Dare to STEAM

Surrounded by a fortress of picture books, three women took the dais to a round of applause louder than what’s typically heard in this Glen Ellyn meeting room. Instead of local citizens gathered to hear from their city council, the room was full of educators and librarians from across DuPage County ready to hear from three best-selling childrens’ authors. And not just any childrens’ books, either: these ladies write books designed to encourage kids of all ages to be interested in STEAM.

Injecting a Love of STEAM into Curricula and Play

STEAM. Every current educator knows what it stands for (Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture/Art, Mathematics). They also know they are to place more focus on it in their classrooms. But for kids who aren’t ready for titration, or even times tables, how do they get them excited about the subjects in an organic way?

That’s where the evening’s panelists came into play. First was Sarah Aronson, author of Just Like Rube Goldberg, whose non-fiction account of Goldberg’s life as a picture book introduced her to the world of writing STEAM. Second was Andrea Beaty, author of Rosie Revere, Engineer and other picture and chapter books about The Questioneers, a fictional classroom of STEAM loving kids. Finally, the panel included Ruth Spiro, author of the Baby Loves series, which breaks scientific concepts down to the earliest reading levels. All of them spoke on their creative process, the inspiration behind their work, and the intersectionality among STEAM, children, and literature.

Scientists aren’t about having answers, they’re about asking questions.

All three authors noted that children naturally have the inquisitive minds of scientists, and they write to encourage that instinct. “Kids are really good at asking questions,” Spiro observed. She wants to make sure that her books reflect curious kids, with adults in their lives who model that curiosity. Beaty echoed that sentiment, remarking that “not knowing is the greatest thing in the world. Scientists aren’t about having answers, they’re about asking questions.” 

Unlikely Origins

Proving that creativity and innovation aren’t hampered by background, the women shared their journeys to become childrens’ book authors. Spiro was a magazine writer with no background in the sciences, while Beaty studied biology, not literature. Aronson described her career as a physical therapist who began writing on a dare. But each of them found parallels between their work then, and their work now.

“Story arcs are similar to the scientific method,” said Spiro. “My books are grounded in childhood experiences,” which helped her bridge the connection from reviewer of childrens’ books to a writer of STEAM books for children.

For Beaty, it was about seeing a story within her own children. After observing that her son loved building things, from school projects to simply stacking jam containers at restaurants, she thought more children should be encouraged to do the same. That became the foundation of her research process: observing the kids around her, as well as the ones her illustrator, David Roberts, draws into her stories.

On the other hand, Aronson’s biography of the famed inventor, Just Like Rube Goldberg, required meticulous research to not only earn its nonfiction status, but also meet the approval of Goldberg’s granddaughter. She explained that she had to “learn the research process as [she] did it.” She clearly succeeded, earning Goldberg’s granddaughter’s blessing and rave reviews from the literary community.

Failure is Fantastic

But what if Aronson hadn’t gotten the go-ahead to publish? Or if she had, what if no one had read the book? Well, in Aronson’s own words, it would’ve been okay, since “failure is amazing.” The other authors immediately agreed. Spiro commented that we have to teach our kids that failure is a part of life, and that “it’s safer to read about a character who’s failing” than to admit to their own failures. Beaty added that expectations need to be set for kids that sometimes things fail, or just don’t go well. In those cases, it’s not about the fact that there was a failure, but rather that there is now another chance for success. She tries to emphasize perseverance in her characters, so kids can see that failing is okay, as long as they keep trying.

For Spiro and Aronson, the main concept they wanted their audience to take away was that persistence and determination is what matters when it comes to kids in STEAM. Beaty summarized her message as being okay with who you are. Aronson concurred, commenting that “sometimes the last person we’re kind to is ourselves.”

Supporting Independent Bookstores

After she finished signing copies of her books which were purchased from the Bookstore of Glen Ellyn, Spiro suggested that the event was only the beginning of how the three authors could collaborate with Innovation DuPage. “There are many more events we can do, this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Beaty was quick to agree. “It’s an exciting endeavor,” she commented, “I love seeing how my books connect with people.”

