Tag Archives: education


by John Jonelis

What happens when you give kids—kids gifted in math and science—a real chance to bust out with their God given talents and excel?


  • What if you trust them to lay their greasy little hands on equipment normally available only at elite universities?
  • What if you allow them to direct their own time?
  • What if you challenge them to construct their own goals and learn by themselves how to accomplish them?
  • What if you dare them to build real startup businesses at such a tender age?
  • And what if you throw them into a competition against a panel of critical judges from the real private equity world?

What happens? Good things! Good things happen! They happen here at IMSA – the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. I’ll give you an intimate peek at the inner works of this educational powerhouse so you can see for yourself what makes this one of the biggest success stories in the country.

Showcase – Chandra Gangavarapu

This is a high school with a serious entrepreneurship program. Many of the ideas, business models, and pitches produced here outshine what we’re accustomed to in the business world. Mere students, you say? Some of their companies have gained funding and gone to market. And many of these same students intern at real-world startups throughout Chicago.

According to Britta McKenna, Chief Innovation Officer at IN2, “Kids love to have real-world problems to actually work at. This space provides that opportunity.”

Today’s event is the grueling POWER PITCH. Each team presents its company twice before separate panels of judges—the finalists pitch three times.


What Do the Judges Say?

The judges are all smiles as they feed at the idea bar after the first round. Competitors get whittled down by secret ballot. I corner John Lump. He’s a colleague at Heartland Angels and a professor at DePaul where I’ve lectured at his invitation on risk profiles in private equity. See IN YOUR FACE RISK.

This a practical guy who’s knee-deep in the real world of business as VP of Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. I can count on him for an honest opinion. Here it is verbatim:

John Lump — Judge

“I love being a judge here. Second year I’ve been doing it. And it’s exciting and a lot of fun. The enthusiasm and energy of the kids is just fantastic.”

Swelly – Tyler Stock

“I saw several interesting businesses.

  • Swelly is a temporary insurance company.
  • Blabl is a company to help students with speech disabilities.
  • Rethink Numeracy is one that helps students with Downs Syndrome learn math—a more visual approach.

Some really cool ideas here.”

Blabl – Ayan Agarwal

“Obviously these entrepreneurs are quite young. There are some still in Jr. High. You’re talking kids that are 10, 12, 13 years old and already starting businesses! At Heartland Angels, we see entrepreneurs in their 20s up to their 50s and 60s. So these kids need much more mentoring. But I think you’re going to see some business opportunities here.”

Rethink Numeracy – Akshaya Raghavan

I touch base with Moises Goldman. As I’ve said before, he’s an old hand at private equity in Chicago and a VIP here at IMSA. I’ve known him a long time, and trust what he says. He’s a guy that projects humility, but receives deference and respect.

Moises Goldman – Judge

Today Moises is bursting with exuberance and he speaks with more passion than I’ve ever seen. What he says is as intuitive and emotional as it is insightful.

“Two of these kids blew me away. The company is called Fast Exit. One brother is 12 and the other is 15. Twelve and fifteen! I looked at the father and just jokingly said to him, what is it that you do? These kids are very, bright. Very, very bright—both of them.

[Moises is talking about the Orr brothers, Joshua and Maxwell. The older brother is in 8th grade at Avery Coonley. They are each pitching their own companies today.]

“What blew me away was that they’re two brothers, so I look at the father and I just wonder, what are his challenges as a dad with these two amazing kids? Because the social environment that they have—it must be an alternative universe to the one that I’m used to—that I grew up in.”

Jim Gerry with Joshua Orr of Fast Exit

[I suggest to Moises that their home life must be very nurturing.]

“Yes, somehow. But I’m amazed. That really blew me away—that blew me away. Last year, the older boy had a drone project that was a game you could adapt to Dave and Busters in that kind of environment.”

[I recall that drone project and ask if they’re both planning to attend IMSA.]

“The 12-year old—I don’t know. The 15-year old is applying for the coming year.”

