Attaining Success through Collaboration

Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor and diligent genius who earned 1,093 patents over his lifetime. Often working 18-hour days in a cramped lab, he took his meals at his desk. He reserved time for few things besides his work, neglecting vacations, sleep and often, bathing. It’s the classic story of grit, hustle and good old-fashioned hard work. But something is missing from this story … actually, there is a lot missing. 

The idea of the lone, lonely inventor is a myth. Edison was surrounded by equally obsessed lab technicians that put in the same 18-hour days. That pervasive myth leaves out the messy yet beautiful process: collaboration. The sharing of a common vision.

Moving from ‘my idea’ to ‘our project’ takes many hands not attached to the founder title.


The process of building a company from a dream is often an arduous and lonely venture. The promise of freedom draws many to the entrepreneurial lifestyle; no overbearing boss, crippling bureaucracy, or unnecessary meetings. However, by the same token, starting a business lacks the structure and built-in support system of a traditional work environment. The day-to-day reality for many entrepreneurs is working tireless hours hunched over laptops in loud coffee shops or at cluttered kitchen tables. Without upper management to turn to for guidance or co-workers to bounce ideas off, it can be difficult to know where to even begin.

Connecting founders to resources that support a shared vision is the mission of Innovation DuPage (ID). As a space designed for collaboration, ID offers entrepreneurs and small business owners a road map for turning ideas into viable commercial ventures. There is an intentionality to the process that enables entrepreneurs to efficiently build a startup by searching for product/market fit rather than blindly executing on assumptions.

Successful entrepreneurs search for the truth about their ideas — wherever that may lead. Failing fast and moving forward is an important advantage of working in a community of entrepreneurs. Operating out of a safe and nurturing environment results in more successes and fewer failures than when founders go it alone. The process develops more resilient entrepreneurs who have a dedicated support network mirroring the experience of Thomas Edison. 

Aligning with Innovation Dupage’s mission they will be hosting the following workshops and meetings for entrepreneurs and businesses to serve as a resource to grow and develop new skills and knowledge applicable to their fields.

Public Events:
Day of Digital Learning
Thursday January 23 / 8:00am-4:30pm

Members Events:
How to Transform Workplace Conflict into a Positive Force
Wednesday January 15 / 10:00am-12:00pm

Until next time remember…

___________________________“Genius doesn’t fade just because we stopped watching.”

Travis Linderman has served as director for three venture incubators prior to his selection as Managing Director of Innovation DuPage. He founded a startup with Princeton University, secured venture capital backing, scaled rapidly and enjoyed a successful IP acquisition. Travis has spearheaded capital campaigns that have raised over $600 million for technology development.

Let Innovation DuPage help you take your idea from concept to success with an open-to-the-public event, our Incubator program or the Owner-to-CEO Accelerator. To learn more, call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps.

The Big IDea

Tickets for the Frida 2020 Exhibition are selling fast! Available for purchase here .

The Big IDea

The key to consistent and sustainable economic development is understanding how startups, innovative brands and vibrant downtowns attract and retain world-class talent and drive healthy growth. My goal, as Managing Director of Innovation DuPage, is to identify new economic development opportunities in the greater DuPage region.

Innovation DuPage (ID) offers entrepreneurs a roadmap for transforming ideas into viable commercial ventures. There is an intentionality to the process that enables entrepreneurs to efficiently build a startup by searching for product/market fit rather than blindly executing on assumptions. Startup founders receive guidance from vetted mentors while they craft a scalable business model, define their value proposition and collect customer insights; therein enhancing their unfair advantage in the marketplace.

We are creating a safe environment for entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds; where uniquely qualified teams are nurtured as their minimum viable projects (MVP) develop into flourishing businesses. ID connects novel thinking to a solid infrastructure of resources available throughout the entrepreneurial ecoverse. Tapping into the power of “we” forges partnerships that strengthen the entire community. Through strategic partnerships with Argonne National Laboratory, Choose DuPage and College of DuPage we are showcasing DuPage County’s economic vitality to the world. These significant differentiators are accelerating regional growth.

