Startups / Youth

How a daughter’s experience inspired this online platform for super spellers

Brainsy's newest Expert Calling Network links up-and-coming competitive spellers with the grizzled veterans of the National Spelling Bee circuit.

A new tool could help more spellers win this. (Photo by Flickr user Scripps National Spelling Bee, used under a Creative Commons license)

When John Miao’s daughter Bernadette competed in the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee, it made a big impression on the whole family. “Her spelling bee adventure was a great gift to our family and will be forever cherished in our memories,” Miao wrote in an email to

But for Miao, who’s the director of business development at 1776-based startup Brainsy (though he lives in Chicago), the trip to D.C. inspired something more than pride. It inspired an extension of his company. And so Miao forged the creation of a new Expert Calling Network (ECN) — one dedicated to super spellers.

Recall — Brainsy has created a software as a service platform that enables “knowledge sharing networks” where experts on a given topic can get paid to offer their expertise over the phone.

The new Spelling Coach ECN is a perfect example of this. It allows competitive spellers to connect with spelling bee champions for paid consultations.

From the speller side this means access to information and real-world expertise, from anywhere. And for champions (the experts) this allows a way to monetize the expertise they've built.

Experts set their own rates for 30- or 60-minute phone conversations. Spellers can also ask questions of the experts via a kind of message board function on the site.

Expert spelling coaches available include people like Snigdha Nandipati, a 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion and Sylvie Lamontagne, who won 4th place in the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee and more. They’re an accomplished bunch.

And as for Miao, well, he’s hoping that, if the site gets enough financial support, it can become a way to give other parents the spelling bee experience he loved so much. “I’m hoping to use it as a vehicle to empower economically-challenged communities to get more involved in spelling,” he told on the phone.

So you could say that Bernadette’s experience at the Scripps National Spelling Bee really inspired quite a lot — pride, a new business venture and the desire to give back.


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