The three authors are proof that when people of different backgrounds reach outside of their comfort zones to explore concepts in new ways, innovation happens. And in this case, that innovative thinking is being passed down to the next generation.

Innovation DuPage organized the panel to support The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn and to promote new ways for educators and parents to engage innovative STEAM training. STAY TUNED as Innovation DuPage continues to support and engage the community with its next panel, “Kids, STEM, and Games”.

by Laura Zimmermann

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

Empowered by Choice

Phillip Perlman launched his marketing career as a bovine evangelist for Chick-fil-A. He set off on an experiential marketing campaign that grew a local Chick-fil-A’s restaurant business by 18 percent. Outfitted in matching cow pajamas alongside a colleague in a cow costume, he introduced a new target audience to chicken for breakfast. That success opened the door for Phillip to help the company expand across California.

A razor-sharp ability to understand the consumer mindset has propelled Phillip’s career forward for the last 15 years. He honed those skills while driving student enrollment in higher education, doing marketing and strategy management alongside university presidents and leaders in higher education.

Americans’ Burgeoning Student Debt Crisis

Phillip succeeded in recruiting thousands of students for dozens of universities like the University of Phoenix, DeVry and EDMC which operated more than 100 schools at the time. But the average amount of student debt has roughly doubled since the mid 2000s, and college tuition continues to rise. Currently, 44 million Americans are burdened with student debt totaling $1.6 trillion, more than the total U.S. credit card debt.*

Phillip began longing to reverse these outcomes. Students were signing up for popular degrees like Photography and Pastry Arts, but exiting with debt close to $20-$30,000 and limited job prospects. “People were enrolling in programs that had a terrible outlook,” he said. The reason: they weren’t informed and they didn’t know what else to pursue.

So, Phillip conceived the idea of Careers by Degree. It’s goal: empower interrupted students, traditional students and job seekers to understand what options exist without having to be a professional researcher. “I want to point people in the right direction,” he said. But Phillip let the idea simmer for six more years.

While working for DeVry University, he launched and built-up his now successful bespoke marketing agency, The Perlman Agency. There Phillip continues to employ his broad expertise in PR, direct response, web development and optimization, and retail, working with both nonprofits and businesses.

Space-driven Collaboration

The seed idea of Careers by Degree continued to gnaw at Phillip until he finally took the plunge this March. He filed paperwork and joined Innovation DuPage. Here he discovered a shared meeting place and networking opportunities with like-minded entrepreneurs. “I intended The Perlman Agency’s staff to be remote and the company as lean as possible, but building Careers by Degree requires sitting down and having conversations,” Phillip said.

Besides connecting with thought leaders, he appreciates access to resources that Innovation DuPage makes available. Over the last six months he and several colleagues have been hammering out details in daily meetings, phone calls and video chats held in airy conference rooms.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Last month CareersbyDegree.com did a soft launch of its matching service. The website’s interface is setup to “choose your own adventure.” Users are presented with three initial choices: schools, degree programs or careers. Then within two to three steps, a short list of options tailored to each user’s personal qualifications and requirements appears.

For students seeking a best-fit school, Careers by Degree shows them key factors such as types of school (four-year, trade, certificate programs, etc.), tuition costs, and the average amount of student debt.

Others may visit the site seeking careers that could earn $100,000. The site will reveal which degrees and programs lead to higher-paying job prospects.

“We really wanted people to be empowered by choice,” Phillip said. “We want to unlock as much information as possible so people see, ‘These are my options–I never would have thought about this.”

Schools and universities will also benefit from the site’s data, learning about prospective students’ interest. They could discover needed degrees they don’t offer, or why there’s no market for an existing program.To pique interest in the site, Phillip recently launched a weekly YouTube series to highlight a behind the scenes look at this EdTech Startup. He plans to use this experience launching Careers by Degree to help inform and equip others interested in doing their own startup.