The Kahlo Mystique

Leadership and investment from College of DuPage (COD) brought the vision of ID to life. COD is now earning national recognition for the 2020 Frida Kahlo exhibit coming to the McAninch Arts Center.

Frida Kahlo is arguably the most famous female artist of the 20th century, an international feminist icon and a shining symbol of strength and empowerment. In the summer of 2020, an exclusive exhibition of 26 original Frida Kahlo works and 150 digital images showcasing her life will be on loan from the Dolores Olmeda Museum in Mexico. The MAC’s Cleve Carney Art Gallery will transform into an immersive museum experience with a childrens’ area, garden exhibit and historical timeline.

The reach and gravitational pull of this exhibit cannot be overstated. It is the largest Frida Kahlo collection to grace the Chicago area in the last 40 years. Estimates of the economic impact range from $8 to $13 million.

When a Billion is Not Enough

In 2021, the attention of the world –scratch that– the universe, will be fixated on DuPage County as Argonne powers up America’s first Exascale supercomputer. Exascale computing is capable of a billion billion (a quintillion) computations per second. The federal government is investing $5.7 billion into three Department of Energy (DOE) next-generation systems, applications and supporting software; this includes $500 million for Argonne to launch the first system, dubbed Aurora.

Exascale is critical to advancements in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data visualization and machine learning. The US, China, Europe and Japan are currently engaged in a supercomputer race. Aurora will enable the US to advance its position in revolutionary technological development, scientific discovery, innovative healthcare, efficient energy and national security. This is an unrivaled opportunity for economic development. If. We. Plan. For. It.

From Frida to Exascale

With the world squarely focused on the DuPage region over the next two years, we have an unparalleled opportunity to create evocative growth in our community. Frida will engage her admirers in a fixed gaze while Aurora draws the eyes of the innovation ecoverse as the Nation’s first Exascale system comes online.

There is much more to share about Frida and Aurora in the coming months. Just wait until we start discussing Extreme-scale Scientific Software Stacks… I’ll bring the wine, we’ll make an evening of it.

P. S . If you are an entrepreneur working on a startup and want to connect to the support services of Innovation DuPage, reach out to me at ID@InnovationDuPage.org.

Until next time remember…

___________________________“Genius doesn’t fade just because we stopped watching.”

Travis Linderman has served as director for three venture incubators prior to his selection as Managing Director of Innovation DuPage. He founded a startup with Princeton University, secured venture capital backing, scaled rapidly and enjoyed a successful IP acquisition. Travis has spearheaded capital campaigns that have raised over $600 million for technology development.

Let Innovation DuPage help you take your idea from concept to success with an open-to-the-public event, our Incubator program or the Owner-to-CEO Accelerator. To learn more, call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps.

From Aspiration to Achievement: Upcoming ID Workshop Perfect for Early-stage Startups

Do you have an early stage startup and want to increase your probability of success while simultaneously decreasing the time it takes to achieve it? If you said “Yes,” then plan to slide into the upcoming ID Mentor workshop offered by Mark Heintz, X9Y Consulting Group, for ID Members on Wednesday, October 2, 2019, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. at Innovation DuPage headquarters.

Heintz said, “The process of turning an idea into a scalable business model is like a journey. You need to know where you are, where you are going, and how to get there. This presentation will provide you with a high-level overview of the startup process and a methodology you can use to make progress and achieve results.”

Specifically, Mark will cover:

  • Steve Blank’s Customer Development Model to provide an overview of what you need to do to transform an idea into a scalable business

  • Planning and strategy processes to help you bring clarity, focus, and results to your startup

Your Takeaways

At the presentation’s conclusion, you will have a simple but effective set of tools to map out your situation, as well as a set of clear and focused goals, objectives, strategies and tactics to take you from aspiration to achievement.