OneNote Quiz – Maxwell Orr

Today there are 17 judges at Power Pitch – Patrick Bresnahan, Dane Christianson, Moises Goldman, Joe Jordan, Sanza Kazadi, Christine Krause, Maria Kuhn, John Lump, Josh Metnick, Nancy Munro, Kelly Page, Jacob Plumber, Lance Pressl, Julia Sanberger, Chris Stiegal, Tom Voigt, Joe Zlotniki. I agreed to be an alternate and fortunately don’t get that tap on the shoulder. I want to see the whole event.

Shop Cheetah – Catelyn Rounds, Julian Kroschke



IMSA’s entrepreneurship program is called TALENT—Total Applied Learning for Entrepreneurship—led by Dr. Carl Heine, Britta McKenna, and Jim Gerry. Jim is technically retired from the program but still volunteers his time. This is too much fun to stay away.

Heat2Heal – Sushil and Pranav Upadhyayula

At this place, students get real-life experience and opportunities to solve real-world problems and bring ideas to market. The goal is to instill the thinking patterns and mindset of an entrepreneur:

  • Develop a product
  • Form a team
  • Communicate ideas
  • Formulate a business plan
  • Protect intellectual property
  • Work your network
  • Raise funding
  • Start the business

Really? These are high school kids—some even younger. In a world of schools dominated by gangs, drugs, and fear, who would think them capable of such positive desires and accomplishments? Then I come across one of the quotes on the wall:


IMSA Fast Facts

  • Teaching philosophy – The Socratic approach. Self-directed learning and problem-based learning.
  • 99.8% of IMSA students attend college.
  • 70.1% pursue majors in science or math.
  • 47% of faculty is PhD.
  • Alumni hail from every district in Illinois.
  • This is the school’s 30th year.

The IN2 Entrepreneurship Center at IMSA

I snag Dr Carl Heine, as he moves between presentations. He’s director of IMSA TALENT, their entrepreneurship program. I ask him if IMSA still has a presence at 1871, the huge incubator in downtown Chicago, or if all the activity is at the new IN2 facility.

Dr. Carl Heine, Director of IMSA TALENT

“IMSA is still a member of 1871. We take our students on Wednesdays to intern at companies. They’re embedded in startup teams. We can’t teach a class that’s better than that.”

“We do it every Wednesday. 1871 is just one location. We have students at the James Jordan Foundation downtown. Three of them are interning there right now, working on summer curriculum. There are students at a variety of other spots, too.”

[“This year’s Power Pitch is better than I’ve ever seen.”]

“POWER PITCH is an event that makes people feel good about the future. I hope you feel that way as a result of your involvement.

“The top three high school teams are advancing to the Next Launch regional competition in Indianapolis on May 17. If you would like to continue to work with your favorite team as a thought partner, a mentor or more, the purpose of IN2 and TALENT is to make that happen.”


[I decide that Carl is the Yoda of IN2. I ask him, “What other events are coming up?”]

“This has been an academy for 30 years now, so we’d like to have a celebration. We’ve put it on March 30th this year, so there’s a 30 and a 30. As part of that, we’re doing the ribbon cutting for the IN2 space, and the new science labs that are part of a capital campaign that just wrapped up as well. And we’re celebrating the accomplishments of the institution over the last 30 years.”

This is just brilliant!

IMSA trains students not to fear any subject. I noticed THEORY OF ANALYSIS on the course syllabus. Normally, that’s offered only at the university level and it’s a course that’s hated and avoided by math majors nationwide. Never be intimidated by difficult subjects.

Award Ceremony


17 Student Teams

IMSA’s President, Jose׳ M Torres, and the Stephanie Pace Marshall Endowment present the awards.

The top three high school teams—Blabl, Heat2Heal and Flameless—advance to the Next Launch Regional Competition in Indianapolis on May 17. The two winning middle school teams are Fast Exit and Shop Cheetah.

