Keeping Kids Safer Online Through Storytelling

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

A Plethora of Platforms

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

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

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

When “Spidey Senses” Tingle

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

The greatest tool I use is storytelling.

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

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

Accelerating Cyber Safety Consulting

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

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

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

by Katie Uram

Innovation DuPage

Michael Medema Mentor Workshop: Flip-flops and Fast Facts

For a man who has started seven companies (with four successful exits) and is currently running three companies simultaneously, Michael Medema seemed pretty chill. Medema sat down in t-shirt and flip flops to chat with ID members about his experiences scaling startups. His resume includes company sale prices valued at a cumulative $54 million.

His current company, Keono, a digital marketing company which he started in 2011, claims revenue of $18.5 million and has been listed on INC. 50 four years in a row as a “Best Workplace in the U.S.”, among other accolades he said. Medema is a serial entrepreneur with chops. As an ID mentor, he’s willing and able to help others, so ID members were listening closely.

Stay Debt Free
In a staccato delivery style, all business and fast facts, Medema advised ID members to avoid debt if at all possible. He said organic growth is the best growth and the way to achieve organic growth is through personal selling. He said it’s okay to start small, and not to spend a lot of money on marketing at first. For super small companies, if there’s a little money—like $500-$1000 per month to spend–founders are better off hiring sales reps, even 1099 sales reps, to follow up on leads and close deals.

Hook a big client, do something great for them and then leverage that success on to the next. He said to be realistic with financials and remember “Cash and data are king. Debt is crippling.”

Focus on One Thing
No one can be all things to all people. As an example, Medema said his particular strength is on building great companies and teams—fast—and then getting out. “I’m not the CEO to take a company to the next level. My sweet spot is from scratch up to $25 million.” He said to focus on doing one thing great and figuring out how to scale fast.

focus on doing one thing great and figure out how to scale fast.

Get a Great Team
While you’re lasering in on the thing you do best, he advised company leaders to hire slow/fire fast to cultivate a capable team, a powerful network and a high-functioning company culture. Founders have to do everything alone at first. But when it’s time to hire, he said to try to pay on results as much as possible (see paragraph three). Use consultants and 1099 them. Find and hire interns to help. They’re willing and able to work to gain experience. (Hint: the ID partner colleges and universities are full of them!)

Be Ready to Change
“If you’re not changing, you’re dying. I change quickly. I’m always looking over my shoulder,” Medema asserted. The people in the team change, the customers change, the product changes and the markets certainly change. Founders need to be prepared for that. Founders also must “Constantly share their vision, direction and plans with clients, vendors, team members, investors and so on. Keep the vision strong and continue to ask questions and challenge the norm,” he said.

Use the Network
Medema was impressed with the level of talent and vision in the room. He recommended that business founders and owners at Innovation DuPage take the headphones off and work together. ID members could share knowledge and resources and even combine resources to hire needed talent, if possible.

He said, “Most of the companies all have similar issues so leverage the group and discuss key issues together (i.e. prospecting, hiring, etc.). Although the companies are unique and in different stages, sharing ideas would be greatly beneficial. I’ve learned a ton from business partners, friends and other business owners, so network more so you too can learn the ropes.”

This rope is one every ID member will want to swing on! ID Member Symone Lewis, founder and CEO of Barelastics, said “This was amazing and worth every minute.” Stay tuned for the next mentor workshop on Tuesday, July 16, from 10:00 a.m. to noon with Dave Goetz.



Flip the Switch

If you have an idea that you genuinely think is good, don’t let some idiot talk you out of it.

~Stan Lee (Marvel Comics)

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.

Edison Wasn’t Alone

Edison was surrounded by equally obsessed lab technicians that also put in 18- hour days. In fact, the idea of the lone, lonely inventor is a myth. It 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.

