What’s Shaking the Region

Innovation DuPage joined forces with Brewpoint Coffee and the City of Elmhurst to host DuPage County’s first Makers & Shakers event. Sharp minds from across Chicagoland came together for this electric evening to promote their businesses and make meaningful connections with fellow startups and business moguls. The dynamic event drew a vast array of noteworthy entrepreneurs from all industries and stages of the startup journey. This is just the beginning. Makers & Shakers is going to continue to build on its initial success bringing together entrepreneurs from Elmhurst, the DuPage region and beyond.

Thank you to Fry the Coop, Propelling Good and Luxe Productions for the sincere discussion about the challenges facing startups

Connect with us . 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.

Dare to STEAM

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

Injecting a Love of STEAM into Curricula and Play

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

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

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

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

Unlikely Origins

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

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

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

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

Failure is Fantastic

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

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

Supporting Independent Bookstores

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

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

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

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

by Laura Zimmermann

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.

Empowered by Choice

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

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

Americans’ Burgeoning Student Debt Crisis

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

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

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

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

Space-driven Collaboration

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

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

Choose Your Own Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 Jodi Norgaard Advised ID Members to Tackle Manufacturing, Walmart and Amazon

2 min read …Jodi Norgaard delivered an ID Mentor workshop to ID Members about her experience manufacturing and selling a gender model positive plush toy doll that broke stereotypes, won awards, garnered huge mainstream media publicity, shook up retail toy aisles nationwide and launched her career as a highly regarded international public speaker.

ID Members spoke highly of Jodi’s presentation which provided them with a variety of references for everything from sourcing companies (for overseas manufacturing) to barcode providers to Amazon store managers. ID Accelerator member David Peck of Insightful Solutions LLC said, “I don’t know where to start or stop to explain what I got out of Jodi’s presentation. I got three pages of strategic and practical notes from it.”

I don’t know where to start or stop to explain what I got out of Jodi’s presentation. I got three pages of strategic and practical notes from it.

Likewise ID Member Dan Vissers said, “Jodi’s presentation was terrific. There were so many great insights and it was very motivational. Everything she said about persistence and tenacity in the manufacturing sector was spot on. I’m seeing it now and knowing she also experienced it gives me more confidence moving forward.”

Norgaard spoke about her experience being invited to the Obama White House via an email she wasn’t even sure was legitimate at first, but then ended up with her networking with the head of Lucasfilm and 148 other specially invited women entrepreneurs.

Some key advice that Jodi offered to entrepreneurs:

  • Toot your own horn because no one else is going to do it
  • Don’t grow too fast or start out with too many SKUs
  • Ask for help – ask anyone and everyone about anything and everything
  • Be persistent without being a pest
  • If you’re going to do business with Walmart, weigh the pros and cons and make sure your product is manufactured in an ICTI-certified factory (In fact do that before you start down the Walmart path)
  • Find a mentor
  • Remember that success is never achieved without failures: a lot of them
  • Make your product pitch short and sweet: You’ve got about 10 seconds

Jodi closed by saying, “You’re figuring out a product. And you’re climbing a mountain. There’s always a peak. Then another peak. There’s a vulnerability in being an entrepreneur. You know your product will work, but it’s convincing others that it will work.” She said, you don’t have to be a genius or have a ton of resources, but you have to step over fear, find courage and be passionate and persistent when things get difficult.

ID Members can access Jodi’s presentation with a request from the ID Connect form. (Input “Jodi’s presentation” in the comment section).

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.

A Startup to Help Startups

Randy Micheletti spent close to a decade as a very successful corporate lawyer employed by a large law firm where he represented huge deep-pocketed clients. The legal services provided by large law firms are not cheap. Often such services are more than a blossoming startup can afford. Yet, startup companies are the ones need legal services just as sophisticated and timely as the largest corporations. Micheletti recognized this as an opportunity to create a startup of his own—a startup that provides legal guidance throughout the tremendously daunting journey of starting a company from the ground up.

Micheletti’s vision and goal is to work with companies young and old on a more personal level. His startup, Incubate IP, is a law firm that specializes in catering to the needs of startup companies. Turning an idea into a company requires a lot of legal work and guidance. Knowing this, Incubate IP strives to help startups with a variety of tasks from setting goals and assessing challenges to protecting intellectual rights with patents, trademarks, copyrights and licensing. Most entrepreneurs deal with some or even all of these topics very early in their life cycles. Incubate IP aims to provide those critical services to startups for which the large corporate law firms are out of reach.

