Kerry Ao wins Student Entrepreneur Mira Award
Evansville, Ind.-based Intertwined CEO and Co-founder Kerry Ao won the award for Student Entrepreneur of the Year during TechPoint’s 24th annual Mira Awards gala honoring the best of tech in Indiana.
When you’re an Indiana high school senior and France’s President Emmanuel Macron applauds one of your research papers, you might be forgiven for focusing solely on a future in international affairs. Evansville’s Signature School senior Kerry Ao would likely respond, “Au contraire.”
The 2023 TechPoint Mira Student Entrepreneur of the Year award winner can’t be pigeon-holed so easily. Yes, he’s pursuing an International Baccalaureate diploma, but he also leads his school’s business club and works on the leadership team for the STARTedUP Foundation Alumni Association. He’s also a leader in the Indiana Youth and Government High School Model Government Conference and helped organize the first-ever middle school conference, attracting students across Indiana to engage in the legislative process and eliminate fees to ensure access for students of all economic means.
At 18, he’s a serial entrepreneur, a veteran fund raiser, product developer and co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Intertwined Finance LLC, a financial literacy program being piloted in 14 states that uses artificial intelligence to help students learn.
Since January 2022, Ao has raised $36,000 in pre-seed capital. An additional $3,000 was bootstrapped from the company’s co-founders: Ao, Cooper Croslyn and Naina Muvva. Intertwined won the 2022 University of Evansville (UE) High School Changemaker Challenge, earning full-tuition scholarships to UE. The trio also won the 2022 Innovate WithIN Regional Finals in southwest Indiana, each plowing their $1,000 prize money back into the company.
The STARTedUP Foundation, which nominated Ao for the Mira Award, says Intertwined “has reimagined the way financial literacy education is taught in the classroom” and “is on track to become one of the most promising student startups in the region.”
Ao was eight-years-old when he launched his first company – making and selling Rainbow Loom bracelets to his fellow third-graders. He picked back up in high school, launching an online retail store, a stress-relieving gummy product, an organic biodegradable dishwashing detergent, a clothing drop-shipping company and QuickSoar, a crowdfunding platform to help student entrepreneurs attract funding for business ideas and pay for college expenses and community events.
Intertwined Finance, launched in the fall of his junior year, is his most successful venture. He said he was inspired by seeing his friends spend money recklessly and learning that too many Americans have only a light grasp on financial literacy.
The software product created by students, for students is led by a mission of expanding access to quality financial literacy education by reimagining the way AI is used in the classroom. Using a freemium model, the software offers a variety of resources for the classroom including both printable and online curricula.
“I wanted to truly innovate the way financial literacy was taught in the classroom. Instead of long and boring articles about topics such as avoiding credit card fees, we developed interactive lessons with engaging graphics to better help our peers comprehend basic personal finance,” he said.
Ao led the initiative to integrate AI into the software to help students learn more effectively. The Intertwined Finance team uses AI to help write curriculum and knowledge assessment content and for student interactions. For example, if a student misses a quiz question about how to budget a biweekly paycheck, instead of moving on to the next question, the AI automatically rewords the question and corresponding answer choices in a way that the student might better comprehend. This continues until the student answers the question correctly, demonstrating foundational understanding before he or she can advance in the curriculum.
Ao worked with Indiana Department of Education and several education service centers to pilot test Intertwined Finance’s minimum viable product in classrooms across the state. As they collected feedback, they pushed forward with a pre-order sales cycle for the fall 2023 semester, using AI to contact more than 220 potential leads with personas classified as a department head, curriculum coordinator, or education specialist.
Intertwined has engaged with interested educators across 15 states, potentially impacting over 22,000 students. Ao also negotiated a partnership with a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing financial literacy and combating economic inequality nationwide through a network of volunteer educators.
“While our entry into the EdTech space is with a financial literacy curriculum, the true solution that we’ve built is our AI-driven software,” he said, explaining that it offers the opportunity to expand and scale into other subjects such as literature, history, and psychology, revolutionizing the learning process and optimizing that process for each student.
See All Award Winners from the 2023 Mira Awards Gala.
TechPoint, the nonprofit, industry-led growth initiative for Indiana’s digital innovation economy, honored the state’s top successes and innovations during the 24th annual Mira Awards gala with presenting sponsors UKG, Salesforce and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
A total of 18 award winners and honorees were chosen from the 141 outstanding people, companies and products that were selected as nominees for their achievements during the 2022 calendar year.
Fifty-two independent, volunteer judges spent more than 850 total hours evaluating applications, interviewing nominees, and selecting this year’s winners. Judges included an impressive roster of company founders, CEOs and presidents, CTOs, CIOs, engineers and other industry professionals.
TechPoint’s Mira Awards are named after the first of the brilliant variable stars to be discovered—the Mira Star. It is also the Latin root meaning “worthy of admiration, wonderful, marvelous.” The awards represent the best of tech in Indiana each year.