Blabl– Ayan Agarwal


Social Good Category Finalists & Winners

  • BlablAyan Agarwal – A mobile application that engages speech impaired children in conversation with an avatar – $1000 prize, Top 3 HS team
  • Heat2HealSushil Upadhyayula, Pranav Upadhyayula – A hands-free, self-powered Arthritis Wrap that converts body heat into electricity to provide targeted massaging & heat therapy for stiff joints – $500, Top 3 HS team
  • Rethink NumeracyAkshaya Raghavan – Teaching numeracy to children with Down Syndrome, leveraging their learning strengths.
  • Double-CheckRishi Modi – A protective biometric alternative to prevent ID theft.

Heat2Heal– Sushil Upadhyayula & Pranav Upadhyayula

Social entrepreneurs create self-sustaining businesses that promote social good. The STEM category is for-profit tech companies.

Fast Exit – Joshua Orr

STEM Category Finalists & Winners

  • FastExitJoshua Orr – A life-saving solution for managing exit signs – $1,000 prize, middle school team.
  • Shop CheetahCatelyn Rounds, Julian KroschkeA groundbreaking store navigation system that saves times and routes customers through the store$500 prize, middle school team.
  • FlamelessSivam Bhatt, Nikhil Madugula – Extinguishing cooking fires automatically with sound waves – Top 3 HS team.
  • SwellyAneesh Kudaravalli, Tyler Stock – A mobile app that allows users to get flexible insurance on personal items in an instant.

Shop Cheetah – Catelyn Rounds & Julian Kroschke


Other Competing Teams

  • AlertAshritha Karuturi, Priya Kumar – An app that efficiently connects homeowners to rescue workers, saving time and lives.
  • Be BettahZoe Mitchell – The food search engine and cookbook series that allows for bettah nutrition without changing your lifestyle.
  • Electrofood Alex Orlov – A microbial fuel cell that converts food waste to electricity.
  • OneNote QuizMax Orr – The personalized quiz generator.

Flameless – Sivam Bhatt & Nikhil Madugula

  • SafeSeatElliott Cleven – An app to alert parents if their child is left in a car unattended.
  • ShowcaseChandra Gangavarapu – A web app for musicians and dancers to gain recognition for their art.
  • Social BreadVainius Normantas – Using social media advertisements to raise funding and awareness for communities in need.
  • StrobeJayant Kumar, Zaid Kazmi – LED light strip supplements for fire and carbon monoxide alarms to assist the hearing impaired.
  • Verifact!Shreya Pattisapu – An effective and efficient way to couter fake news.


Go to Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2

Hope you enjoyed Part 2 – POWER PITCH




IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

Tami Armstrong – tarmstrong@imsa.edu


Photography by John Jonelis

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved


Filed under 1871, angel, angel investor, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Events, IMSA, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, MIT, MIT Enterprise Forum, MIT Enterprise Forum Chicago, MITEF, MITEF Chicago, Social Entrepreneur, Startup, startup company, vc, venture capital


Impact Engine – Part 3

VERBATIM by Loop Lonagan – Investor and man about town,

as told to John Jonelis

Impact EngineLoop Lonagan here at IMPACT ENGINE Investors Day. I got an exciting report on the education of our kids. This’s real interesting stuff—and real important.  Ever’body knows dat education is the difference between living in poverty and not.  To tell the truth, maybe I didn’t pay so much attention when I was in school.  But that’s the whole point.  Lotsa kids in dis country is fallin’ behind the world bigtime

To fix the problem, forty-six o’ these United States already adopted the new CCSS standards fer their schools. That stands for Common Core State Standards ‘n’ they’re goin’ into effect real soon. So ever’body’s scramblin’ to get ready. Every student, every teacher and school is gonna get held to the same standards as ever’body else nationwide. This’s gonna mean a major shift in the way students learn.

Meanwhile, schools don’t know just exactly how the CCSS program is gonna get done ‘n’ they’re lookin’ fer answers. Seems like a big opportunity to me.