Legal Services for Startups Start for Free

When Micheletti begins working with a new client, the first step is an assessment of the entrepreneur’s entire legal needs—which he provides for free, unlike most large law firms. This free initial counseling is just one way in which Micheletti makes his law firm friendly to those with startup-sized budgets. It also allows him to work with his clients personally so he can understand their goals and vision to better counsel them. Because Micheletti’s company is also a startup, he can truly relate to what his clients are experiencing, which is a unique perspective, and it enables him to provide the kind of service a startup would never receive from a large law firm.

Already Incubate IP has helped companies from all over the United States, from the East Coast to California—and even overseas—although most of its clients are based in the Chicagoland area. Micheletti has found no shortage of entrepreneurs in need of Incubate IP’s services.

Landing at Innovation DuPage

Innovation DuPage was a perfect landing spot for Micheletti and Incubate IP. Micheletti said that Innovation DuPage provided him with the resources to grow his brand and the connections to expand his clientele. Several Incubate IP clients are members of Innovation DuPage already, and more and more are recognizing the tremendous value of the entrepreneurial community thriving at Innovation DuPage. The conference rooms that Innovation DuPage offers have proven to be a huge help, considering Micheletti runs Incubate IP from his home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Micheletti said being able to work with and around such a diverse group of entrepreneurs has helped tremendously in the growth of Incubate IP. And, likewise, Incubate IP has helped the many startups working at Innovation DuPage.

A Man of Many Talents

But Micheletti’s deep legal experience isn’t the only service he offers his fellow startups. With a BS in chemistry and an MS in organic chemistry, it’s safe to say Micheletti is a man of many talents. He is also an adjunct professor at IIT’s Chicago Kent School of Law and, in his free time, he plays the trumpet for multiple musical groups in Chicago. What can’t he do? A lawyer, chemist and musician who traded in his corporate law job to create a startup of his own, Micheletti is thrilled to work with young entrepreneurs trying to build companies, just as he is himself.

How Banking on an Internship Turns Into a Career

2 min read…Interns add a little spice to the environment at Innovation DuPage. One intern that we will be saying farewell to this week is Charles Cwik. Charles came to the attention of Innovation DuPage due to a strong recommendation from an advisor at ID Partner Benedictine University, his alma mater. Charles has blossomed into a quick-thinking, collaborative team player who can be relied upon to get projects done in a timely fashion. He is moving on to a full-time job as a credit analyst with Bank of the West [the U.S. subsidiary of the French international mega bank, BNP Paribas], after his Innovation DuPage internship concludes this week.

Charles’ background includes not only a bachelor’s degree from Lisle, Illinois-based Benedictine University in business analytics but also three years as a sound technician working with up-and-coming rock n roll musicians and a side hustle as a barista. His technical and sound skills will come in handy with anyone looking to produce a podcast or adjust the sound system at a conference, not to mention flying through excel spreadsheets. His sense of customer service has been honed to an art form from his time whipping up lattes and espressos.

After an instructor identified him as a leader among his classmates, the recommendation to hire Charles as an intern came to ID Operations Director Jim Bell. During his 3-month internship, Charles worked on areas such as identifying grant and potential partnering opportunities for ID, developing lists of useful information like this Chicagoland pitch contest list (a big hit with ID Members looking to build awareness and receive feedback on their startups), helping with financial management and accounting duties and much more.

Then, through a connection of Bell’s at the Bank of the West, an interview was arranged and Charles seemed a perfect match for an entry level position in their commercial lending approval and management team in Chicago. Innovation DuPage is proud to have played a part in what we hope will be a fruitful career for Charles as he leaves his operations intern position behind for the real world. That’s the cornerstone of Innovation DuPage: connections, helping each other, lifting people and companies up! Charles’ story is one small example of how Innovation DuPage is making a difference in the DuPage area region.

Good luck Charles and stay in touch! Wish Charles luck on his LinkedIn page, Instagram feed and on Facebook.

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.

How Dr. Sanju Abraham Is All About Giving Back

3 min. read…If you’ve had the pleasure of participating in one of Dr. Abraham’s workshops, you’d probably think this warm, humble, unassuming man is someone you’d love to spend an afternoon with because the conversation just flows. And with the conversation, comes information … and a lot of it: like water from a firehose. It’s powerful stuff. But it’s guidance from a friend. A friend whose “airs” are all about what he can give you. Abraham kicked back one afternoon in a pink, slightly rumpled Vineyard Vines polo at ID to talk about his background, his philosophies and what he hopes to gain at ID as a mentor, investor and teacher.

