The Halloween That Changed My Life: Submitting To Thrill Mill’s Business Bout Two Years Ago

I can’t believe it was two years ago when I discovered The Business Bout and rushed to complete an application THAT VERY SAME NIGHT. I had only moved to Pittsburgh from California just four months ago. My “company” at the time, then known as Academica, was only a fragment of its original Startup Weekend team – truthfully, I was the only one who stayed onboard.

The Original Team Academica.

The Original Team Academica

Still, I put together the best possible application that I could, one that featured two Yalies, two former co-workers from my days in television, two classmates from the West Coast, and three people I had recently met in Pittsburgh. Our projections were highly baseless, our plan of action non-existent. All we had was our convinction. I had no other hope whatsoever in making it any further than the submission process.

The Original Team Scholar Hero. I'll never let... you get the point.

The Original Team Scholar Hero

I was in Manila when I got a large email from Bobby Zappala say that we’ve been accepted into the first cohort of “The Hustle Den,” the now-retired name of the co-working space owned and operated by the eponymous Thrill Mill. We were offered a full year of workspace, networking opportunities, mentoring, and any other support they could provide.

My first reaction, of course: who the heck was Bobby Zappala?

Turns out some Duke and Pitt Law graduate decided to leave the Pittsburgh legal world and do more for his hometown. A few of his close friends – Luke Skurman, Serge Smailbegovich, Kevin Heher, and Alex Palma – had been running an annual event called the Baller BBQ for years, raising money for a startup prize competition: The Business Bout.

The Original Ballers: Alex, Bobby, Serge, Kevin, Michael

These men had built up so much money and support the next move was to create more opportunities for local startups to grow and thrive. This led to the creation of a co-working space in Pittsburgh’s up-and-coming East Liberty sector, and the re-branding of their event to, of course, the Thrival Festival.

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Moby: The Original DJ (trademark pending)

I remember my first encounter with Bobby – it was a late night in the middle of Broad Street, and a huge-grinning Zachary Quinto-looking dude waited for us outside of a vacant building in a shady neighborhood. He escorted upstairs to show us our new home for the next year.

Luke and Bobby, who insists we say he’s the one “on the right.”

The months that follow were incredible. I worked alongside people who were enthusiastic about their work, genuinely supportive of one another, and eager to become close friends, if not “startup family.” We pitched our ideas at Google, stayed in close contact afterwards, and for some of us (especially me), we never quite left… physically.

Working in Thrill Mill.

Scholar Hero in Thrill Mill.

Thus, I know that there are probably a few teams right now wondering if they should pull the trigger and apply to Thrill Mill’s third class. I started my application about three hours before the deadline, and I’ve built a company I’ve quite proud of since then.

What’s the worst that can happen? Here’s the link: http://thrillmill.com/apply/

Lee Ngo
Founder, Scholar Hero
Thrill Mill: First Class Cohort
Thrill Mill Second Class Alumni Mentor

Scholar Hero is now in Remote Beta! Sign up for a demo at scholarhero.com/beta-signup!

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The reviews are in from out Pittsburgh testers, and they have been stellar! After responding to their feedback and iterating accordingly, we are ready to test Scholar Hero beyond our home base!

To test with us for absolutely free, simply go to scholarhero.com/beta-signup. We will send you to our testing page with a permission code. All we ask in return is a quick survey about our platform after a week of use.

Thanks to everyone for their support, and we hope to keep working hard to get Scholar Hero ready for our wide release!

Lee Ngo
Founder
Scholar Hero

Thank you, Idea Foundry! (Scholar Hero Forges Ahead)

Idea Foundry (www.ideafoundry.org)

Idea Foundry (www.ideafoundry.org)

At the end of February, Scholar Hero will come to the end of its term in the Entertainment and Ed Tech Accelerator Program hosted by Idea Foundry, one of the leading investing entities in innovation and technology in southwestern Pennsylvania. The experience was a truly blessed one.

Scholar Hero founder Lee Ngo and Idea Foundry Entertainment and Education Initiatives Program Director Gary Gardiner

Scholar Hero founder Lee Ngo and Idea Foundry Program Director Gary Gardiner

Under the mentoring of Gary Gardiner, director of this selective program, we were able to accomplish what once seemed impossible: virtually complete Scholar Hero’s minimally viable product (to release for private beta within the next few weeks!)

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Our page in the Idea Foundry Entertainment and Ed Tech Sector – 2013

We now realize the importance of accelerators in communities that hope to stimulate their regional economies and encourage ambitious people to forge something real and sustainable. Pittsburgh is truly lucky to have so many of these entities (a lot of them not-for-profit, no less), and we are more than honored to be a part of them.

A little preview of Scholar Hero: Version One!

A little preview of Scholar Hero: Version One!

Our hope is that Scholar Hero has met the high expectations of the Idea Foundry and will want to continue this fruitful relationship in the future. Without their boost of confidence, funding, and networking, our company would certainly be in a very different place. For more information about the Idea foundry, and their Entertainment and Ed Tech Accelerator Program, visit www.ideafoundry.org or follow this link.