Hey, I’m all for anything that blows away the status quo in American education. What we got is broke. Ever’body knows it’s broke. And we’re fallin’ behind the rest o’ the world. Even Cuba’s got a better educational system fer heaven sakes.

Eileen Murphy 2

Eileen Murphy of ThinkCERCA

That’s why Eileen Murphy, a classical Irish lass, started ThinkCERCA. CERCA stands for something I ferget—maybe I’m gettin’ old—I dunno. Anyhow, IMPACT ENGINE launched this company ‘cause it’s gonna solve the education problem in the good old US of A. I think that’s worth doing.

Note to Editor – Hey John, you never edited my copy on them other reports. It makes me look kinda bad. This one’s on education so gimme a hand here.

Note to Loop – Quit whining about the way you talk. You made all those millions. You earned a Masters from the U of C. You figure it out. As always, I’ll print exactly what you send—but keep it clean.


Da Problem

Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah—turns out the US is less competitive fer a good reason: Way too much focus on lower-level skills.  No critical thinking. Not enough rigor. Not enough engagement. Mosta what kids soak up is ethnic media outsida school. The result? Our kids ain’t career or college ready. So whadaya gonna do? Here’s three options:

OPTION #1—THE STATUS QUO—Schools keep tryin’ to cram facts down these kid’s little throats.  It’s a complete waste o’ time. Always was. Always will be. Lookit me.  I never sat still fer it so whadaya think’s happenin’ in classrooms today? It don’t work. It don’t prepare nobody to go out ‘n’ solve real problems.

Look at it from the teacher’s side. Say you’re tryin’ every day to control six rowdy classes—50 kids each. All usin’ the same syllabus. The same text. The same boring lecture. Maybe that works for summa dem, but lots is strugglin’ and others is bored outa their gord. Enough to turn any class into a riot scene.  So lemme ask you:

  • How ya gonna do any face-to-face with individuals when yer time’s all used up controllin’ an unruly mob that don’t even listen to yer lecture?
  • How ya gonna custom-design dynamic lesson plans fer every student when yer stuck with one textbook that most of ‘em can’t even read?
  • How ya gonna set up an unbiased assessment that meets CCSS standards—uniform across all states?

Answer—You can’t. But that’s what the new rules are gonna require.

OPTION #2—SINK OR SWIM—We could chuck ‘em all over the side ‘o the boat and see who can swim ‘n’ who can’t. That’s the school I went to. So what’s the problem with that?

  • Maybe I figured out how to succeed or maybe I just got lucky—I still get complaints from people about the way I talk.
  • Alotta kids I knew never made it to shore neither. Not so good.

OPTION #3—ThinkCERCA—Kids learn critical thinking skills to equip ‘em fer life.  That raises a couple questions:

  • How does ThinkCERCA teach that?
  • How do they measure the results?

Aha! Turns out them’s THE questions!


Da Method

Turns out the ancient, Socratic method is the way to go. It’s been around fer like forever,Eileen Murphy of ThinkCERCA right? So you might say ThinkCERCA is goin’ back to fundamentals—but they’re usin’ technology to do it.

They replace a school’s antique paper system with easy-to-use technology. The technology helps keep kids at their own individual pace. It don’t replace teachers—it helps ‘em.

The result? Teachers spend their time on face-to-face instruction. Kids collaborate with peers in real-life critical thinking exercises. Everybody shares and debates. Learning gets a whole lot more social. Here’s the 1-2-3 of it:

  1. DYNAMIC CONTENT—New material will constantly come online. They start with stuff created by their team of national experts. Then two million Grade 6-12 teachers will share and add to a common library. Collectively, those 2M teachers have the answers that get missed by traditional publishing. This I like.
  2. CONCEPTS FROM LEAN MANUFACTURING—One o’ the first rules in LEAN is to stop batching things. What you got in the classroom is a big batch of assorted kids up against one rigid, unyielding program. That’s gotta change. In the 21st century, students is gonna design their own learning experience and teachers is gonna curate the content. I like this, too.
  3. EVIDENCE-BASED ARGUMENTATION—This’s how ThinkCERCA teaches critical thinking. Students learn to gather evidence, build an argument, tie the two together ‘n’ explain it to another kid. The goal is to help students create viable arguments ‘n’ also analyze the reasoning of others. Bottom line—kids learn critical thinking. They can figure out the right answer all by themselves. I like this a lot. Lemme give you an example:

Here’s the old kinda question:

A car averages 27 miles per gallon. If gas costs $4.04 per gallon, which of the following is closest to how much gas would cost for this car to travel 2,727 typical miles?

