Gates Foundation Kicks Off $2.5M College Knowledge App Contest With EdTech Hackathon At Facebook

To inspire developers to build apps that help kids get into, stay in, and graduate from college, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched an education tech Facebook app contest today with 30 prizes totaling $2.5 million. To kick off College Knowledge Challenge the submission period, it’s co-hosting an edtech hackathon today at Facebook’s headquarters at 1 Hacker Way in Menlo Park.

Devs of all ages are tasked with creating apps that build pathways to college, build peer groups for in-coming college students, and assist with college admission and getting financial aid. So if you want kids to be smarter, build them something and earn one of the $100,000 prizes.

Stacey Childress, Deputy Director of Education for the Gates Foundation, introduced the event saying: “At the Gates foundation we’re increasingly focused on personalized learning. We mean meeting every student where they are every day so they get what they need next to be successful. Tech isn’t a solution to that but it’s part of it.”

As to why the College Knowledge Challenge is asking developers to build Facebook apps in particular, she noted “Social networking sites…are emerging as critical to students, and low-income students especially to build social capital outside the boundaries of their neighborhoods. Facebook…contributes not only to academic success but their persistence. They feel more connected and are more likely to stay in school.”

Elliot Schrage, VP of Public Policy at Facebook, said that his company and the Gates Foundation “share a common vision of a world that’s open and connected, and where every person has a chance to live a healthy productive successful life. We both believe in the Hacker Culture.”

He followed, explaining that “Technology not only democratizes access of information, but distribution of information.” Schrage noted that Facebook’s Open Graph low-friction sharing system  allows “The experience that young people have to have the potential to go viral.” He sees the union of social networking and education “is about using the power of sharing to transform the way people live their lives.”

While the apps are designed for low-income and first-generation college students, they don’t have to be built by them. Deborah Robinson from the Gates Foundation tells me “We need to break down the barriers and have anyone with a good idea bring it.”

$18,000 in hackathon prizes will be awarded later today, with the 30 best College Knowledge Challenge apps that unlock higher ed named after submissions close on November 16th. Developers can apply here.

The event is just kicking off at Facebook HQ and we’ll have updates through the day plus an announcement of the hackathon winners tonight.