Learn More About Mark Heintz

Mark’s background and experience are extensive. He has served as CEO for companies, consultant for clients and instructor for the ID Owner-to-CEO Accelerator program where he has received very high marks. Learn more about Mark and read his article The Power of Why on LinkedIn.

Let Innovation DuPage help you take your idea from concept to success with an open-to-the-public event, our Incubator program or the Owner-to-CEO Accelerator. To learn more, call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps.

Know You. Know Why. Know What. Know How. Know Clarity Ventures.

3 min read …The 20th century was dominated by process efficiency. The first part of the 21st century has focused on technology innovation. Future success will be achieved by energizing people. Organizations that put people first by working with leaders and teams to solve people-related conflicts and maximize every team’s energy will radically improve team performance and more meaningfully achieve their overall mission. So said the founders of Clarity Ventures, Jonathan Schultz and Rommie Zats. The two conducted an ID Mentor Workshop recently at Innovation DuPage to help ID Members understand and manage the most crucial of issues affecting the likelihood of achievement: their own goals and personal motivations.

Know Your Biggest Conflict

Workshop participants found the interactive Clarity Ventures Energy Workshop to be well-managed, interactive and fast-paced. The duo helped each startup founder find solutions for the biggest conflict that was keeping them from achieving next level performance. “We want you to embrace the conflict and go forward,” said Schultz, explaining that diversity of thinking patterns and types of conflict is another kind of diversity teams should adjust for in addition to the most obvious, such as gender, sexual orientation, etc.

With a proven, proprietary framework, the Clarity Ventures workshop yielded energetic solutions and helped each participant define when they are at their best—and worst—as well as the biggest conflicts holding them and their startup back. Zats offered, “Energy underpins your performance. But what is energy? It’s your state of being and being your best person.” Once each person’s biggest conflict was identified, each participant was able to quickly design a solution to be put into action immediately.

The two-hour session didn’t end there. Each startup founder was matched with an accountability partner and was able to strike up a relationship with the Clarity Ventures team for future follow up. Even more, following the workshop, Clarity Ventures devoted 30–minute coaching sessions to follow up on the work each participant completed during the workshop to help frame and assist with any remaining conflicts—all for no additional charge.

What Past Participants Said

Without exception, participants were engaged and enthusiastic about the program. Jon Spungen, founder of startup letzgo, said, “This was really good for me. This organized process was very valuable and helpful.”

Chris Meyer, Stone Dog Productions, said, “I love the two-minute time pressure to identify ideas and solutions. They were all inside my head, and the pressure helped bring them out. And once they were put on paper the solutions become crystal clear.”

In total agreement, Justin Mayer of Encube.ai said, “Partnering up to build support for your ideas was super helpful. I’d like to continue on with this process on an on-going basis.”

More on Clarity Ventures

A startup organization themselves, Clarity Ventures has already put their powerful workshop sessions to use helping a number of teams to energize and break down conflicts.

Here are some examples of the types of conflicts Clarity Ventures has already helped teams solve:

  • Rapidly onboarding and integrating new team members so they can drive impact immediately
  • Resolving team conflict amongst team members / co-founders / investors
  • Teaching leaders to empower their teams and get out of the details
  • Supporting leaders and teams struggling with burnout and rejection
  • Helping leaders build empathy for their teams to better align and storytell on their mission

Schultz and Zats formed Clarity Ventures as people transformation consultants who bring out the best in leaders and their teams so they can make their mark on the world. They find out what energizes teams and remove what’s getting in the way through leadership development programs, team and individual workshops and executive coaching.

They have previously worked for some of the best companies in the world, including McKinsey and Google, where they observed extremely high-performing teams. They learned that teams are only able to maximize performance when they broke assumptions, supported each other and were enabled to be their best selves. Shutlz and Zats leveraged this experience along with extensive research to create a framework for both groups and individuals to enable maximum energy and performance.