  • A. $44.44
  • B. $109.08
  • C. $118.80
  • D. $444.40

I don’t care. Do you care? Ever’body remembers those kinda questions and we all hate ‘em.

Now here the new kinda question:

5 swimmers compete in the 50-meter race. The finish time for each swimmer is shown below.

  •  Swimmer 1 – 23.42
  •  Swimmer 2 – 23.18
  •  Swimmer 3 – 23.21
  •  Swimmer 4 – 23.35
  •  Swimmer 5 – 23.24

Explain how the race would change if each swimmer’s time was rounded to the nearest tenth.

Whoa! Makes you think, don’t it? And that’s the idea!


Da Technology

ThinkCERCA is a web-based platform that gives teachers the tools ‘n’ content they need to create and deliver personalized critical thinking instruction for ALL students. Here’s what you get:

  • Teachers get web tools to create quick lesson plans tailored to each kid—just a few clicks o’ the mouse ‘n’ yer done! And these lessons are geared fer critical thought! In other words, kids learn to think ‘n’ they learn to express their knowledge and back up their ideas with real evidence.
  • Schools get a library o’ web-based content insteada old fashioned text books. The library is dynamic so’s it keeps growin’ and improvin’.
  • Students get their lessons right on a tablet computer. Hey, it’s actually fun, ‘n’ that frees up teachers for quality individual face-to-face education. And it frees up students fer critical interaction ‘n’ debate.
  • Lessons connect-up all the different subjects so kids see the whole meaning of learning every subject.
  • Ever’body follows a uniform standard across all states. What you get is an unbiased assessment fer each kid that meets CCSS standards. Principals are gonna love that.  And the reports is clear to ever’body—even parents.

Pretty good, doncha think? Then I hear Ray Markman comment so I prick up my ears: Ray Markman“This is a shot across the bow of America in terms of teaching people,” he says. “I wish I was going to school now.” And that from a guy who attended Erasmus HS in its heyday. [For more about Ray Markman, see the link at the end of this report.]


Da Credentials

Eileen Murphy of ThinkCERCAThese CCSS standards are mired in technospeak ‘n’ ya gotta be an expert to decipher it all. Eileen’s an expert. She’s got credentials up the whazoo. This gal’s smart with a distinguished history: Teacher at Whitney Young HS who influenced their climb to the top. Founded Walter Payton College Prep, which is huge. In charge of 115 schools in city of Chicago. Consultant for the national council of teachers—a highly respected group. Member of the blended-school design team.

A web search turns up lotsa scholarly papers—and here’s something interesting: Some o’ them’s focused on poetry as a tool fer teaching critical thinking.

And Eileen wrote the highly acclaimed book—360 Degrees of Text.

See it on Amazon

Da Business

This is a “B to G” business model. (Business to Government) It’s a proven product with proven demand (teachers ‘n’ principals) and a customer with lotsa money (the public schools). Hey, we’re lookin’ at a 1.3 TRILLION DOLLAR MARKET with government regulation holdin’ their feet to the fire. I think we’re gonna see some real money change hands here.

Government is holdin’ the school principals accountable ‘n’ they’re holdin’ the teachers accountable. At the same time, teachers are finally looking fer resources that actually help their students. So the demand works both ways. That’s a combination I like.

The ThinkCERCA system is simple. Alotta schools already adopted it ‘n’ it’s working. It actually teaches critical thinking. It helps set up lesson plans. It tracks success. And it creates reports that satisfy the new regs. This is the way our kids catch up to the world.

