Clutch: Enhancing the World’s Drive to Just Drive

Learner Voices   03 September 2019
By Paul Haluszczak, Education Reimagined


For two full years, the Clutch team has been developing their business model and mobile application. When asked if any of them thought they would be interested in business when the project started, the chorus of learners laughingly stated, “No.”

Paul Haluszczak
Digital Content Manager

Ethan Ellis’s friend suffered a traumatic brain injury and had to live in a dark room for nearly two months. Lili Serio’s family saw their lives flash before their eyes as a vehicle sped through a red light straight into the side of their car. Koko Yee and Andrew Wheeler want to keep phones as a tool for knowledge and eliminate their ability to take lives.

These are the personal motivations of four young learners at One Stone who are driven to eliminate distracted driving from society’s pool of bad habits. Clutch—a gamified application that incentivizes drivers to keep their hands off their phones while driving—is their solution.

Learner-Driven from the Start

The Clutch story began, oddly enough, with disinterest. In fall 2017, Design Lab—a course that engages young learners in a 14-week design thinking project alongside community partners—began with various groups of learners teaming up to tackle problems of interest. In one group, a few learners, including Ellis and Yee, immediately recognized the topic they had initially chosen was not going to hold their interest throughout the semester. Rather than become passive participants, they approached their coach (what educators are called at One Stone) with an alternative topic—distracted driving—and hit the ground running.

The team reached out to and met with a Boise police officer to hear his personal accounts of distracted driving. Much to their surprise, they learned his most frequent distracted driving citations were handed out to adults aged 35-50—many of whom were texting or sending emails.

Overall, distracted driving is a major issue that is completely preventable. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were nearly 3,300 deaths caused by distracted driving in 2018. Distracted driving relates to any activity a driver conducts that, for any brief moment, eliminates visual, manual, or cognitive attention on the road. Texting while driving eliminates all three—your eyes are on a screen, one or two hands are off the steering wheel, and your mind is certainly not focused on the road.

All of this information led to one question for the One Stone learners: How might we reduce or even eliminate such a deadly habit in our community and beyond? What if the phone itself is the answer?

The team of learners were hooked on the idea of developing an application that could help prevent distracted driving caused by unnecessary phone use. Early on, their idea received a boost thanks to their partnership with a UX designer who was able to guide the learners in designing a user-friendly, engaging application.

As the fall semester wound down, the team presented their idea at One Stone’s Disruption Day—an evening where the Boise community is invited to hear young learners share their work and discoveries from their Design Lab experience. Disruption Day was a great test for the team to gauge whether or not they were truly onto something, and the response they received proved they were.

From Cool Idea to Business Venture

After the holidays, the team came back and their coach, Ashlee Greenwood, offered a brand new course called Pitch Please. The course was designed for One Stone learners to communicate their various business ideas to local business leaders at the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge—a competition originally designed for Idaho college students. It has recently expanded to include a high school competition. In the start-up and entrepreneurial world, being able to succinctly and powerfully communicate your business idea is a crucial skill. No matter how robust and dynamic, if the idea can’t be communicated effectively in a matter of minutes, you will be on your own financially.

Greenwood approached the team emphasizing how Pitch Please “could be a killer way to really get this idea off the ground and take advantage of the momentum created during the fall.” Surprisingly, only one member of the original team, Ellis, was intrigued by the idea of continuing with the Clutch project (Yee would later rejoin the team after taking a short break). Once the new Clutch team was established, they partnered with a recent graduate from Boise State’s Venture College who had a proven track record for receiving funding for his own business venture.

The partner challenged the young learners to “go out and talk to people in the community to further validate their idea.” Ellis and Wheeler took to the streets—surveying 147 adults. The surveys confirmed the police officer’s experience—60% of participants claimed to text and drive at least once a week.

The Clutch team will be quick to point out that just because adults aged 35-50 seem to text and drive at an alarming rate doesn’t mean the rest of society is off the hook. Distracted driving is an issue across the board—accounting for around 25% of all reported traffic accidents and causing around 400,000 injuries per year. What particularly interested Clutch in targeting middle-aged drivers was the fact that there were very few awareness campaigns actually focused on this demographic.


Clutch is about saving lives, and I think it’s cool to be able to save lives through business.