Jonathan Schultz holds a Bachelor’s in Finance and Marketing from Augustana College and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. He has a background in strategy consulting with expertise in enterprise-wide transformations working for top companies such as McKinsey & Co. He gets energy from building and creating, working in chaos and ambiguity, and being a part of an open and supportive team.

Rommie Zats holds a Bachelor’s in Industrial & Systems Engineering from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is currently pursuing his Executive MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. He has worked for a number of top organizations, including Google, where he has held strategy and operations roles leading and transforming global teams. He gets energy from challenging the status quo, tackling complex problems and surrounding himself with dreamers.

Let Innovation DuPage help you take your idea from concept to success with an open-to-the-public event, our Incubator program or the Owner-to-CEO Accelerator. To learn more, call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps.

Get to Know ID Mentor, Chip Borkowski

Chip Borkowski is a proven growth counsel with for-profit corporations and 501(c)3 not-for-profits as well. His skills as an in-demand visionary and strategic leader that translates business strategies into maximum profit are well known. Currently, as the chief growth officer for several current entrepreneurial initiatives, Chip  leads the efforts for practical innovation via his proven enterprise models that work for SMBs as well as Fortune 50 organizations.

He leads the Innovations Teams which develop new business opportunities, markets and service models; drive brand value; and partner with the best of the best to enhance his unique offerings including for-profits like BeWell-USA® and Empowered Patient® as well as not-for-profits like BeFriends®. 

Borkowski’s responsibilities also include strategic alliances; sponsorship sales; and marketing and communications. 

As CGO, Borkowski created and directs a multifunctional innovation process for developing and monetizing new products and services, improving existing products and services, and optimizing customer experiences. He focuses on identifying new ideas and best practices that exceed customer expectations and accelerate sustainable, profitable business growth–-aka SCALE. Chip keenly understands that customers’ needs must be front and center to achieve long-term revenue growth and company success–even on B2B GoToMkt programs. He always views business through the B2B2C lens. 

Borkowski has a wealth of experience iadvising some of the nation’s top media, real estate, and financial companies as well as healthcare organizations and their related ecosystems / strategic alliances for customer acquisition through ambassadorship–whether with B2B or B2C strategies and tactics. He has spent over 30 years disrupting technological and consumer behavior and spearheading initiatives to engage consumers with authoritative content across media platforms. By leading from the front, Chip ensures all parties involved with his initiatives embrace a laser-like focus on the end goals.

For example:
•BeWell-USA® and Empowered Patient® – help connect those in need of chronic condition treatment with everyday and life-threatening health problem treatment and prevention facilities.
•BeFriends® – Aid the 20 percent of Americans who have a disability as a “Good and Faithful Servant”. 

Chip is both internally and externally focused on company culture, stakeholder accountability to market dynamics, customer needs and preferences, as well as consumer behavior. He ensures his initiatives and clients’ projects stay one step ahead and engage with all stakeholders and customers.

14,000 Reasons Why You Should Enter a Pitch Contest (or at Least Consider It)

3 min read…Getting a startup off the ground is not easy. Finding time amid other obligations (like your day job and your family), raising capital and developing your ideas is an enormous undertaking. Success takes hard work and in some cases a bit of luck (aka timing, hard work, perseverance, creativity) but you can help by making smart decisions. That’s why Innovation DuPage is here. To help you get started and nurture your journey. One of the smartest decisions you can make to increase your “luck” and the awareness of your startup is to enter a pitch competition.

A pitch competition entry is a fantastic way to focus the mind. It gives you a deadline, so you can stop procrastinating. It helps you build momentum for your ideas even if you haven’t filed all your paperwork yet. Winning is great, but even if you don’t win, a pitch competition is an exercise that provides lots of benefits.

