Welcome to the Founder Feature Series for 2019, where we chat with the founders of the 7th Cohort of The Mentor Network to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journeys. They have great wisdom and experience to share with the rest of the community and could likely use your help as well!
Today, we would like to introduce you to Robert Ochs, Founder of Level-Up STEM. Level-Up STEM is a full-service provider of STEM education activities and training with an emphasis in applied sciences and mathematics. Using technology (or engineering) focused content, they provide programs in robotics and computer sciences to students K-12 and professional development to teachers. Level-Up STEM believes that STEM education is at its most powerful when students are integrating technology and problem solving into their standard science and mathematics coursework.
When learning happens in parallel to understanding how to use an ever-increasing pool of technological tools, it leads students to discover how engineering and computer science principles can improve the world around them.
What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?
Before starting Level-Up STEM – and still do on a part-time basis – I did electrical hardware design in the aviation, medical device, and consumer industries as an electrical engineer.
Why this startup? A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?
About seven years ago, I began volunteering at my son’s school to lead a robotics club. Watching the kids learn through exploration sparked a passion within me. The program we were running, while engaging, had several weaknesses that motivated me to consider options on how to make something better. Kids have so much untapped potential but the options were so limited and so expensive. I knew there had to be a better way, if professionals were used. Thus Level-Up STEM was born.
What was your first milestone/win that let you know you were on the right track to building this business?
I knew this business was ready to build when we sold out our first after-school club, at our first school, within two weeks of opening registration. Having been involved in the struggles of implementing STEM in school, I knew there was a market but seeing the response from parents and the enjoyment in students really solidified the model for me.
Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?
As an engineer, I have many tools to help this particular business but I lacked the network to help in all of the areas I was weak in. The Mentor Network was exactly what I was looking for in the support it could offer across multiple areas from experts. The networking with other founders going through the same struggles was an additional benefit I didn’t originally consider but one that is every bit as impactful.
What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?
My biggest win in the Mentor Network, so far, has been to get an introduction at a local high school through my mentor. I am still working on my pitch to principals and this provides a great opportunity to really put some skills my mentor has been helping me with into practice.
How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?
The only way all of this works for me in the day-to-day is through the support of my wife and family. A little mountain biking helps with some stress, when I can get some time out on the trail. But in the end, it is her trust that makes this all possible.
KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs. What are we still missing? What gaps do you think we need to fill?
At this point, I would have to say that the biggest gap is funding – or at least networking to practice pitches on potential funders. I know there are some groups out there and having a less formal get-together with people interested in hearing our story and providing feedback on how we can improve would be tremendous (and if they wanted to invest, even better).
Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?
I am new to the significant resources available in the area and haven’t taken advantage of many. I have been impressed with the Sprint Accelerator Mentor Network program and am looking forward to engaging more.
If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to make the jump. A little bit of planning and a lot of passion go a long way.