I think this one’s a winner.



Go back to Part 1


Da Links

Here’s a couple animations to give you an inside look:


Here’s a terrific video of Eileen presenting her company: http://vimeo.com/channels/thinkcerca/55798073


Find ThinkCERCA at – www.thinkcerca.comThinkCERCA logo


Find IMPACT ENGINE atwww.theimpactengine.com


Here’s that article on Ray Markman as promised


Impact Engine

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved


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Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, Characters, chicago, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Events, Impact Engine, Impact Investing, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, Kellogg, loop lonagan, Mobile, Mobile App, new companies, Northwestern, pitch, Public Schools, vc, venture capital


Impact Engine – Part 2

VERBATIM by Loop Lonagan – Investor and man about town,

as told to John Jonelis

Impact EngineLoop Lonagan here at IMPACT ENGINE Investor Day. This is the new Chicago incubator fer companies that do well by doin’ good—and doin’ it profitably! Think of it—we’re gathered here to get richer by makin’ all them other poor slobs around the world prosper! This I like!

The keynote speaker is FK Day. (He calls hisself  FK fer short.) And he tells us a story that knocks us outa our seats. This is a real unusual chain of events that speaks about the virtues of capitalism doing alotta good by helping folks raise their own well-being.

Buffalo Bicycles

Here’s the shortlist:

  • The story starts with SRAM that makes high-end bike parts.
  • Then FK starts World Bicycle Relief—a not-fer-profit.
  • That leads to Buffalo Bicycles—a self-sustaining company.

Impact Investing

The Chase Auditorium’s packed with serious investors. Them’s the only kind they let in the place today and this hall seats over 500 of them rascals. They’s all squealin’ ‘n’ squirmin’ to get a piece o’ the action. Sheesh—I ain’t seen so much money in one room since I…well I ain’t s’posed to talk about that so lemme move on. I’m here to do summa that Impact Investing, just like da rest o’ these clowns. But first lemme get back to the keynote speaker

(Note to Editor—All that coffee I swilled down‘s got my eyes buggin’ out ‘n’ I feel a whole lot more coherent. I’m gonna give you the skinny on this thing. But I want you should cut me some slack—just in case I get something out o’ order.)

(Editor’s Note—Nobody’s perfect. I’ll print it just as you dictate it.)

Okay, so dis story starts after FK pioneers bicycle shifters ‘n’ brakes at SRAM. His stuff’s in high-end bikes AND in all the big international races. Even poor disgraced Lance Armstrong uses SRAM components so you gotta figure that FK knows a thing or two about bikes.

Hey—this is a Chicago company, okay? Don’t get no better ‘n’ that, right? Well actually it does as you’ll see in uno momento.

Bicycles WBR 1

World Bicycle Relief

Remember that big tsunami in Indonesia? FK and his wife go there to lend a hand. They’re lookin’ for a better solution than the NGO relief organizations. So they asks people lotsa questions.

Turns out nobody can earn a living or make any economic progress ‘cause there’s no transportation. Everybody’s on foot. That ain’t too efficient. There’s kids spendin’ six hours a day walkin’ to school ‘n’ back. Mothers carryin’ groceries long distance. And get this—businesmen haulin’ their wares to market 5 or 10 miles on foot.

You think da rush hour here in Chicago eats into yer day? It’s nothin’ compared to this. This is no way to do business. This keeps folks in poverty.

The Power of Bicycles 3

FK’s a bike guy, so he shows up pre-loaded with the natural solution to the problem. He runs experiments and finds out alotta things. Turns out a bicycle can increase the income of a poor family in a big way. Looks like it’s the single best way to fight poverty in these primitive areas.

So he creates the not-fer-profit organization, World Bicycle Relief, which is a real big deal. They partner with WorldVision and alotta other organizations.  They give out 24,400 bicycles in Indonesia.