Phillip hopes his two sons are better informed than he was. He changed his major three times in college. Trent, age 10, dreams of becoming a race car driver, baseball player or lawyer. Mark, age 9, aspires to be a professional hockey player or hockey team owner.

This younger generation will become more equipped to make rewarding life choices. In the next year, Phillip aims Careers by Degree to become one of the first places someone goes to determine a career or educational path. In the meantime, drop by Innovation DuPage in Glen Ellyn’s old police station to meet Phillip and his team as they expand this promising matching service.

*According to the Washington Post and Federal Reserve, respectively.

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

How Fly Fishing and Market Positioning Resonate with Dave Goetz

Dave Goetz is a little obsessed with fly fishing. He is so obsessed that he started a podcast (2 Guys and a River), now on season 5 with over 315,000 downloads. But, his day job is working with clients of his CZ Strategy  marketing company on positioning, messaging, content development and digital marketing to create valid sales leads. He’s seen a lot during the past 20 years of working with over 160 clients, 40 of them startups. He’s witnessed successes and failures of entrepreneurial startups, some even that were incredibly well-funded. Goetz shared his experiences with ID members during a recent ID Mentor workshop: insights that are not unlike the casting and mending of a line and the strikes that result with fish rise.

The Woes of Startups

Goetz said because generally it takes 1,000 days (or more) to start up a business, entrepreneurs should plan to survive that long without new revenue coming in. He also advised founders to spend at least 50 percent of their time on sales and business development/relationship-building, recognizing that founders would rather spend their time on “fun” things like product development and marketing. “I always say you need to load in 50 percent of your time on your marketing plan to sales. If you don’t do that, you can’t be successful,” he said.

founders should spend at least 50 percent of their time on sales and business development/relationship-building

He also said marketers must find a channel where their potential customers are hanging out and then capitalize on that, kind of like how fly fishers must locate the bend which is attractive to the most trout on any give day on the river. It may be a tradeshow, a publication or a trade association for business-to-business (B2B) customers, or a network, radio station, magazine or blog for consumers.

But First Find A Category

“Trout are very sensitive to unnatural movement.” So says a website designed to attract travelers to West Yellowstone in Montana. Like trout, markets are also sensitive. The market is sensitive to the position of a product in the marketplace. Goetz said there are only eight market positions within any market category. Defining the category is the hard part. Once you’ve done that, the position within the category will be obvious and it will be one of the following:

Leader «-» Innovator
Generalist «-» Specialist
Premium «-» Discount
Performer «-» Service

Goetz said the market position is determined not by the marketer, but in the minds of the people who would be its customers. It’s their perception of the company/product/service. And that perception is based on their experience and impressions. And they’re sensitive. Like trout, they’re not going to strike at just any fly. However, once the market position is identified, if it’s not to the liking of the business owner, it can be changed.

Carving Out Real Estate in the White Space of Customers’ Minds

Defining a category and a position is the work marketers must do before hiring for creative. Only the marketer can define messaging architecture and create a messaging blueprint. And just as a fly fisher is constantly mending his line, the marketer must constantly evaluate the market position and be prepared for change caused by any number of factors: a change in a competitor’s position perhaps, or the addition of a new product or service, or growth or shrinkage of the company.

“Positioning decays over time,” said Goetz so he advised marketers to set transition points to conduct research as to the perception of the company in the minds of the most recent customers and prepare to shift. Constantly.

Branding Is Not Your Logo

Goetz said, “Branding is not your logo and not your website. It’s the experience people have of you. Branding is a memory of what people have of their experience. As your organization matures, it becomes your story. You want to make sure when people have a memory of you, it’s accurate.”

He said your biggest challenge is to create a prospect pool in a well-defined channel (what people read) and then build a marketing/sales funnel. The market position your company has within that prospect pool is what sets your company apart from all the other ideas and initiatives competing for any particular customer’s share of mind. It’s like finding the perfect river teeming with fat trout. You’re not going to catch them all, but the one you do catch is going to be valuable.

