July 26, 2017 12:19 AM

Through the Gigabit Community Fund, company will award grants of up to $30,000 to worthy projects through the end of 2018.

A teacher uses Minecraft to engage with a student, an example of tech-aided learning.
Photo courtesy Gigabit Community Fund

Browser giant Mozilla has finished accepting letters of intent for learning innovation projects seeking funding through a $150,000 line of sprint grants the company awarded Lafayette earlier this year. Funds from the Silicon Valley company, known for its open source web browser Firefox, will help local teams develop classroom innovations that use Lafayette’s fiber optic network to improve education.

Mozilla is nearing the selection process on the first of two rounds of funding, according to the company’s local liaison Leah Ruffin, with applications for declared projects in this round due by Aug. 1. Ruffin expects to announce the first wave of awardees in October, followed by a pilot period for winning teams to test their concepts.

“New partnerships and connections were made,” says Ruffin of launch events held in June to attract entries. “And we had really good full-group discussions about the type of innovation we hope to pilot and how we hope to continue to catalyze the emerging tech movement in Lafayette, with a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion. I’m incredibly excited about what’s to come.”

Formally awarded to Lafayette back in March, the fund had been in a holding pattern while the search for a local liaison was ongoing. Ruffin was not hired until June, squeezing the first round of funding into a tight window. With Ruffin in place, Mozilla has moved quickly to kick start the solicitation process in the first round, hoping to build awareness and attract more entries into the second. Ruffin is a Louisiana native who’s worked in philanthropy in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. She’s currently based in Baton Rouge.

Through its Gigabit Community Fund, Mozilla will award grants of up to $30,000 to worthy projects through the end of 2018, when the company’s cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation ends.

Mozilla officially began solicitation work with a webinar on June 21. A national spokesman told ABiz earlier this year that Mozilla could maintain a local presence long-term in Lafayette through the firm’s GCF, sustaining relationships between local innovators and the Gigabit network. Mozilla has kept boots on the ground in Chattanooga, Tenn., a sister Gigabit city.

Ruffin says the fund’s presence in Lafayette is about building momentum for education innovations that take advantage of Lafayette’s fiber optic network. That’s to close gaps in educational attainment the fund’s hook — using broadband access and access to information.

Fiber is a tool, Ruffin says, something future applicants need not have an expert’s understanding of to make a successful five communities — including Austin, pitch for funding. Across its stable of Texas; Chattanooga; Kansas City, Mo. and Eugene, Ore. — Mozilla has successfully funded 44 projects in a variety of disciplines, both in and out of the classroom. Project teams have used funding to integrate virtual reality into first responder training in Kansas City, to build a cloud-based audio mixing tool in Chattanooga and create a digital mock city council in Austin.

To the extent that any of these ideas are scalable — that is, usable in other communities — Mozilla gives larger individual awards for projects with cross-city collaboration.

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