With several advanced degrees, including an MBA and PhD in computer science (with a specialty in artificial intelligence) from DePaul University, Abraham has the bona fides to sit in board rooms, pulling down six figures, just for what he knows. He does a little of that, but mostly he’s looking to find, nurture and help the next entrepreneur get to the level of boardroom with him.

A Deep Background in Business and Digital Marketing

As a serial founder (currently he’s involved with six companies in some capacity, including his latest launch Deepint Marketing) with global experience, Abraham has the ability to advise and mentor, as well as teach, pretty much any company in any industry. As long as they are interested in growing their business, rapidly scaling and using digital marketing in the most efficient and economical way possible. And who isn’t?

Thinking of Salesforce for your CRM? It’s great, but expensive, he said. You might want to try Insightly instead. Being pitched by Marketo? Save the $800/month and let Mailchimp be your go to, for now. His favorite saying, “Try the free versions first until you outgrow them and then switch to what you can afford. There’s more than one way to market online!”

So you want to advertise on Facebook? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Abraham is the Developers Circle (DevC) Lead for Facebook in a 10-state region, he said. He is preparing to host a Facebook-sponsored hackathon this fall in Chicago. (Watch the ID Events page for more details and how to get in on the action). He’s also hosting a Facebook Meet Up Launch at Innovation DuPage on September 14. Click here to register. And, he’s hosting semi-weekly sessions on digital marketing at Innovation DuPage that anyone can attend. You just need to register through the Meetup app (find the links at the Innovation DuPage events page).

Abraham also has a strong belief in the power of education. Having spent a lot of time in college, he fully recognizes the challenge that new graduates face when it comes time to find their job. He is a part of the leadership team at Quze, another Innovation DuPage member, to bridge the skills gap that new graduates, or those looking to make a career transition, face.

Humble Beginnings

Abraham came to the U.S. at the age of five with his parents and siblings. Stressing education as paramount, his parents settled in the Chicago suburbs to give the kids a better shot at success than they might have had in their native India. The strategy worked as both siblings completed medical school, one sibling is now a practicing neurologist with an MD and the other is a medical administrator. But Abraham wanted to go into business, not medicine like his siblings. He put himself through school, working hard and taking full advantage of the U.S. educational system: First at College of DuPage, then Elmhurst College (both schools are ID Partners) and finally earning his graduate degrees at DePaul.

The purpose of wealth and working hard has very little to do with enriching yourself, but rather it should be used to give to others

-Dr. Sanju Abraham

He said he grew up poor, but losing a dear friend in high school taught him a life lesson about giving back that has stuck with him. He said his life’s philosophy is to build up others around him. “The purpose of wealth and working hard has very little to do with enriching yourself, but rather it should be used to give to others. This is in line with the teachings of all the major religions. You give and you feel better, you feel happier. Giving could be time, knowledge, money and for the sake of doing it,” he said.

During our chat, Abraham admitted he’s had many failures over the years. “I’ve failed a lot! But I learned from each and every one,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned the hard way is to find the right partners when going into business. If you can partner with the person who is going to push you, motivate you and challenge you, then you’ve got a good partner. But you must talk to the right people. Not your parents, not your spouse and not your friends.”

A Passion and a Purpose

“I want to help people find their passion. If I can help a cupcake shop owner make more cupcakes because they are passionate about cupcake baking, then that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I’m in the business of helping people realize their dreams.”

Abraham offers to schedule an appointment with anyone who wants to meet with him for no charge. As a business consultant and coach, he is that guy who pushes, prods, and challenges. But he does it in just the right way. “I’m not any smarter than anyone else,” he said, “But I’ve had experiences I can share so others don’t have to make the same mistakes I’ve made.”

He’s had success too. Plenty of them. His biggest success is “having the luxury of time to help others succeed.” Having income streams from several companies with which he’s involved pays the bills. But the biggest success is what keeps him up at night: Absolutely nothing. “I sleep like a baby,” he said.

Working with mentors like Dr. Abraham at Innovation DuPage, ID Members and people from the general public who want to sign up for his classes at ID, are hopefully going to also live their dreams and give back to their communities, families and others as he has done. And with tips and intel from Abraham, hopefully those companies incubating and accelerating in Glen Ellyn are going to scale rapidly, enjoy success and make the world a better place. That would be Dr. Abraham’s dream come true.

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.