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Startup run by Brown students, alums prepare for $500K prize competition in D.C.

Wingspans will attend U.S. Department of Education Future Finder Challenge next week

<p>Lindsay Kuhn PhD’21 is heading to Washington next week with undergraduates Vanessa Sedore ’24 and Hayden Sisemore ’24, along with alums Alexander Chiclana ’16 and Gina Franco ’02.</p><p>Courtesy of Lindsay Kuhn</p>

Lindsay Kuhn PhD’21 is heading to Washington next week with undergraduates Vanessa Sedore ’24 and Hayden Sisemore ’24, along with alums Alexander Chiclana ’16 and Gina Franco ’02.

Courtesy of Lindsay Kuhn

The career discovery startup Wingspans — created by a Brown alum — is heading to Washington, D.C. next week to compete for a $500,000 prize from the U.S. Department of Education Future Finder Challenge.

Wingspans, a platform that shares career stories to help future workers find role models and possible careers, was founded in 2014 by Lindsay Kuhn PhD’19 while she worked on her doctorate at Brown. Since last year, the platform has expanded to over 30 high school and college campuses and garnered roughly 50,000 registered users, Kuhn said. On the platform, users can look through over 700 extensive interviews with professionals ranging from electrician’s apprentices to lawyers and chemists. 

The team is squaring up against four competitors for the half-million dollar prize — and winning it would be “life-changing,” said Kuhn, who serves as the startup’s CEO. $250,000 or less is available for two runners-up in the competition, meant to facilitate the creation of digital tools that will improve the career navigation experience for adult learners. Finalists, including Wingspans, were invited into an accelerator that offered mentorship and other “virtual resources,” according to the challenge’s website.

If all goes well for the team in Washington, Kuhn said she hopes the team can use the prize to attract investor funding. Kuhn is heading to Washington with undergraduate interns Vanessa Sedore ’24 and Hayden Sisemore ’24, along with alums Alexander Chiclana ’16 and Gina Franco ’02, along with other members of the team from outside the University. 

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Sedore joined Wingspans in 2020 before starting at Brown. Interested in education, she said she was “immediately intrigued” by the startup’s concept. 

Since then, Sedore has interned for the group as it expands its offerings to users. 

“I’ve done a lot with building content for the website — and we’ve been trying to integrate more (artificial intelligence) in the website and continue building with technology and connection,” Sedore told The Herald. She also helped improve the site’s accessibility.

Wingspans is “a project that keeps me so passionate about the work we’re doing,” Sedore said .

Sisemore joined as an intern soon after Sedore. “Like so many people our age, I’ve been kind of lost,” he said, pointing to the challenges of choosing the right career as a young person.

Since joining the team, Sisemore has helped develop career resources on the platform and offer users more information about hard and soft employment skills. 

Allen Wang ’26, another intern for Wingspans, said working with the team has been “an awesome experience.”

Wang, a computer science concentrator, helped incorporate machine learning to improve the site’s career recommendation feature. He also developed a feature that aims to make career exploration fun by awarding points to users for interacting with the website.

With the interns’ help, Kuhn said she hopes Wingspans becomes “the go-to platform for authentic, real-world perspectives on the world of work.” 

“We see it being for students, adult learners, two-year colleges, four-year colleges and high school students,” Kuhn said, with the goal of “really making sure they have better outcomes and can develop skills to have family-sustaining wages.”

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Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the Future Finder Challenge as a grant competition. In fact, it is a prize competition. The Herald regrets the error.

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Neil Mehta

Neil Mehta is the editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald's 134th editorial board. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.



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