Koko Yee
Business Development, Clutch

With so much attention paid to the youngest cohort of drivers, it can seem narrowly targeted. “When I drive home, I see adults on their phone with kids in the car,” Wheeler reflected. “They don’t have a care in the world. They’re endangering their own family, and the more they do it, the more likely their kids will follow suit once they are old enough to drive themselves.”

Focusing awareness campaigns so heavily on youth is like telling a child to ride a bicycle with a helmet as they watch their parents and other adults do the exact opposite. “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t a great strategy for society to change its behavior.

After the surveys, the team was further challenged in identifying customer segments, demographics, the right people to get the application in front of, and ways the application could generate revenue—an idea they weren’t originally entertaining. But, if they were to create a sustainable business, revenue generation would need to be a significant part of their business model.

From the beginning, the Clutch team knew they wanted to incentivize drivers to use the application. And Serio, whose mother is a behavioral psychologist, recognized that habit change is most successful when the new habit is consistently rewarded. How could keeping people’s hands off their phones be incentivized? 

Thanks to their partnership with a recent Boise State graduate, they were introduced to PocketPoints—an application that incentivizes college students to stay off their phones during class time by rewarding them with gift cards to local businesses. The Clutch team loved the idea and with many businesses already enrolled through PocketPoints, they felt the barrier to entry would be greatly reduced.

With their business plan established and their pitch nearly perfected, they headed off to the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge already proud of what they had accomplished. But, they were set to accomplish even more. 

The team pitched to three different panels of judges and an audience of hundreds of attendees at various points throughout the competition—flawlessly answering any questions about their business plan. As the competition concluded and rewards were handed out, Clutch was given $1,000 in seed money (One Stone matched the $1,000) to continue building out their idea. Their reaction, as Ellis perfectly puts it, was simply “Wait, what? We won?…”

This is About So Much More than One Project

Fast forward to today, the Clutch team has continued “winning”:

  • Going to Washington, DC to present the power of the design thinking process—the methodology that brought Clutch to life—to transportation officials from all over the world at the annual gathering for the Transportation Research Board; 
  • Being selected as a Student Startup Finalist at SXSW EDU 2019; and
  • Preparing to pilot their application with interested organizations they have been working with.

For two full years, the Clutch team has been developing their business model and mobile application. When asked if any of them thought they would be interested in business when the project started, the chorus of learners laughingly stated, “No.”

Ellis is interested in emergency medicine; Serio has a passion for graphic design; Yee has wanted to be a doctor since she was little; and Wheeler, now wanting to continue the entrepreneurial path, was originally set on doing video production and broadcasting. Overall, their perception of the business world was “men in big suits, carrying briefcases, talking about numbers, and selling expensive things that had no reason to be so expensive.”

This perception began to shift when they connected a passion project to the business world—seeing how a human-centered solution could also generate revenue. “Clutch is about saving lives, and I think it’s cool to be able to save lives through business,” reflected Yee.


To tell a 12-year-old that what she does right now is going to impact the rest of her life is ridiculous. We should be allowed to fail.

Ethan Ellis
Strategic Planning and Marketing, Clutch

The Clutch story is but one example of the impact learner-centered learning is having on young people across the country. Remember back to how the project originally began—a group of young learners, who had developed ownership in their learning, were confident and comfortable enough to request a change in plans when their original project wasn’t singing to them. In a conventional environment, a rigid curriculum and lack of learner agency would have likely left educators and learners alike feeling unable and unwilling to explore other options.

When asked how their story could positively shift other’s perceptions of what “school” could be, Ellis reflected on a conversation he had with a local entrepreneur during a networking event. The man was amazed how Clutch was the work of teenagers. He mentioned how disheartening it was to see his own 12-year-old daughter experience anxiety over turning in homework assignments and earning the credits she “needs” to ensure she gets into a good college. 

Ellis thought, “It is ridiculous to put that much pressure on a 12-year-old girl. To tell a 12-year-old that what she does right now is going to impact the rest of her life is ridiculous. We should be allowed to fail. We should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from our mistakes. That’s something I really appreciate about One Stone—the emphasis on developing a growth mindset.”

Beyond their project and advocating for safer driving habits, that’s the message every Clutch team member wants readers to understand the most—One Stone is about providing the space for young people to explore their interests and passions, grow through failure, and develop into lifelong learners. What if every educational model in the country started from these core principles? Think of the difference that could make—and quite literally, the lives it could save.

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