The Chicagoland/DuPage area is chock full of pitch competitions. The ID events page offers several ID-sponsored pitch competitions you might consider like the upcoming COD/ID-sponsored Your Big IDea pitch competition for COD students, alums and area high school students.

Want even more opportunities to pitch? For a full list of pitch competitions in the Chicagoland area click here. Each competition has different qualifications and requirements, so you’ll need to do some research.


To be alerted when the details of the ID-sponsored pitch competitions become available, sign up on the form by each listing on the ID Events page. Each of these competitions will help you with feedback, promotion and maybe even cash (if you win!). $14,000 in prize money is up for grabs from the ID sponsored pitch competitions listed. In case you need a little more motivation than $14,000, here are….

5 More Reasons Why You Should Enter a Pitch Competition

  1. Entering a Pitch Competition Helps You Focus

    The actual process of entering the competition forces you to put your business on paper, organize your ideas and brainstorm the possibilities. It gets the creative ideas flowing. In some cases, application reviewers will provide you with unsolicited (and priceless) feedback.

    It’s not easy to enter a pitch competition and often that’s by design. You may need to answer thought- provoking questions as part of the application process. This helps you think critically about every aspect of your business, nail down your vision, assess the competitive landscape, define your value proposition and set short and long term goals. Re-reviewing your overall strategy may be one of the most valuable aspects of entering.

  2. Pitch Competitions Attract Others Interested in Entrepreneurs and New Ideas

    Pitch competitions often provide support and instruction from the organizers and judges. Some competitions require setup meetings with knowledgeable business advisors as part of the application process. Others match accepted entrants with exclusive business coaches and investors.

    You’ll probably meet incredible mentors during the competition events or awards ceremony. Pitch competitions are attended by people hoping to learn, gain contacts and get in on the next big idea. Remember, other successful entrepreneurs all started with an idea and built it from scratch. They’ve all made plenty of mistakes, acquired knowledge and skills along the way and have endless information and perspectives to share. Network with these folks, ask questions about their businesses and take note. Each interaction may just save you from having to learn lessons the hard way.

  3. Pitch Competitions Remind You to Practice, Practice, Practice

    If you don’t have your elevator pitch down perfectly (or don’t know what it is), now is the time to figure it out. While attending a pitch competition, you will have dozens of opportunities to tell people about your business.

    That 30-second spiel can make the difference between a potential investor giving you his personal email and phone number or looking around for someone else to talk to. We know that hurts, which is why you need to be top of your game.

    Your elevator pitch should be brief, unique, and memorable. Test-drive it with friends and colleagues. Watch people’s reactions as you share it. Are they intrigued? Do they want to know more, or do they change the subject? Don’t be afraid to test a few versions of it to figure out what works best. Remember how you get to Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, practice.

  4. Everything’s All About Marketing and PR

    Pitch competitions are a great way to tell others about your business, gain exposure, and find new customers. Use pitch competitions to tout your idea and story, because, let’s be honest, no one else is going to do it.

    Here are some more marketing ideas you can leverage when you enter and participate in pitch competitions:

    • Email your past and present contacts and invite them to come and watch
    • Put together a press release and ask reporters at media outlets to cover the contest
    • Offer yourself as an interviewee to bloggers and/or offer to be a guest blogger
    • Write up a story for your own website about the competition and how you’re prepping for it
    • If the competition includes community voting, invite fam/friends/fans to participate

    Sharing your involvement in a pitch competition, whether you win or not, demonstrates your commitment to your company, how you are creatively growing your business and that you’re looking for ways to grow. 

    Everyone in the pitch competition has a story to share. If you happen to win, it’s a feather in your cap and something you can ride to future success, blog posts, etc. Even if you don’t win, you still have an interesting story to share and a lot of lessons-learned to talk about.

