Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

CIE News


Friday Feature: Sarah Ritter and Digital Learning

By Nikki Kroushl on September 23, 2016 

Sarah Ritter and Sammy C Hawk; Friday Feature: Sarah Ritter and Digital Learning
Bradley Paercel/UNCW

Sarah Ritter came to UNCW knowing that she wanted to create a startup. The hardest part was figuring out what, exactly, she wanted to do.

“I knew I wanted to work for myself, or at least for a smaller company, because instead of maintaining products, I wanted to be building products,” Ritter, currently a graduate student in computer science, explained. “I moved here knowing I wanted to learn about mobile apps and entrepreneurship. I started out as an intern with another startup at the CIE… which is no longer in existence. [But,] success or failure, it’s still a great experience working for a startup.”

In 2015, Ritter began a Directed Independent Study with Dr. Ron Vetter, UNCW Graduate School Director and an overseer of the CIE, who mentored her while she developed the UNCW mobile app that was released last year. Dr. Vetter suggested that Ritter stay on with the CIE and continue to use its resources to help other people develop apps, so she did, leveraging her graduate assistantship as an advisory role to local companies and CIE tenants beginning last July.

The idea for Turnip Learning, the startup that Ritter founded, came in October of 2015.

“I was watching professors read from slides instead of [having] us do hands-on activities,” Ritter said. “We’re sitting in a server room, we’re supposed to be learning about networks—we should be touching the computers and building networks, and instead we’re reading from PowerPoint slides.”

But Ritter recalled one computer-based training game, involving sinking ships for wrong answers, and how that had engaged her much more than PowerPoint slides. The idea for Turnip Learning was born.

“Turnip Learning evolved from this idea to make online learning more entertaining and engaging,” Ritter said. “I really like this idea of project-based, applied learning classrooms. I wanted to build a software platform that allows teachers to create and share entertaining content, so that in the classroom time, they can do projects that pair with that.”

Turnip’s business model is loosely based on other products, such as Teachers Pay Teachers, which is a website where teachers can buy and sell paper content from one another. Turnip Learning’s platform will allow teachers to create tablet-friendly, iPad-friendly, and touch-friendly digital content, up to an entire course’s worth that can be bought and sold on Turnip’s online marketplace.

Although Ritter had the idea for Turnip Learning in October 2015, the startup didn’t fully launch until March of 2016. Already, the product is in alpha testing stages.

Sarah Ritter tabling for Turnip Learning at the CIE Welcome Week Event 2016.Sarah Ritter tabling for Turnip Learning at the 2016 CIE Open House. Photo by Nikki Kroushl.

In the meantime, Turnip Learning has become an active and valuable tenant of the CIE. In June, all the employees came together to run a workshop series called Website Basics for Business Owners. But, Ritter says, “Talking to teachers whenever I can is the most important thing.”

Ritter frequently interacts with the Watson College of Education at UNCW, getting feedback and new ideas for Turnip Learning.

 “When I worked in other industries,” Ritter said, “they weren’t always happy to adopt new technology because they were afraid technology was going to take their jobs away… it’s nice to see that teachers want to use new technology. [And] when you step into Watson… you feel like everyone is going to give you a hug.”

Turnip hopes to get its product in the hands of 10,000 teachers by spring 2017—an ambitious goal. As for the entrepreneur community in Wilmington, Ritter hopes to see more students developing apps and becoming entrepreneurs.

“I think we have a unique brand of this ‘digital creative,’“ Ritter said. “[In Wilmington] there’s such a unique opportunity to combine film and apps and marketing and creative business students… students here don’t really fit in one box.

“And what a cool place,” Ritter continued, “to start a company! If you’re really stressed out, you can just spend a Saturday morning at the beach. That’s my recovery—it’s important to recharge and get some perspective.”

More information on Turnip Learning is available at http://turniplearning.com/. You can also follow Sarah on Twitter at @sarahlovestech