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.

How Marvelous Minds Is Breaking Down Barriers

Read time…4.5 mins Kym Larson was a college student with a passionate interest in learning what makes people tick, when she earned extra money as an ABA therapist for autistic children. She noticed the incredible amount of time the children’s parents spent taking the child from one appointment to another. These children needed help with speech pathology, counseling, testing, tutoring, physical and occupational therapy and more. The parents were desperate to help their children but had little down time to just be with them, enjoying and nurturing their natural personalities. Larson, knew there had to be a better way.

An Idea Still Percolating

While working towards her doctorate in neuropsychology and practicing for a number of years, Dr. Larson time and again saw parents struggle to navigate a complex system of services required to help their children achieve success. She realized how the “system” was tedious and complex for parents and children.

And, Larson thought, what if that place were comfy and cozy: A fun place to be instead of a sterile, bland clinic?

That idea she had in undergrad was still percolating. Wouldn’t it be great for the families of struggling children if they could get all their services in one place? And, Larson thought, what if that place were comfy and cozy: A fun place to be instead of a sterile, bland clinic?

What if the service providers—the therapists, neuropsychologists, tutors, OT’s and speech pathologists—just wore regular clothes, like the children’s parents and teachers, instead of lab coats and suits that made them look like intimidating scientists or menacing professionals? After all, Larson reasoned, children need to feel comfortable and safe in order to learn and grow, and the clinical uniforms didn’t really serve any purpose other than making the office look more, well, clinical, and maybe intimidating.

How Marvelous Minds Came to Be

Larson, who hails from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, returned to her home town to raise her own family after completing her education and gaining valuable work experience as a neuropsychologist. In 2017 her idea became a reality and she opened her dream clinic and named it Marvelous Minds: the place where children and families could access a plethora of services all under one roof in an environment that was warm, inviting, entertaining and pleasant. That’s what she envisioned all those years ago as a young college student and everything seemed to be in place for success. Except there was a problem.

Growth as a Barrier

When the doors opened and Marvelous Minds became a reality, the problem wasn’t lack of customers or resources, it was growth. Fast growth. “The speed with which our practice has grown took me by surprise,” said Larson. “I thought I would have time to learn about running a business while my practice grew, but it happened so fast, I could barely keep up. They don’t teach you how to run a business in grad school, the focus is purely clinical.”

Fortunately, Larson found the Innovation DuPage Owner-to-CEO accelerator program which was the perfect resource to meet Larson’s need to learn what she needed to know to continue on her road to success. The program allows business owners of all kinds to come together, learn from experts in a variety of topics like finance, human resources, marketing, distribution and more, as well as from one another. The group forms a cohort that shares what works and what doesn’t in a non-competitive, friendly and collegial environment at Innovation DuPage twice weekly for twelve weeks.

Larson said, “The program was like a mini-MBA. It came at the perfect time for me. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about running a business until I enrolled in the program. But one of the best things about it was getting to know the other business owners and taking advantage of the other programs Innovation DuPage offers.”

Indeed, Larson’s employees are also taking advantage of the classes and workshops offered by Innovation DuPage, so they too can learn what they need to know—from digital marketing to website analytics—to help Marvelous Minds continue on their trajectory toward success.

Marvelous Minds Is Hiring, Welcoming New Customers, Growing and Helping Children

Dr. Larson’s Marvelous Minds is not only growing, it’s thriving. Parents who are concerned about the development of their children—whether struggling in school, suffering from anxious, forgetful or impulsive behavior or myriad other diagnoses from ADHD to cognitive and motor disorders, even substance abuse—can find help under one roof at Marvelous Minds. Under the watchful eye of a range of high-level professionals from occupational therapists to speech pathologists to tutors and parent coaches to neuropsychologists (including Dr. Larson), the whole child is treated to improve behaviors and outcomes.

Larson said, “The biggest surprise in running a business, in addition to meeting my five-year plan in one year, was finding out how much I’m enjoying building a business. I knew there’d be a huge learning curve, but I didn’t know how fast I would need to learn it, and how many mistakes I could have made along the way. I’m still learning, but it’s fantastic to know Innovation DuPage is here to help when I get stuck.”

Marvelous Minds Working Marvelous Miracles

What she already knows is how much Marvelous Minds is helping her patients and their families. Larson said, “Bringing one-multi-disciplinary team to handle everything a struggling child might need and having all the services together under one roof—speech, OT, behavioral, parent coaching, psych—is so rewarding. I love to say, ‘Let’s go across the hall and talk to that person,” when it becomes clear through our work that another service is needed. As far as I know, an organization like this didn’t exist before Marvelous Minds. I love that we can treat kids and their parents, see them thrive and watch as they become all they can be with our help. That is why we are here.”

It is that joy and optimism, not to mention smarts, that is attracting new patients to Marvelous Minds in Glen Ellyn. As the practice continues to add new therapists and services, and continues to grow, it is enjoying a reputation for innovation in its field. That and the gratitude of parents who’ve finally found the help they need to watch the little marvelous minds in their households reach their full potential.