  5. Cash Is Often Involved

    Winning feels great and often involves some cash. Cash prize amounts range depending on the competition, but often non-cash prizes can include valuable resources such as free business services (a membership to Innovation DuPage, perhaps?) access to VC’s and mentors, mentions on social media and maybe even a newspaper article. Combined, the pitch competitions sponsored by ID and listed on the ID events page are giving away more than $14,000 in cash in addition to prizes.

Are you planning to enter a pitch competition? What do you hope to get out of it?

Entering a pitch competition and participating in the events and activities around it will kick your ideas into high gear so you can expand your vision and see how it flies. Listening to passionate business leaders and exposing yourself to new perspectives will inevitably spark your creative spirit. Usually, pitch competitions have final celebration parties. Have business cards/flyers on hand and prepare to network, network, network. You never know who you’ll be mingling with at the pre and post event gatherings. You’ll walk away with a notepad packed with tons of to-do’s… and even some lesson-learning don’ts. Get started and make yourself some luck!

How Dots Make a Difference

When Tim Fates’ mother passed away from cancer a short time after a nephew contracted a rare genetic disease, a realization hit him. There was an opportunity to create a new product to support the causes he cared about that were so badly in need of awareness and funds. Tim, a designer and Glen Ellyn resident, is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the founder of dotUP, the manufacturer of “dots,” the newest way to support organizations and causes.

Shortly after launching dotUP, Tim negotiated his first fundraising and awareness campaign

When first beginning his startup, Tim examined the Livestrong movement of the early 2000s. The yellow Livestrong bracelets seemed to be on everyone’s wrists, and wristbands in the colors of many other causes and organizations were soon to follow. By raising money and awareness, this simple product made a big impact. Tim has the same goal with dots and dotUP.

A Better Way: dotUp

Tim created dots, a simple yet bold product with the potential to make powerful social change. Dots are colorful wearable accessories that show one’s support for a cause. They can be worn on garments, bags, and accessories, either indefinitely or for a day or event.
 
Dots can be affixed in two ways. By clipping onto garments and accessories,  dots can be worn without damaging the material to which they are attached. Dots also come with a simple and intuitive cord mechanism that allows them to be securely attached to the straps and handles of bags and used as zipper pulls on bags and garments. With the near endless possibilities of ways to accessorize with dots, the product makes it fun and easy to express one’s individuality and support. Like the Livestrong and other silicone wristbands, Tim imagines individuals collecting dots from their favorite causes and organizations.

The spark for dotUP occurred when Tim’s nephew was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, a rare genetic disease that can often be fatal. Tim saw the need for a new product to support charitable organizations with fundraising and awareness and began designing and prototyping. When Tim’s mother passed away from breast cancer, he knew the need was profound, and he founded dotUP. Shortly after launching dotUP, Tim negotiated his first fundraising and awareness campaign with Bright Pink, a Chicago-based national non-profit organization with an innovative approach to preventing breast and ovarian cancer. dotUP created a custom design and hashtag for the campaign and encouraged supporters to have fun and creatively share their dots online.

3D Printing and Dots

Dots are currently manufactured utilizing 3D printing technology. 3D printing makes dots highly customizable and makes smaller production runs of custom product cost-effective. Dots can be produced in many colors and decorated with any message or logo. When the production of dots is scaled up, Tim intends to utilize the most sustainable materials and production methods possible, ideally manufacturing dots from fully renewable and biodegradable materials.

Innovation DuPage Doing Its Part for Dots

When Tim joined Innovation DuPage he found it a challenge to identify the proper business model for his startup and to keep up with marketing initiatives. With any startup, it can be difficult properly position the product against competitors and gain traction in the marketplace.

Since working with Innovation DuPage, Tim has been able to effectively map out his business strategy and pursue introducing dotUP to local communities. dotUP has also improved its social media presence thanks to the marketing efforts of Innovation Dupage. In addition, Innovation DuPage has provided Tim with a positive workspace where he can collaborate with other entrepreneurs and receive valuable business guidance.