Bicycles WBR 2


FK starts a buncha 9-day trips to Zambia to fight HIV/AIDS and creates a special bike for it. Bicycles WBR 10

His folks first task is to assemble their bikes so’s they can get around. Their last task, before they leave, is to turn over their bikes to the villagers.


FK gives out 90,000 bicycles this way and learns a lot more about the problem.


By now he’s got three well-defined areas he wants to impact:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Economic development

Bicycles WBR 3

I think education tugs at him strongest.  Kids in these countries gotta travel a real long way to school and still have time to do chores not to mention homework.  With bicycles, they can get to school more often.  That builds up the whole culture by givin’ these people a future.  Givin’ ’em hope.  Summa these folks wanna be teachers, doctors, engineers.  Somethin’ as simple as a bicycle can make that happen.

Lemme get you started with a terrific video. Have a look at it ‘n’ then I’ll tell you more.

Pretty good stuff, doncha think? Bottom line—bikes carry more weight farther and faster than shoes. Bikes get kids to school, people to clinics, and they get businessmen to markets!

Bicycles WBR 11

FK tells the story of a dairy farmer in Zambia. With a bike, he can get to the co-op twice a day insteada just once.

That instantaneously doubles his income! 

Summa these guys mount homemade cargo boxes on these bikes and use ‘em like trucks.

Bicycles WBR 6

According to FK, the most powerful bike in the world is one in the hands of a mudder feedin’ her family or a fadder making a buck fer his family or a kid gettin’ an education to claw his way outa poverty. All o’ these takes transportation. And education is real important. You gotta learn readin’, ‘rightin’, and ‘rithmetic and how to speak yer language da right way or yer never gettin’ nowhere in dis here world.

Bicycles WBR 7

Buffalo Bicycles

Lemme go back to the hardware development phase. FK takes this jeep trip down them things called roads in Zambia. Whadaya think he sees? Busted bikes in the ditches ever’place he goes—every brand ‘n’ model on the planet. Says it looks like somthin’ outa The Andromeda Strain. (That’s a movie in case you fergot.)

Bicycles WBR 8These bikes come from well-meaning charities. But it’s all wasted. People in Zambia take to callin’ ‘em Chinese Junks. Off-the-shelf bikes is way too flimsy fer this kinda terrain.

So whadaya think the average lifespan is for yer typical off-the-shelf bike? 30 days! That’s it! And there’s no way to fix ‘em neither! Too many different brands. No parts. No mechanics.

FK figures what they need:

  • Standardized bicycle
  • Standardized parts
  • Real, real rugged
  • Trained mechanics
  • Supply Chain

Bicycles WBR 14 THE BIKE

The Buffalo Bicycle is a rugged design like no other. It can withstand rough roads while carrying a load o’ trade goods to market.

Here’s a video of FK in Africa riding the roads with folks:

Da Business

Charity’s a good thing.  But how do ya make it self-sustaining?  How do ya make it grow like a hockey stick?  You turn it into a business.  Business can be a helluvalot more powerful than an outstretched hand.  A little capitalism can be good fer da soul and FK’s a capitalist at heart.  

FK sells the Buffalo Bicycle to third-world businessmen at a profit.  That makes the project self-sustaining.  He trains and supplies mechanics.  And that maintenance network is self-sustaining too. So far they got 124,754 bikes out there where they can do some good. 

He shows us graphs ‘n’ charts. He’s gonna be building 100,000 bicycles in eight African-based supply chains in 2015.  This program is scalable and sustainable.

Bikes from website 2

Remember all that research I told you about? FK makes a key point about that. He learned everything he ever needed to know from the end user. We need to stay deeply in touch with these people. The answers almost always come from there.

Bicycles WBR 13 Wrigley FieldAnd to me, the amazing thing is that he went and figured out da problem and da solution ‘n’ engineered such a wonderful outcome.  He bootstrapped all o’ this starting with lotsa fund-raising drives like the annual Wrigley Field Road Tour which is a part of Chicago Cubs Charities. 

