Pictured: Wooten; photo courtesy STENCIL
CHAPEL HILL – Close to 13,500 high school students dropped out of North Carolina public schools in 2012, according to state records. UNC graduate Julian Wooten developed innovative software program, STENCIL, which he says will help lower that number.
As part of our summer series on young entrepreneurs in Chapel Hill, Wooten‘s start-up, STENCIL, is this week’s featured venture from the business incubator LaUNCH Chapel Hill.
Through tracking data, STENCIL, or Students and Teachers Employing New Criteria in Learning, can alert teachers, administrators and parents if a student is likely to drop out. It takes into account patterns like frequent absents, GPA’s below a certain mark, and excessive disciplinary incidents.
“In addition to helping manage student information, it also has an algorithm that predicts if a student will drop out of school. That was the original incarnation of STENCIL,” Wooten says.
During his own collegiate studies, which included summer teaching stints and internships, Wooten says he was troubled by a statistic he came across: one out of every four high school students will drop out.
As Wooten crafted STENCIL, he realized it could be more than just an algorithm.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t we develop this to be an analytics suite so we can do more?’ We can track what students are learning and what needs to be re-taught. We can also tweak the algorithm to not just being drop-out prevention, but also if a student is just in trouble academically.”
STENCIL is launching pilot programs in August at the North Carolina School of Science and Math and the UNC School of Public Health for its leadership program. Wooten says there’s been interest from public schools in the state as well.
Wooten, who graduated in 2008 with degrees in biology and chemistry, credits a UNC entrepreneurship competition for helping to kick start STENCIL in 2011.
“Actually, my business was born out of the Carolina Challenge,” Wooten says. “If I didn’t have all of these tools here, we probably wouldn’t have been able to start as fast as we have and to also be as far along as we’ve come. It’s amazing.”
Wooten, in addition to running STENCIL, went back to school for a graduate certificate in Nanomedicine and is now pursuing his MBA from the Kenan-FlaglerBusinessSchool.
He says the local efforts of business incubators like LaUNCh Chapel Hill are already making an impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Triangle.
“The great thing now is that there is so much energy. There are so many people excited. There is so much visibility. There’s so much networking going on now,” Wooten says. “And a lot of those big ideas that you see in Durham and Raleigh, a lot of the people have come from Chapel Hill.”
Wooten has already had a big year in funding and recognition. He was named as one of the Top 40 Under 40 Entrepreneurs in the Triangle, and in February, won the 2013 Governor’s Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation. Gov. Pat McCrory presented him the award.