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

Keeping Kids Safer Online Through Storytelling

Online technology has become an integral part of daily life. Technology is used for everything from navigating to work, to connecting with friends, to buying shoes and even setting thermostats. Children, like adults, are glued to their devices. This interconnectedness—while valuable—can be problematic, especially for children.

A Plethora of Platforms

Twitter, Snapchat, Boomerang, Periscope, YikYak, 4Chan, Discord, Twitch— there is an onslaught of new online platforms with increasingly trendy-sounding names. For parents who are also being bombarded daily by new options, it is daunting to know how to guide children through this maze. Parents are generally at a loss over how to safely guide their children in an environment they themselves barely grasp.

This is precisely the situation that caught Liz Repking’s attention when her son was in middle school. She saw her fellow parents were throwing their hands up in defeat, overwhelmed. They were saying “I don’t understand this. They’ll be fine.” Hearing this, Liz understood that the increasing use of online activity was affecting all children and was becoming an urgent parenting issue. Repking knew it was a problem she could help solve. She found her calling and started Cyber Safety Consulting.

An extensive background in IT consulting and training as well as being the mother of three children gave Repking a unique perspective on how to help parents and children navigate this new and treacherous landscape. Initially, her focus was on teaching parents how to educate their children on internet safety, but when she was approached by a school for help in the aftermath of a sexting scandal, Repking realized there was a great need to present directly to children as well. The goal? To educate about the dangers associated with online behaviors and how they can react when finding themselves in uncomfortable or risky situations.

When “Spidey Senses” Tingle

Repking said while students are frequently more tech-savvy than parents, they often lack the social and emotional awareness needed to protect themselves. This is exacerbated by the fact that online interactions are devoid of the sensory cues prevalent in personal interactions ‘IRL’ (in real life) so critical to assessing/understanding situations. In person, body language can raise warning signals which make a person’s “spidey senses” tingle. But without such input, subtleties are stripped away and people—especially children—easily step squarely into exploitative or other treacherous situations.

The greatest tool I use is storytelling.

Repking said, “The greatest tool I use is storytelling.” But the stories must be relatable to be impactful. She has found that students have a hard time relating to stories used as scare tactics. Children believe that extreme scenarios are exceptions and wouldn’t apply to them. Young people do not react well to direct warnings not to do something, especially if they think they know more about something than their parents, she said. So instead of lecturing at children about what not to do, she weaves abstract concepts into stories from her own life and current events.

For instance, instead of warning kids with “What you [post online] stays up forever,” she tells the story of the 2018 NFL draft quarterback, Josh Allen. Allen was one of the league’s top draft picks but lost his offer when old offensive Tweets were uncovered. Though he posted the Tweets when he was a teenager, the damage was done. Repking said her presentations are conversational which begins with knowledge from the students. She talks with students and never at them. In doing so, she guides them into discussions about real-life consequences of their online actions and spurs conversations with their parents at home.

Accelerating Cyber Safety Consulting

In addition to presentations, Repking has created internet safety curriculum for schools and is in the process of developing a book on the subject. Since 2012, she has delivered keynotes and speeches locally and nationally and been interviewed by WGN, FOX, and other news sources to establish herself as a leading expert.

Repking joined the Innovation DuPage accelerator program, Owner-to-CEO, which also allows her to work at #IDHQ to access mentorship and other ID business incubator resources, as well as collaborate with other business owners and startups. She came to the space for the resources it offered to help her develop her programs and further grow her business, but now she comes daily to interact with new friends and colleagues. She said the stories her ID colleagues share give her ideas and help her grow as a business founder and owner.

Which just goes to show, storytelling educates grownups and children, alike. Just as Cyber Safety Consulting is using stories to help keep kids safer online, so are stories helping ID members become the DuPage region’s employers of tomorrow. For more stories about innovative business founders and owners follow ID stories.

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.