In the near future Tim hopes to partner with major national non-profit organizations and smaller organizations alike, eventually leading to the distribution of millions of dots, and making positive social change at the largest scale possible. These little dots will have a big impact!     

Ladies Who Launch: Embracing Entrepreneurship with Confidence

Innovation DuPage was proud to sponsor Ladies Who Launch, a one-day conference for women in the pre-launch through startup (and just beyond) stages of entrepreneurship, hosted by SCORE of Fox Valley.

Walk away with a plan going forward

There were three engaging main sessions, and a topic-specific breakout session. Featured as a keynoter was North Central College’s own Karen Bartuch, a proud ID Partner and mentor. Check out her research team’s Ted Talk on “Funny Business: Humor in the Workplace.”

The other keynote was Rebecca Fyffe, who was named the 2018 National Small Business Person of the Year and who’s company Landmark Pest Control takes a gentler more natural approach to pest control.

Participants had the opportunity to learn how to launch, grow and build a business with:

  • Useful tools and strategies that focused on women’s unique business challenges
  • More empowerment to engage in entrepreneurship with renewed confidence
  • Connections with other women as founders, funders or team members
  • Business resources that focus on helping women-owned businesses
  • Tips to become profitable, successful, and establish effective teams
  • Ideas to refine a strategic approach to business and marketing

Take aways: It takes preparation to be empowered to engage and unite, put yourself first to succeed in business and life, and keep it real by coming together to conquer adversity and challenges through humor.

Participants worked to look inside themselves to walk away with a plan going forward. It was exciting to be challenged as the next generation of strong and fearless women entrepreneurs.

 

How one entrepreneur made toys for the #MeToo era.

Reading time: 3:30

A perfect world to Jodi Norgaard would be one where the world viewed equally the contributions of men and women for equal gender balance. As a mom of two boys and one girl, Norgaard became concerned about how the world would treat her daughter as compared to her sons. This epiphany happened while shopping for an age-appropriate toy for a girl’s birthday gift in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. One thing led to another in a string of events—with some successes and many challenges—and now Norgaard is a public speaker on a mission to make change and help others as a mentor with Innovation DuPage.

Over the past several years, Norgaard has talked to women’s groups, corporations, universities and even the Obama White House. She talks about how her experiences in the toy aisle and her research on how toys shape long-term cultural perceptions and values changed her, as well as what she learned from the challenges of creating and launching a line of dolls: “Go! Go! Sports Girls.”

A Mission Taking Shape

It all began when Norgaard and her 9-year-old daughter, fresh from soccer practice, were shopping for a birthday gift at a local toy store. The only dolls offered were dressed in provocative, skimpy shorts and halter tops with long flowing hair, dangling earrings and high heels. Even the so-called “STEM” toys, such as building blocks and chemistry sets, sent a message: build a car or watch an exploding volcano for boys, build a house or make nail polish for girls.

These micro-aggressions are like little tiny paper cuts,” Norgaard said. “Phrases like, ‘you throw like a girl’ hurled as an insult just go to show how ingrained the image of ‘girls as less’ is in our society.

Outraged that the toy market for girls was focused so inappropriately on a girl’s appearance, instead of her interest in action and adventure, Norgaard decided to do something about it. She got the idea to create a female-positive role model doll that reflects the reality of who little girls really are: active, energetic and interested in more than makeup and fashion.

Much hard work and many months later, armed with tons of research to prove the product would be welcomed profitably in the toy aisle, Norgaard launched Go! Go! Sports Girls. The soft, plush dolls had a body that reflected the actual measurements of her own (by then) 10-year-old daughter. (As opposed to the unrealistic measurements of, say, a certain best-selling toy with a name that rhymes with “Darbie.”)

Each doll in Norgaard’s line was provided a name and a backstory that included a love of a sport, such as gymnastics, swimming, soccer, tennis, or cheerleading, along with some accessories tied to that sport. Norgaard introduced Go! Go! Sports Girls to the toy market through national toy shows attended by toy store buyers, ready and excited to see change happen.

