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MBA Students Pursue SmartiPantz Dream

A year ago, SNC grad student Tyler Clark was worried about his 5-year-old daughter, Emma. She really wasn’t interested in reading, much less stories about weightier subjects like science and math. Enter Vaughn Bowles. Bowles, Clark’s friend and classmate, mentioned that his wife, Tiffany, had been creating personalized books for the Bowles kids to help them learn about more serious subjects. Why couldn’t Tiffany create one for Emma and see if that helped? Clark eagerly accepted the offer.

Tiffany made a book for Emma on space and geography, with Emma’s mug prominently featured throughout. “Emma thought the book was the coolest thing in the world,” says Clark. “And I thought, ‘Wow! This works!’ ” 

After a little digging, Clark discovered no one was producing personalized products as educational tools for subject areas other than reading and literacy. And with that, SmartiPantz was born.

The idea behind the fledgling business is simple: Create personalized educational books for kids aged 6 to 12 centered on science, technology, engineering and math, aka the STEM subjects. Customers will visit the business’ website, choose a book, upload a picture of the child, then drag it into a cut-out of the book’s main character. SmartiPantz then inserts the child’s image and name throughout the book, prints it, then ships it to the customer.

Personalized children’s books are nothing new. “But the gap [these students] recognized is that no customized books are STEM-focused,” says Joy Pahl, St. Norbert assistant professor of business administration. And such gaps in the marketplace can always be filled.

Clark developed the business over the last year with Bowles and Nic Reynolds, another SNC classmate. Tiffany Bowles continues to write the stories, with help from a partner with science expertise. 

With Pahl’s assistance, the men pursued a National Science Foundation state grant. They were awarded the $2,400 grant in November 2016, which they used to discover information about their future customer base.

Then, in December 2016, SNC’s Schneider School held its inaugural Shark Attack! competition. Patterned after the television show “Shark Tank,” entrepreneurial teams had 90 seconds or less to pitch a business plan to a panel of judges. The trio’s SmartiPantz idea won the elevator-pitch contest and $1,000. Even better, they met Steve Schneider (no relation to the Schneider School).

Schneider, a 1985 St. Norbert alum and current founder, president and CEO of Hilbert Communications, was one of the Shark Attack! judges. Schneider quickly became the company’s principal investor and mentor. “He gave us so many connections,” says Clark. “And he steered us to different organizations we should become involved with. He was very, very helpful.”

Pahl says SmartiPantz is one example of the great potential for new businesses in northeastern Wisconsin that are spawned by thoughtful, creative college students. But it’s critical that these potential entrepreneurs receive encouragement and support from area individuals, whether financial, in-kind or business connections.

“Ideas abound,” says Pahl. “But it’s not enough to have a good idea. You’ve got to have an ecosystem where those good ideas can take hold and grow.”

SmartiPantz Update: The company plans to unveil its website – SmartiPantz.com – in late October, and immediately begin taking book orders. Initially, four books will be available covering muscle memory, cells, the respiratory system, and neural connections and emotional health. Marketing efforts will center on Facebook and Pinterest, sites research showed their customers frequent. The company will also unveil a Kickstarter campaign in the next few weeks.

Sept. 28, 2017