Here’s a candid video of FK thanking his volunteers after a small fundraising drive–one of many:

Next up is a company called ThinkCERCA. Meanwhile, check out summa the other articles about Buffalo Bicycles below.  Ω



Go back to Part 1

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World Bicycle Relief on Wikipedia


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World Bicycle Relief website  http://worldbicyclerelief.org

WBR on Facebook  www.facebook.com/worldbicyclerelief


SRAM Corp.  http://www.sram.com/


IMPACT ENGINE website  www.TheImpactEngine.com


[ Photos and video courtesy of World Bicycle Relief ]

Impact Engine

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DOT - The FilmI recently viewed a profoundly funny and very real motion picture about a Chicago startup company that soars then goes bust—a must-see for anybody in the entrepreneurial community and a great way to teach what not to do. I’m providing a link to the streaming version. It’s also available on DVD (see below).

Filmed in a heady era a the dot-com era, DOT is as fresh as if made yesterday. It’s Hollywood quality work in the style of the subsequent Christopher Guest/Eugene Levy movie series and the TV show “The Office.” The humor is outrageous and priceless, and could only come from creative yet lucid minds with a deep understanding of what makes business work and not work.  I love the opening line of dialogue, spoken softly, in all sincerity:  “We wanna make the most amount of money in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort.  Basically, that’s about it.”

DOT - The Film

The Makers

I met the makers of the film, Brett Singer and Simeon Schnapper, at the Chicago Loop offices of Youtopia—a real startup that offers a promising solution to community service requirements in public schools. I caught their company presentation at the 2012 Funding Feeding Frenzy—it was one of the top three contestants—and again at the July meeting of BNC Venture Capital. As you’ll find abundantly clear in the movie DOT, these guys know the odds of success for a startup. That means they possess a good dose of panache.

The Making

Singer tells me they created a detailed story and outline of 120 typical scenes any startup might go through, but the dialogue process was DOT - The Filmstrictly improv. They shot the film in 12 days over 6 consecutive weekends, generating more than 40 hours of content. They edited that down to 83 minutes, and I might add, with a great deal of expertise and talent. If these guys want to go into the filmmaking business, they’ve got the tools.

“Most of the actors had very little experience working at a startup,” said Singer. “Before we shot each scene Simeon and I would have a few minutes with the actors to relate to them how a ‘real world’ staff meeting or equity discussion, might be. We were lucky to have such a wildly talented group of improvisers.”

I was surprised to learn that the candidate interview scene was footage of real interviews. Another quirk—the actor who plays the CTO/techDOT - The Film guru had no technical experience at all. “He expressed concerns on in his ability to play the role of a coder/CTO convincingly,” said Singer. “We gave him one note – He’s by far the most intelligent of the bunch. He won’t waste his breath trying to explain or even speak technically around this group. Basically we told him, don’t say anything. Just be annoyed with everyone and occasionally we’ll feed you some lines. We are always told that the most spot-on characterization is the CTO”


The film had a great festival run, winning a number of awards. It won BEST FEATURE at The Dances with Films Festival in Santa Monica, CA. Said Singer, “After the awards ceremony the judges came up to congratulate us. When we asked, ‘Why did we win?’ they answered, ‘We watched your film first and it set the bar for the whole festival. No other film was better.’” DOT subsequently aired on the Showtime Networks for years.

“Years later we still get emails or Facebook notes on the film,” said Singer. “It’s very quotable and has a small, rabid following. I think it’s ripe for another generation to appreciate it.”

I enthusiastically agree with that. See the entire movie free on streaming media below:


Dot from Brett Singer on Vimeo.

DOT the feature film streaming http://vimeo.com/channels/81216

Get your copy of DOT on Amazon

For more information, contact Brett Singer at brett@youtopia.com

Their real company – YouTopia –  https://youtopia.com/

Funding Feeding Frenzy http://fundingfeedingfrenzy.com/

BNC Venture Capital http://bnchicago.org/Groups.php?group=8

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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved


Filed under BNC Venture Capital, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Entrepreneurship, FFF, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention