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.


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:

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!


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 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
Scholar Hero

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

Idea Foundry (

Idea Foundry (

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!)

idea foundry pdf

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 or follow this link.

Lee Ngo
Scholar Hero, Inc.

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


(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 ( 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 or fill out the contact form below:

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

From Prague To Pittsburgh: An International Writer’s Festival

Between The University of Pittsburgh’s Contemporary Writers Series and the Pittsburgh Speakers Series, there is a veritable treasure trove of intellect and wit available to both academics and enthusiasts alike in Pittsburgh this autumn. One event is of particular significance: the Prague Writers’ Festival, organized for the first time outside of the Czech Republic.

Michael March established the Prague Writers’ Festival to allow European authors to inspire and create within a literary refuge. Today, this not-for-profit organization uses its donations to unite writers who speak towards internationally important themes.

Michael March (Photo Source:

Of all places, why is the festival in Pittsburgh? Our city is actually the location of the signing of the Pittsburgh Agreement, which led to the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. This particular festival commemorates the 95th anniversary of that historic national event.

Prague, a writers haven. (Photo Source: Letizia Barbi

The theme this year is the “Pursuit of Happiness” and a nation’s role in ensuring it. Point Park University will host the event. For more information, visit:

Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.

Continuing Culture: Engaging Events Coming to Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is no stranger to revitalization. We even wrote an in depth blog post about it. Three major initiatives are arriving in the Pittsburgh this fall continue the city’s great strides in artistic and cultural growth. These events stand as a celebration of how far Pittsburgh has developed and as a testament to the city’s future as an international center of culture. Here is what you can expect:

The Rubber Duck Project

On September 27th Pittsburgh’s rivers will become reminiscent of a very large bathtub. A four-story rubber duck designed by Florentijn Hofman and assembled in Pennsylvania will float from the West End Bridge, around the point, and down to Roberto Clemente Point.

Carnegie International

From October 4th to October 6th  Pittsburgh will be home to 34 artists from around the world. This citywide exhibition and the art that it brings will celebrate community and humanity.

(Photo Source: Desiree Williams

(Photo Source: Desiree Williams

The Remaking Cities Congress

        October 15th-18th will bring 300 urbanists together for discussion, presided over by none other than Charles, Prince of Wales.  These speakers will talk about the future of industrial cities, all with one of greatest examples of transformative success as their backdrop.

The Pittsburgh of today. (Photo Source: ctj71081

The Pittsburgh of today. (Photo Source: ctj71081


 Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.

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

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. (

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.


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

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 for more updates!


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