Lee Ngo
Founder
Scholar Hero, Inc.

Scholar Hero is accepted into the Idea Foundry’s Entertainment & Ed Tech Accelerator Program!

Yay!

(from left) Technical Director Michael Butler, Founder and Executive Director Lee Ngo, and Idea Foundry Program Manager Gary Gardiner

Amazing news for Scholar Hero! On November 5th, 2013, we have accepted our invitation to join the Idea Foundry’s Entertainment & Ed Tech Accelerator Program! The Idea Foundry (www.ideafoundry.org) is one of Pittsburgh’s premiere technological and business startup accelerator programs in southwestern Pennsylvania. Their Entertainment & Ed Tech program is unparalleled in the region, and it is perfect for Scholar Hero’s current aspirations.

For Scholar Hero, this is a terrific milestone. This program provides the company with its first official investment, just nine months after its incorporation and barely a year after its initial conception during Startup Weekend Pittsburgh #2. The Idea Foundry also provides mentoring, advisement, and other standard resources that come with a prestigious, competitive accelerator. We haven’t been this excited since being selected as part of the inaugural class of the Thrill Mill Hustle Den incubator program!

Scholar Hero founder Lee Ngo pitching at Google Pittsburgh for the Thrill Mill Thrival Innovation series.

Scholar Hero founder Lee Ngo pitching at Google Pittsburgh during Thrill Mill’s Innovation Series.

Another great perk about the Idea Foundry is its close proximity to Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, schools with students, professors, and staff that we hope will be among the first early adopters of our platform. Testing and validating our product could not be made any easier for us now, and we hope that more established partnerships might emerge as well from the improved locations.

Moreover, because of our acceptance into the Entertainment & Ed Tech Accelerator Program, we are also being evaluated early for Idea Foundry’s highly competitive Core Program as well. Potentially, this puts us in a position to receive more funding! (One step at a time…)

The Scholar Hero Development Team hard at work on our first prototype.

The Scholar Hero Development Team hard at work on our first prototype.

“We are truly ecstatic and grateful to have the support of the Idea Foundry as we continue to develop our platform and build our potential user base,” says Lee Ngo, founder and executive director of Scholar Hero. “Program Manager Gary Gardiner and the Idea Foundry have provided us with wonderful feedback over the course of the year, and they have been a major influence in our overall conceptual, technical, and business development. We look forward to our continued partnership over the next three months and beyond.”

We hope that this is the first of many future successes to come! Our selection into this renowned accelerator program provides further validation for our unique and innovative concept, but now the pressure is on for us to deliver! We hope to do you proud, Idea Foundry!

To learn more about Scholar Hero, visit http://www.scholarhero.com or fill out the contact form below:

Lee Ngo is the founder and executive director of Scholar Hero, Inc. All rights reserved.

Scholar Hero’s Presentation at Google Pittsburgh: Thrival Innovation 2013

Founder Lee Ngo pitches to an audience at Google Pittsburgh on 9/7/2013. Photo courtesy of No Typical Moments (www.notypicalmoments.com)
Founder Lee Ngo pitches to an audience at Google Pittsburgh on 9/7/2013. Photo courtesy of No Typical Moments (www.notypicalmoments.com)

Has it really been a week since our company’s first major presentation to the Pittsburgh technology
and entrepreneurial community?

After several all-night preparations and collaborations with other teams incubated in the Hustle Den, an incubator owned and operated by Thrill Mill, Inc., we pulled off what felt like the impossible: a concise 5-minute pitch at Google Pittsburgh demonstrating our proof of concept. Here’s a clip of the presentation (scroll to the 1 hour, 17 minute, 36 second mark for our presentation):


Video courtesy of Thrill Mill, Inc. (www.thrillmill.com)

Lamentably, the video does not do the presentations justice. It is amazing how much our companies have grown over the last several months. In our case, we were little more than a handful of good ideas that needed to be refined into a bona fide company. For our successes, we must thank Thrill Mill for the opportunity they’ve given us as well as the countless people who have contributed to our development along the way.

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Founder Lee Ngo poses with founders Rachel Bane and Jimena Quan of Mix: a salad-themed restaurant for the Pittsburgh community (photo courtesy of Scholar Hero)

Still, we have a long way to go. A few more milestones ahead include:

  • Overhauling the landing page to reflect our new direction
  • Creating a public beta version of our product
  • Securing some early seed funding to help us support that beta
  • Expanding our network via social media (especially this blog)
  • Solidifying our core founding team
  • Generating that first dollar of revenue
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How we do after a long day of pitching: The Thrival Music Festival (photo courtesy of Scholar Hero)

Keep an eye on this blog and our landing site http://www.scholarhero.com for more updates!

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Lee Ngo is the founder and executive director of Scholar Hero, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

An Ode to Startup Weekend Pittsburgh (from an “Alum”)

The stuff that dreams are made of.

Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Spring 2013 came and went this past weekend with three well-deserving winners out of nine compelling presentations:

  • In 3rd Place: BrewMetrics, an app for beer enthusiasts that recommends other beers to you based on your preferences. Check out their app demo on YouTube.
  • In 2nd Place: SpareSpace, an app that connects people with excessive belongs to people with room to spare in their homes. Their Twitter account is here.
  • Grand Prize Winner: ShareCloset, an app that enables people to inventory, display, and share clothes with other people online.

    They even have a cool graphic and trademark!

Immediately after the judges announced the winners, I knew that some teams were heavily disappointed by the results. After all, Startup Weekend is one seductive beast of a competition, where every team that pitched had confidence enough to stand in front of a very tough crowd, and thus many would feel like they should have won. Personally, I thought this cycle’s competition was so fierce that I couldn’t comfortably predict the top three.

For all the teams that did not place or get recognized for their hard work: I feel your pain, and yours will go away soon.

After all, Scholar Hero was initially conceived out of the previous Startup Weekend Pittsburgh competition as “Academica,” and even we were convinced that we’d knock it out of the park. Of course, we ended up losing to some very qualified teams, but we held our heads high and decided to keep going anyway.

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Our original icon. How vintage.

Outside of the top three that placed back in our late September competition, several teams out of that competition  have continued on and made terrific progress thus far, such as:

  • Fashion Field Guide, an app that aims to provide fashion-impaired men with improved style tips, became the initial product of Engineered Style. This company is now in the current cycle of AlphaLab, a top incubator in Pittsburgh if not nationwide.
  • MegaBits, a mobile app game that is strikingly similar to a particular Japanese monster-fighting phenomenon in the 1990s, was selected by local accelerator ThinkTiv alongside the competition’s winner ThoughtfulHusband.
  • Even our company, Scholar Hero, was named a finalist for the Thrill Mill’s Business Bout just a few months later, and we’re certainly enjoying our new home at The Hustle Den, Pittsburgh’s newest incubator.

All of this became possible with the efforts of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, and it’s safe to say that this competition changed many of our lives for the better. Thus, for everyone that’s still feeling a little bit down about not placing, just know that it isn’t about winning or losing, given the sheer multitude of factors that go into it.

Visionaries behind two kitchen-based ideas come together. This is when magic happens.

Visionaries behind two kitchen-based ideas come together. This is when the magic happens.

Startup Weekend is really about meeting new professionals in your town and coming together to be entrepreneurs, to create something amazing in a very short amount of time. If you came out of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh having accomplished either one of those criteria, then you came out of it a huge winner.

As for the next step in your entrepreneurial pursuits, well, that is entirely up to you. Good luck!

The views expressed are solely of Lee Ngo and do not reflect or represent the general views of Scholar Hero, Inc.  

What it Means to Be a Scholar Hero: A Mission for 2013

Our new name.

Our new name.

It’s been nearly three months since our last post, and so much has happened since then. To give you a quick list of the major events of our project:

  • Incubation: We were selected as one of the finalists for the Business Bout, a competition run by The Thrill Mill, a Pittsburgh not-for-profit that wants to get involved with the booming start-up season. Our reward was a full-year of incubation, which includes free rent, legal support, and access to the business “in-crowd” in Pittsburgh. Suffice to say, we’re pretty ecstatic about that. Our participation was even recently featured in the Pittsburgh Business Times, among other news outlets.

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    Our new home.

  • Incorporation: With the security of incubation, we moved forward and finally became incorporated in the state of Delaware on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of this year. However, we remain fully committed to exercising our business here in Pennsylvania and contributing to the local and state economy.
  • Identification: We changed our name. Formerly (and informally) known as “Academica” from Startup Weekend, we changed the name to Scholar Hero and incorporated as “Scholar Hero, Inc.”

The last one needs a bit more elaboration. In a sentence, we wanted to be search-friendly, and masquerading under a “.me” domain wasn’t helping our chances. Some people complained that they couldn’t find us, and others even wondered if we wanted to be found. Thus, we went back to basics and collectively came up with a name that encapsulated our mission completely: Scholar Hero.

Unlike these gentlemen, we’ll honor our Prime Directives.

Our “Prime Directives” remain the same:

  • Create a space for scholars to collaborate in a positive and potentially fun manner
  • Reduce some of the excessive, sometimes exploitative costs that come with participating in the academy
  • Make the overall life of the scholar a much more manageable one

We also have a few more productivity goals that we aim to hit:

  • To go into private beta by June 2013 at the absolute latest (we’ll create a wait-list for this very soon)
  • To go into public beta by September 2013, meaning we’ll be accessible to everyone
  • To do at least a weekly post (now that we have your attention) on this blog

So what does it mean to be a Scholar Hero? Follow our site or get in touch with us and we’ll find out together. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and if you’re willing to join us, contact us here. We’re looking to fill a lot of positions and maybe increase our partnerships, which you can find out about at our Careers page.

“Let’s get hustlin’.”

Lee Ngo
Founder and Executive Director
Scholar Hero