Launching a Winning New Product in a Hesitant Market

Go! Go! Sports Girls won awards. It was applauded as innovative, a breakthrough, the next big thing. It was featured in national magazines and talk shows on television. During a test run at the U.S. Open, 500 pieces sold out. All the research pointed toward a product winner. Market research showed people would buy it. Experts claimed the toy would offer long-term benefits for girls’ self-esteem and boys’ attitudes toward girls.

Yet, against all logic, Norgaard heard, “Nice, but no, thanks. It’s not mainstream, it won’t sell.” Even after Walmart agreed to carry the toys along with a book accompanying each doll (making publishing yet another industry, in addition to manufacturing and the toy industry itself, Norgaard had to learn from scratch), traditional toy store buyers still were reluctant to give her product a chance.

Why? Because it wasn’t about fashion or a girl’s appearance—which, incidentally, was the whole point.

The Pivot

Ultimately, treatment of her product by retail buyers convinced Norgaard that attitudes needed to change. She said, “Mainstream ideas don’t create change, so I dug in my heels.” She sold her promising company to a toy manufacturer with more marketing muscle and resources and pivoted to become a public speaker on a mission to create change.

Two years after relaunching herself as a public speaker, she is as busy as she wants to be, speaking approximately weekly during the “convention” season of spring and fall across the country. She is represented by two speakers’ bureaus and is paid for her speaking engagements. Her travel costs are covered as well.

Norgaard said, “The goal is to truly inspire people by telling my story: the hardships, the challenges. I talk about figuring out how to manufacture a toy for the U.S. toy market and the roadblocks in the way; about my idea that girls deserved more; and how I had a pulse of what parents really wanted for their girls, an idea way ahead of its time.”

“Today, with #MeToo and #TimesUp and the concept of unconscious bias coming to light, things are different. But there are still what I call micro-aggressions that say boys are strong and girls are weak. We need to be aware of these, and I highlight that in my talks,” she added.

Norgaard was twice invited by the Obama White House to speak at conferences on the issue of gender parity in children’s toys, toy promotions and their media. She said her message is to make people aware that, to reach the pinnacle of success as a culture (or a business), changes in the way girls are treated in our society are imperative. One stunning fact: 94 percent of women occupying the C-Suite said they played team sports as a child. Yet before Norgaard launched Go! Go! Sports Girls, there were zero toys that linked girls with sports.

But before changes can be made, problems must be identified.

“These micro-aggressions are like little tiny paper cuts,” Norgaard said. “Saying things like, ‘you throw like a girl’ hurled as an insult just go to show how ingrained the image of ‘girls as less’ is in our society.”

Making Change Happen

Norgaard said her message is resonating with all audiences. “Everyone that I talk to—especially men who are raising daughters—are shocked when they hear me. They agree that treating women and girls as equals is right. If you are going to create change, it has to start at a young age. We have to create change with boys and girls.”

In addition to her ongoing speaking schedule, Norgaard will be mentoring other up-and-coming entrepreneurs at Innovation DuPage. She will be sharing her experiences and advising participants in the program to help them achieve success faster than they might have on their own. Be sure to catch Norgaard’s ID Mentor Workshop for members on September 18.

“Collaboration and working with others is key,” Norgaard said. “I asked and asked and asked anyone and everyone questions along the way. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to work with Innovation DuPage and can’t wait to see the results for our region.”

Written by Travis Linderman, managing director, and Ginger Wheeler, director of PR for Innovation DuPage. The article first appeared in Glen Ellyn Living’s February 2019 edition as “Mom on a Mission: Helping Girls Achieve Their Full Potential.”

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.

Ask at the ID front desk for Goetz’ Messaging Blueprint worksheet to help you craft your own positioning statement and marketing message.