeutics for inflammatory disorders and dysregulated T-cell activation, both of which are fundamental to our immune system.

IMG_0465.JPG-150x150.jpegHolly Ren
Enloe High School

Holly’s Project: Developing effective methods to control parasitic nematodes contributing to massive crop loss. Plant parasitic nematodes – microscopic worms that feed on plant cells – cause nearly $100 billion in annual crop loss, making feeding the world’s growing population very difficult. This research can help to develop novel ways to control these parasites.

IMG_0438-150x150.jpgRohan Deshpande
East Chapel Hill High School

Rohan’s Project: Creating a small, inexpensive device, installed invisibly, that accurately tracks the number of people in a room by monitoring its entrance. This could save school districts more than $10,000 annually by reducing wasted electricity consumption, and could lead to savings of more than $160 million annually if installed in all public school restrooms in the United States.

We’re headed back stateside, and while I’ll be sad to say goodbye to our adventures abroad and to these students, I’m confident our future – and the future of North Carolina and its workforce – are safe in their hands.