Many of the greatest titans of industry supported Edison because they believed in his vision. J.P. Morgan invested in Edison’s team because he believed in their potential to create a solution for installing electricity in his 5th Avenue Manhattan mansion. During this project, Morgan’s home transformed into a lab where Edison’s team experimented, resulting in a generator that powered the home’s 400 light bulbs. This ingenuity amazed the masses, and soon after, New York City was energized by Edison’s design which resulted in the explosive growth of numerous industries.

Today’s advancements in technology coupled with rapidly expanding markets provide a similar opportunity for growth. Connecting founders to resources that support a shared vision is the mission and future of Innovation DuPage.

Discover Your Unfair Advantage

Did Thomas Edison have an unfair advantage in his partnership with J.P. Morgan? Of course. Likewise, entrepreneurs working in the newly remodeled ID space will receive consistent support as they develop their own unfair competitive advantage.

When novel thinking connects to a solid infrastructure–like the resource-rich ID environment– partnerships will create ventures which move the needle for the entire community. By tapping into the power of “we” something truly original results.

Innovation DuPage offers entrepreneurs and small business owners a roadmap for turning ideas into those 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 while they craft a scalable business model, define their value proposition, enhance their competitive differentiation and collect customer insights.

Next-Generation Design

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. Innovation DuPage provides a safe environment for founders resulting in more successes and fewer failures than going it alone.

At ID, vetted mentors guide entrepreneurs with rounds of constructive feedback grounded in expertise. By sharing knowledge and pushing founders out of their comfort zone, entrepreneurs learn to effectively grow or pivot.

Also, in partnership with The Business Development Center (now also headquartered at the Glen Ellyn Civic Center), entrepreneurs can conduct market research and access support services from throughout the entrepreneurial ecoverse.

The goal is to gain insight to clarify each founder’s vision and extend each startup’s runway to help them build traction. The process develops more resilient entrepreneurs who have a dedicated support network mirroring the actual experience of Thomas Edison.

If you desire to join our growing community of entrepreneurs, we want to hear from you.

Until next time remember, “Genius doesn’t fade just because we stopped watching.”

By Travis Linderman

Travis Linderman 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. He has spearheaded capital campaigns that have raised over $600 million for technology development. You can reach him at


Innovation DuPage Sponsors 2018-19 Blue Ocean Competition

As a sponsor of the 2018-19 Blue Ocean Competition, Innovation DuPage was proud to have the opportunity to present a $500 check to an Illinois team from Barrington High School. The check was awarded for third place in this international entrepreneur challenge. The winning team, dubbed SafeGuard, finished third out of more than 550 student competitors from 26 states and 8 foreign countries.

The program has the volunteer support of many in the business community in Barrington

SafeGuard’s winning entrepreneurial pitch for an app-enabled mouth guard with a sensor that would alert coaches, teachers and parents via smartphone whether an athlete has suffered a concussion while playing sports featured the students from Hagop Soulakian’s entrepreneur class at Barrington High School, in Barrington, Illinois. The program has the volunteer support of many in the business community in Barrington, a suburb approximately 20 miles northwest of Chicago.

“Parents, business members and teachers alike volunteer to mentor and coach each team as they prepare and build their companies and products,” said Soulakian. “This class is a community-wide effort to engage and support student entrepreneurs.”

From left: Ginger Wheeler, director of public relations for Innovation DuPage presents a check to the SafeGuard team who placed third in the international 2018-19 Blue Ocean Competition. SafeGuard is comprised of (In red) Allison Khoshabe, CEO, Steve Bramati, Samantha Short and Thomas Smith. Barrington High School entrepreneur class teacher Hagop Soulakian (in back row) looks on. Not pictured: Holly Snyder and Carrie Zakson, volunteer team mentor.

This is the fifth year of the Blue Ocean entrepreneurship competition which received 232 idea submissions from around the globe. Blue Ocean’s founder and president, Nicholas Benavides, wrote the Barrington students saying, “Our judges were very impressed with the ingenuity your team showed and your ability to deliver a compelling pitch.”