A staggering 25 of 26 kindergarten students were considered unprepared for kindergarten when they entered Ben Colas’s class on the first day of school last year. Colas, a teacher for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, took it upon himself to solve this problem.He developed KinderKits—an educational toolkit that provides parents with clear expectations as to what their child should come into school knowing and assistance in developing those skills with everyday items in an engaging way. Ben pitched KinderKits during the Sidewalk to Stage pitch competition at Startup Scaleup where he took home a $5,000 prize in the Social Impact Venture category.Recently, we had a chance to catch up with Ben to discuss his Sidewalk to Stage experience, challenges of entrepreneurship and what the future holds for KinderKits.Ben, tell us about your Sidewalk to Stage experience. What was the most valuable lesson learned?
Right before pitching, there two separate coaching meetings to practice my pitch. These were extremely helpful, especially in regards to making sure I had a solid pitch structure. Additionally, it was beneficial to have the coaches ask questions based off of my practice pitch—these were similar to what the judges asked. It was an awesome experience and I was able to meet some incredible people in the process.Have you faced any unique challenges while balancing entrepreneurship and a full-time teaching job?
I was confident this could go from idea to reality when I received initial funding to launch at the end of February through Cleveland Leadership Center’s Accelerate Cleveland civic pitch competition. But I quickly discovered there weren’t enough hours in the day to teach full-time, recruit part-time, do KinderKits, and maintain other involvements.Fortunately, a perk of being a teacher is having summers off. I knew that when school let out I would be able to focus on the more time-consuming aspects, like assembly and distribution. I spent March through May focused primarily on picking the brains of people way smarter than me to fine-tune the vision and the kits themselves.What has been your most satisfying moment since starting KinderKits?
The most satisfying moment was when I got a call out of the blue from a mother of a former student who requested two kits for her nephews. “Mr. Colas,” she said, “I just wanted to call to let you know they loved the kits and my sister said it was really helpful for her in knowing how to prepare her son.”Since distribution has been primarily through HeadStarts, Pre-Ks, other schools and libraries, I haven’t had too much face-to-face interaction with families, so it was encouraging to hear that feedback, especially since I’ll have at least one of her two nephews in my class this fall.We ask all the entrepreneurs we speak with to give us examples of failure or setbacks they experienced. Anything come to mind for you?
I have not had any major setbacks yet. But I have become much more aware of how much I don’t know—when it comes to web design, bulk purchases, effectively gathering data, copyrights and trademarks, video editing, distribution, and so much more, I was (or still am) completely clueless. There have been so many helpful, supportive people who have made it possible for this to move forward and reach incoming kindergarteners despite my shortcomings.How do you plan to use your prize money? What’s next for KinderKits?
The prize money will be used to expand our impact this summer. Originally, the goal was to get 350 kits out in the Central Neighborhood. The goal now is to get an additional 400 KinderKits to families this summer, expanding into other Cleveland neighborhoods. This will provide a larger sample size for collecting data and allow more feedback from families in regards to what they liked, didn’t like, and how the kits can be improved moving forward.I am currently talking with an existing 501(c)(3) about a partnership, which would be helpful for expanding next year as well as for providing opportunities for various organizations to sponsor classrooms/schools. The goal is to see every family of an incoming kindergartener in Cleveland have one of these kits next year and hopefully have partners to help recognize and reward some of these families.Volunteers are always needed to help assemble KinderKits. If you’re interested in volunteering or would like to find out how to get KinderKits at your school, contact KinderKits for more information.