Joshua Covington is more familiar than most when it comes to the challenges faced by school systems and educators today. As a former teacher and high school principal, he knows all too well the complicated dynamics at play with teacher shortages, funding issues and waning student engagement. Though promising, educational technologies never seemed to take the intricacies of student engagement and public school resources into account. “I loved the idea that you could teach science with a virtual reality platform, but it still hinges on a certified teacher being in the classroom,” Covington explained. “I saw this need for a different type of solution when it comes to education.”
That’s why he started GradEd Gaming and developed a product that combines virtual reality (VR) and gamification with artificial intelligence instruction. His solution leverages the VR technology already in schools to provide instructional solutions at a faster rate. Plus, the curriculum Covington is developing is for full courses as opposed to the standard modules found in current VR education solutions.
Tapping Into America’s Seed Fund
He connected with the Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation (KSEF) team when a friend suggested he look into government grants to get GradEd Gaming off the ground. He remembered seeing information about KSEF, an initiative of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation that helps companies secure non-dilutive funding through Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, in a startup pipeline resource from Awesome Inc, the Lexington-based Kentucky Innovation Hub.
“I found the templates and questions to guide me through the different parts of the proposal to be super helpful.”
When it comes to SBIR/STTR (also known as America’s Seed Fund), “I knew nothing,” he said. After an initial meeting, the KSEF team enrolled Covington in the NSF Proposal Lab, a series of webinars and resources that support companies in submitting an SBIR/STTR proposal to the NSF. “I found the templates and questions to guide me through the different parts of the proposal to be super helpful,” he shared.
Unheard of Support for SBIR/STTR Proposal Development
Covington completed the proposal in just a month — an exceptional pace in the world of SBIR/STTR. He credits his speed to the support and templates he received from KSEF, but admits it was a full-time job. “Without them, there is no way I would have been able to submit so quickly,” he explained. “Any time I needed help, they were right there to help me. That kind of support is unheard of.”
“Any time I needed help, they were right there to help me. That kind of support is unheard of.”
The KSEF team helped Covington navigate the areas of proposal writing he wasn’t as familiar with, such as the business side of his innovation. “I come from the world of education. When it comes to the business world, it’s so different for me,” Covington said. “They were always there to help when there was a gap in my understanding.”
The KSEF team also paired Covington with a consultant to fine-tune his proposal. He credits this one-on-one approach with being able to edit down the proposal to the most important aspects for reviewers.
Providing an Equitable Educational Resource
Next, Covington plans to complete the NIH Proposal Lab, and the KSEF team is keeping an eye out to match his innovation with other federal funding opportunities.
“Our focus is providing a resource to schools that is equitable – we want to be a product that can be used in every school regardless of how much money they have.”
He’s also developing the GradEd Gaming curriculum and is connecting with others in Kentucky’s innovation ecosystem, such as the Amplify Louisville Innovation Hub, to build out his minimum viable product (MVP).
“Ultimately,” Covington says, “our focus is providing a resource to schools that is equitable – we want to be a product that can be used in every school regardless of how much money they have.”
Contact the KSEF team to learn how you can tap into non-dilutive funding for your innovation through America's Seed Fund.