About the Innovator
Alex Reader is the education innovator behind STIIX, the home of hands-on, award-winning STEM curriculum and programs for kids! Alex sat down to give us the scoop on his innovation journey and we know you’re going to be inspired by his story!
Us: What inspired you to launch STIIX?
Alex: The answer to this question dates back to my senior year in high school. I did not know what in the world I wanted to be when I grew up or what I wanted to study in college. I chose the engineering route because I knew that if you had an engineering degree in hand, you could sort of do whatever you want, right?! But then graduation time came, and I still hadn’t figured it out. Fast forward a bit. I came back home to Arizona and decided to start STIIX to help introduce students to STEM topics and careers from a young age, and in a fun, hands-on manner. I wanted to give today’s kids more exposure to all of the opportunities and career options out there for them than I had growing up.
Us: Getting out of the box in the education industry isn’t easy. How do you stay fresh and innovative?
Alex: I think listening is such an underrated, undervalued skill today. I was listening to a podcast recently that gave me such a ‘wow’ moment. It tied together the fact that some of the most creative and innovative people in the world are also some of the most caring and others-centered. If you think about it, empathic people are always listening and caring for others. When you spend some of your free time focusing on people besides yourself, you naturally want to think of solutions for them! To tie that to the education field, I think STIIX does a good job of listening first, and hearing what schools and organizations’ needs are, and taking those conversations seriously and applying what we learned to our products, services, and processes. Plus, we have recently started leveraging augmented reality and virtual reality technology. I’ve always said education is the best use case for this technology. STIIX is still in wait-and-see mode with ChatGPT, ha!
Us: What was your biggest challenge in getting launched?
Alex: STIIX is the definition of a bootstrapped startup. We did not raise capital and we still are very lean. There are also some technology platforms that we frequently use now that I wish I knew of earlier. They would have saved us hours of time and thousands of dollars. My brief list of must-have tools… 1) Webflow (user-friendly web design), 2) Canva (graphic design/social media), and 3) Quickbooks (just pay the small fee and take advantage of all the awesome organization and reporting features related to finances).
I think I initially made a product/service, and then tried finding a market for it, which forced a pivot and cost me time. Now, I would recommend identifying a problem or market, and then building your product accordingly. I would really encourage anyone reading this to flip that thinking that many entrepreneurs, including myself, are guilty of.
Us: What was your best early investment as a business owner?
Alex: In a pair of blue light glasses to protect my eyes (half kidding…) It was actually in myself. Although each organization has its own journey with funding, I knew my strengths, and that I thrive in a bootstrapping environment. Opportunities came to raise or accept capital, but now that we have been blessed with some growth, I look back and am very happy that I didn’t. A LOT of patience and our fair share of all nighters that laid the foundation for the company have paid off, and I did not have to give up and control along the way. It is easy to spend thousands of dollars in marketing, advertising, etc. but I would really encourage people looking to start a business to bet on themselves, stay incredibly lean early on, and invest those marketing dollars in giving out free products to gain testimonials. Also, go to conferences!
Us: What does your day-to-day look like – the ups and downs?
Alex: Day to day ups & downs? How about hourly…Ha! One of the things I love about the startup environment is that no day looks quite the same, but a recipe I have found successful for myself is waking up early in the morning and getting a workout and some quiet time in. The order here is not quite important, but I think for any CEO of a lean or early stage organization, it is important to spend a couple hours per day in forward thinking initiatives, a couple hours in sales, and a couple hours in housekeeping. By housekeeping, I mean operations and customer relations to ensure things are running smoothly. Of course the ‘downs’ come when something pops up and it takes away from your self care time or visionary work, which can then spiral into the rest of the day…
Us: What is your #1 piece of advice to new education innovators?
Alex: The famous “teacher shortage” is real, and in my opinion, the staffing shortage problem is more prevalent in education than just about any other field. With that being said, I think any good product or service being built for the classroom right now should have at least a couple components of teacher retention involved. If you can prove your product will help ease the stress of teachers, reduce workload, etc. you have a GREAT supplement to your sales pitch. Another point I have come to learn is that no school or district’s needs are the same. Wherever possible while building your product or service, try to give options or packages in your offerings that can be tweaked or custom built for your customers, partners, or friends. On an encouraging note…the education space is such a rewarding place to work. Not only is there so much need, and therefore opportunity to make real impact, but there is opportunity to do well and be rewarded for hard work based on different funding initiatives that are out there right now.
Us: Wow. Love that insight. We’ll close with this. What is your favorite story of a child’s experience with STiiX?
Alex: STIIX runs (or provides curriculum for) lots of after school programs around the Southwest. I go pop in those schools all the time, and it always warms my heart when the session gets out and I am walking to the parent pick up line with the kids and little “Johnny” runs to mom’s car with his project. He’s so eager to share what he just learned and built and saying how he wants to be an engineer when he is older. I feel blessed because that happens just about every time I go help out at a site!
Us: Thank you for chatting with us Alex! Best of luck as you grow and serve more students.
Learn more about Alex and STIIX at hellostiix.com!