Editor’s note: The "Innovation Exchange," a regular feature in Local Tech Wire, is written by Noah Garrett, former director of communications for the North Carolina Technology Association, a creative spirit, from writing music to news stories, and owner and operator NGC Communications. The focus of the Innovation Exchange is just that creating a web community through which people can exchange ideas and foster creativity.

CHARLESTON, S.C. How long is a month? It’s not really that long in the big scheme of things, but it can be when you drinking from the fire hydrant and taking over as president of a software company.

Jay Finnigan recently took the president role at and brings to the table a strong business background and extensive experience in building customer loyalty. He held previous leadership roles with Noverant Learning Management Systems in Raleigh and Vocollect Healthcare Systems in Pittsburgh. I-CANs founder Jon Beard remains CEO of the Raleigh-based firm.

Finnigan says schools need help connecting students with industry. Teachers need help relating classroom curriculum with the real world.

I-CAN is a group of Web 2.0 tools with additional intelligence that helps build private communities that are controlled and safe and have practical applications for education, local/state governments and private corporations and business. I-CAN was developed to improve personal and economic growth to the benefit of the entire community. As an Internet platform and using 21st century technologies, I-CAN helps scale individual learning and access to knowledge to meet strategic goals.

Could this software solution really be N.C.s Education Social Network?

“All the activities going on today to bring technology to students and teachers are great and powerful stuff,” Finnigan adds. “The one link missing is the one that ties it all together to real-world career development. Our system combines our targeted communities to let students expand beyond learning the technology to integrating with real-world professional development.”

This concept might come right in time for the state-mandated Graduation Project

The graduation project is required for high school graduation of all students who entered as freshmen in 2006-2007. Those students graduating next year will be the first class required to complete the four components of the Graduation Project consisting of a research paper, product, portfolio, and an oral presentation. Student engagement provides the opportunity to connect content knowledge, acquired skills, and work habits to real-world situations and issues.

Every student also must work with a mentor/professional, which is difficult for many school districts. The problem of finding and connecting with approved mentors locally has become an issue for some as the first graduation class who must fulfill the graduation requirement is almost a year away.

According to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, an approved mentor must have expertise in the area the student is interested in and is willing to work with the student; is 21 years of age or older; and is not a household member. A mentor allocates time and makes arrangements to work with the student, provides advice, support and resources, and signs all required forms for the student to graduate.

I-CAN is able to help create a graduation project and mentor database. Whether it is a student having trouble finding a mentor for a class project or a teacher looking for another teacher to help develop their technology skills, I-CAN offers each user a unique Web portal that delivers mentors, career and learning opportunities, and support groups based on who they are and their needs.

One of the biggest accomplishments at I-CAN is the integration of virtual online meeting technology as well as the ROBOTS program, which last year helped 210 students from underserved populations in the state receive an education that was once thought impossible to obtain.

Using Skype/Wiki-type technology, I-CAN had six college sites in the program. With left over funding from the initial project, I-CAN has revamped and extended the program this year to North Carolina A&T.

In the past 35 years, I-CAN has worked nationally with nearly 100 school districts to help teachers integrate technology into their everyday curriculum. Now, I-CAN is looking to work with every school district to bring the real world into every classroom via the power of the Internet.

“We really want to find the value proposition within the industry. Our main focus is on the education side and to find a product that fits that community while overlaying it on our secondary targets,” Finnigan closes. “We didn’t just come up with this concept out of the blue. I-CAN is a product that is 30 years in the making to connect education with the business world.”