Interview by Golie Alemi
Entrepreneurial veterans got the opportunity to apply skills obtained from the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans program and the chance to receive a share of more than $110,000 in seed funding during the national D’Aniello Family Foundation Business Plan Competition. Graduates of the EBV and EBV-Families programs were invited to submit business plans to be judged by a panel of independent experts with long track records in entrepreneurship. UCLA EBV program alumnus Warren Foster was one of 10 semifinalists who presented his business plan at the annual Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) National Training & Alumni Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.
UCLA proudly congratulates Warren for winning the first place prize of $35,000, which will help launch his startup company the Science Playhouse, a hands-on science lab providing STEM education and enrichment programs for kids ages six to 12 in two large, adjacent school districts in the North Colorado Springs area. We asked Foster to share more about his experience and his inspiration for Science Playhouse.
Q: You spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Army. How did your military career prepare you for your current role as an entrepreneur?
I think the biggest areas that the military assisted were leadership, management and operational planning, training and curriculum development, but most of all, the idea that nothing was impossible with a good team and teamwork.
Q: What was your inspiration behind Science Playhouse?
Science Playhouse was inspired by my own three boys, who love science, computers and experimenting. After living overseas for seven years with them, I was sorely disappointed by the quantity and quality of STEM education in the lower, elementary school grades. Instead of complaining about it, I decided to fix my own problem. Science Playhouse was one of several ideas percolating in my head before I attended EBV at UCLA Anderson. EBV helped solidify the concept and taught me how to do a thorough analysis of the idea and flesh it out into a real, workable business.
Q: Did anyone at UCLA Anderson help you prepare for the business plan competition?
Professor George Abe reviewed my business plan and was able to provide some feedback and recommendations over the phone.
Q: Science can be confusing; how is the curriculum designed to teach children about tech?
The curriculum is kept very simple and provides a simple outline of the subject, but most of the activities are exploratory and hands on. Our focus is on making STEM fun, not work. We want kids to have a great time while still learning, and we start them off young!
Right now we are launching our first after-school programs and preparing for a number of science, programming and robotics summer programs. With the money from the EBV national competition, we will be able to expand our capacity two to three times faster and roll out our programs into other areas and markets such as Denver. Our hope is to create a system that is easily scalable and to bring it to other cities and states using other veterans to manage their own programs using our systems, equipment and curriculum.
Q: How did you benefit from the EBV program?
For me, these are the main takeaways from the EBV program:
- It was not only possible to start my own business, but I could succeed.
- It was not going to be easy and there was a lot I needed to learn to do it right.
- There was a network of people and resources available if I just looked and asked.