Larson added, “If you (or anyone you know) is looking for a marvelous career to change lives and empower families, contact me today. We are currently looking for pediatric and family therapists, an occupational therapist, a neuropsychologist, and special education tutors and advocates. Come join our ‘marvelous’ family!”

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 Doctor Is In … and Helping Women Celebrate Their Feminine Power

2 min read...

Off the shoulder fashions for women are hot. And it’s no wonder because the look is both fun, flattering and—surprisingly—empowering! So said Dr. Symone Lewis, the inventor of Barelastics, a reverse suspender under garment that keeps an off the shoulder look where it belongs: off the shoulder (OTS).

Lewis said, “Wearing off the shoulder fashions exudes an air of competence and confidence. Baring your shoulders communicates a deep yearning to be seen and heard and it’s a powerful way to make a statement and a first impression.” Supporting that sentiment, according to, the majority of designers in 2019 embraced the idea of “you do you,” meaning women are encouraged to embrace a fashion style that suits individuality with the unifying concept being the expression of female empowerment.

Founding a Company to Solve a Problem

In 2017, Lewis founded Shoulder Bare, Ltd., as the manufacturer of the Barelastics product, which has a patent pending. Lewis speaks of women’s empowerment from the credibility of being a working licensed psychologist with an earned doctorate in clinical psychology.

Beauty is power. I believe baring your shoulders is one way forward for women in demonstrating that power.

Lewis said, “Beauty is power. I believe baring your shoulders is one way forward for women in demonstrating that power. But if you’re tugging at your sleeves or fidgeting with your garment, it communicates the exact opposite. I saw a problem with wearing OTS fashions and remedied that problem with my invention. There is an air of sophistication when women bare their shoulders, whether in an office environment, at a gala, going through everyday life or at the beach, but only if they feel confident in their choice of garment. Barelastics make that happen for women who choose OTS fashions.”

Nonverbal Communications Make Impressions

Some have reported fifty percent of all communication is nonverbal. Also, many believe first impressions often are lasting impressions. OTS fashion has been a thing since the mid-1800s and has never really disappeared, with either both or even one shoulder bare, often stealing the show and attracting eyeballs on occasions from red carpet events to weddings to business meetings.

Lewis loves it. “In my opinion, women should celebrate the feminine. In our current culture womens’ voices are often not valued and their opinions are often under-represented and underfunded. Expressing yourself is an inalienable right. The pursuit to be all you can be is a deep-seated need and if you’re not heard you’re not represented,” she said.

How Innovation DuPage Has Helped

Lewis has been marketing her product online since 2018 at She has identified contract manufacturers and worked out quality-control issues on the product for small, medium, large and mega orders, but still considers the marketing and selling of the product second to her day job as a working psychologist.

“I want to scale and designate Shoulder Bare Ltd. my first job. Innovation DuPage is helping me with so many things to make that happen. I have so many ideas for additional products to be marketed under the Shoulder Bare Ltd. banner, but I just need that one big break and I believe Innovation DuPage is going to be that spark to make it happen,” said Lewis.

Moving Confidently Forward

Follow the empowerment journey of Shoulder Bare Ltd. and its Barelastics product with Dr. Lewis on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Connect with Lewis on LinkedIn. We can “barely” contain our excitement as we watch women around the world discover Shoulder Bare Ltd, Barelastics and Dr. Lewis as she demonstrates the art of baring shoulders and soul with utmost confidence.


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 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.

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!     

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.”

The Future of Learning and Education: Investing in Human Potential

Reading time 4 minutes
According to the last census report, over one third of American adults hold a degree from a four-year institution. This is the highest number ever measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, as new generations enter college, a shift on the “so-called” traditional route to education has begun. The way knowledge is acquired is changing. Back in 2017, entrepreneur Stavan Patel anticipated this shift and decided to act. Here is his story.

How It All Started

Stavan moved to the United States from India at the age of sixteen. This was his first experience immersed in a new culture. In the U.S., Stavan followed the traditional education path and became a successful engineer working remotely on cloud computing for Microsoft. His ability to work from anywhere coupled with his earlier traveling experience, encouraged him to see the rest of the world. It was during his travels that Stavan noticed a gap between formal education and skills required for the workforce.

“[The educational system] puts you in a box and forces you to think a certain way… This prohibits you from thinking creatively.” The traditional education path dictates that one must go from K-12 to college to a career, and that is when education stops. Stavan knew that “learning is a life-long process.” This realization became one of the major factors that pushed Stavan to redefine the way the world thinks of education.

Stavan left his career behind and founded Quze believing that human potential is the most valuable resource we have

The other factor–and perhaps the most important factor–that inspired Stavan in his business venture was his passion for helping people maximize their full potential. He visited developing countries where he taught English and STEM to the locals and experienced a taste of their culture. While working with people from countries in Africa, South East Asia, and Central America, Stavan noticed that although these individuals had internet access and greatly desired to receive an education, they were not aware of how to use their online resources. To level the educational playing field for people in developing and emerging countries, Stavan left his career behind and founded Quze.

What Is Quze?

Stavan recognized that “human potential is the most valuable resource we have.” He assembled a global team of passionate individuals who resonated deeply with this philosophy and that’s how the idea of Quze began to flourish. Quze–which stands for Quantum Zen–is an online platform that helps learners find the best way to learn. Whether they are confused, looking for a new career opportunity or just acquiring new skills, Quze makes it extremely simple for them to get started. The Quze catalog aggregates online and offline courses, trainings, videos, bootcamps, podcasts–and everything in between–covering all topics imaginable in all different formats available. Whether a user learns best in an online community, in person, or through interactive videos, one can find the perfect learning opportunity, free or paid. Learners can also find apprenticeships around them, if they prefer to learn by doing.

The Future of Quze

Stavan believes education should become less about obtaining a piece of paper and more about skill acquisition. “I want Quze to be known as the cornerstone company that redefines and transitions us into the next chapter of education and learning.” Stavan thinks the notion of education should no longer be confined to the four walls of a classroom or a straight one-dimensional path. His belief is that learning should never stop.

Stavan–as the first official ID member–makes full use of the resources available at Innovation DuPage. Stavan and his team are working continuously in the ID coworking area to get Quze off the ground. Their hard work is now coming to fruition as their beta version is ready to launch. Looking ahead, Stavan wants to integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a personalized virtual advisor that allows users to map a learning plan depending on their own goals. But, as Stavan says, “the future of Quze is always in progression.”

When Stavan’s vision becomes a reality, the forthcoming U.S. Census may report fewer people earning college degrees, but the world will be more educated thanks to Quze.

By Michelle Gallardo

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.


Justin Mayer of Encube

How Serendipity Led to Encube’s Founding

Justin Mayer, a cofounder and chief marketing officer of Encube, was working in product management for a manufacturer when he realized there was a gap in IT project management platforms in the marketplace that opened an opportunity for a new solution.

After developing his own prototype for a solution, Mayer met with venture capital firm Symphony Alpha Ventures. Symphony Alpha was already working with another company tackling a similar problem in the Agile development space and connected them with Mayer. Mayer, Symphony Alpha and two Atlanta-based developers—who called their collaboration Encube—met to explore the possibilities of working together.

They found alignment in their goals and values as well as complementary skill sets: They needed each other to achieve success.

They found alignment in their goals and values as well as complementary skill sets: They needed each other to achieve success. From that serendipitous meeting, a reformation of Encube resulted with Justin taking the lead on marketing, sales and business development.

Encube and AI = Solutions

Together, the trio knew that managing the user stories, tasks and subtasks of a software development team can be a daunting task. Also, they were aware that a lack of unbiased data regarding each developer’s specific technological skills and knowledge resulted in a gap that hindered the management of an ideal software development team. And, while there are many project management tools on the market, these systemic gaps prevent organizations from leveraging the data of the vast amount of project tasks they’ve already completed, limiting their ability to make the most efficient use of their available talent pool.

The Atlanta team had been working on a need for a quicker, more efficient and cost-effective way to manage IT tasks among teams, especially among Agile software development teams.
Encube’s founders also knew how to put artificial intelligence to work in project management. With the goal of revolutionizing an industry, these efforts are at the core of the launch of Encube’s technology. By incorporating the use of a proprietary artificial intelligence engine, Mayer and his team created a tool that can dynamically mine data to create an evidence-based body of knowledge to help large project managers maximize their talent pool and complete more projects, more efficiently.

Making Task-Oriented Decisions
As well as making task-oriented decisions based on experience and knowledge, Encube can also calculate the appropriate replacement of a developer and help estimate the number of IT projects that can be handled at one time before more staff is needed. Encube provides the answers at a users’ fingertips.

Encube’s artificial intelligence saves time and money by referring to evidence-based knowledge demonstrated by its generated resource graph, another Encube breakthrough. The resource graph creates a better way of workforce planning by suggesting the proper expertise for specific tasks that maximizes the efficiency of an IT team. Encube strives to take the tedium out of managing IT teams.

How ID Played a Role
Mayer saw a need for office space and a network of knowledge and resources to help him grow the business. He turned to Innovation DuPage. Innovation DuPage has provided Encube with the resources and an ecosystem that enables Mayer and his growing team to more quickly expand its business. Innovation DuPage is a space where Mayer thrives and collaborates with other entrepreneurs. The story of Encube is still unfolding as the trial version is now online and accepting customers. The future looks promising. Venture capital is in place. A new website effectively communicates the benefits and clearly defines the market. Stay tuned as we report on Encube’s success and provide updates in the months ahead.

By Jack Dore