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Statler College students win West Virginia Business Plan Competition

Lukas Thackery, Nate Wimer, Craig Dobrowski and Jorden Anfinson

Brite creators Lukas Thackery, Nate Wimer, Craig Dombrowski and Jorden Anfinson. (WVU/Submitted photo)

A team of students from the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources were announced as winners of the 16th annual West Virginia Business Plan Competition. The team was awarded $40,000 for their business Brite, a software-as-a-service platform that gives professors and administrators real-time data insights into student feedback, classroom learning and engagement, all while assisting students on their academic journey.

Story by Brittany Furbee, Communications Specialist


The team that pitched the winning idea at the competition is comprised of Co-Chief Executive Officers Nate Wimer, a mechanical engineering major, and Lukas Thackery, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major, Chief Technology Officer Craig Dombrowski, an aerospace engineering major, and Chief Product Officer Jorden Anfinson, a student from Denison University in Ohio. 

Hundreds of teams applied for this year’s competition, which was narrowed down to 5 teams who competed for funding as part of the finals during Bridging Innovation Week on April 19, in Wheeling.  

Hosted annually by the Encova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the John Chambers College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University, the competition affords college students from around the state with the opportunity to make a business idea come to life with the support of state institutions of higher education and seasoned business professionals from around the country. 

While the students originally entered the competition with a business idea based on drone technologies, they soon pivoted their idea to reflect a more relevant and pressing issue - the higher education crisis, where there is a dire need for an educational tool to help students, professors and university administrators alike at WVU and other colleges around the country. 

“Just last month we heard WVU President E. Gordon Gee say in his state of the university address that ‘higher education is under attack' and that WVU is facing challenging times,” said Wimer. “This is due to national college enrollment dropping eight percent in three years according to PBS. In addition, higher education is battling the college dropout crisis, where first-time undergraduate freshmen have a 12-month dropout rate of roughly 24 percent according to the Education Data Initiative. These problems have sent negative financial effects rippling across the country, especially at our home university of WVU. There is a vital need across institutions to retain the students they already have so they can maximize revenue potential and maintain an adequate reputation.” 

After interviewing several administrators at WVU, the students learned that many classroom metrics are collected to help mitigate this said problem. However, they learned there is little to no student engagement data, meaning universities don’t have a clear picture of what is going on inside the classroom. Brite aims to help university officials by providing them with data analytics so they have a lens into the classroom, can identify positive trends and retain students in the long run. 

Many professors rely on student feedback on their performance and teaching effectiveness from end of the semester course evaluations. After speaking with professors, the team at Brite realized that these evaluations are conducted too late in the semester, which impacts administrators' ability to implement changes, and the results can be skewed based on the grades students earned in each class. 

“Professors expressed frustration that there is no widespread system to monitor student feedback in real-time, before students fall behind,” explained Wimer. “Brite’s teacher dashboard will display aggregate classroom analytics after each lecture while placing no additional responsibility on the professor. When professors adopt our technology in their classrooms, they gain the data needed to understand their students' academic needs like never before.”  

The software will also address concerns that many college students face today.  

“Students often sit in rigid and crowded lecture halls with hundreds of their peers, where they may struggle to understand the material but are too afraid to ask questions for fear of looking foolish or being judged by classmates,” said Wimer. “This problem is especially large for new incoming freshmen, who experience a big leap from high school to college with the change in academic intensity being novel and intimidating. When students do not ask questions, they don’t learn, which can lead to failed or dropped classes. Brite will allow students to anonymously ask questions without the fear of being ridiculed, increasing classroom engagement and discussion. Using Brite, students will feel comfortable engaging and asking questions, leading to enhanced learning outcomes.” 

“Students, professors and universities will all benefit from Brite” said Dombrowski. “Students will all have an equitable voice in the classroom, while providing valuable feedback to their professors. Teachers will know how their students are understanding the material, can help those in need and track attendance easily. Universities can have insights into engagement and student-feedback, and how it correlates to retention, allowing for a better understanding of what tools and techniques are working in classes.” 

The students are currently in the development phase of their business plan. The next step is in place, as they are currently building their working prototype, expected to be finished by July 2023, so they can begin implementing their product in classrooms. This process will be significantly expedited thanks to the funding they received as winners of the competition. 

“This prize money is what will allow us to build our product and ship it out quickly,” said Thackery. “We’re going to launch a beta-testing phase for over 2,000 WVU students next year, and we want to give them something they’ll really love and find useful. We’ve brought together a team of software geniuses who turned down internships to work for us, and we’re going to use a portion of the prize money to compensate them for their time and hard work.” 

Brite will be conducting beta testing during the 2023-24 academic year and has made agreements with the WVU Nursing Department, Fundamentals of Engineering Program and select business and music classes at WVU. The app will be free for professors and students to use in class for a semester. Feedback will be gathered from this select group of testers for app refinement and to meet the needs of professors.  



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, contact our Marketing and Communications office:

Phone: 304-293-4135