Every Wednesday at the Fielder Early Childhood Center in Arlington, 5 year olds run into a classroom and immediately open the ESTe2M Builder kits that are set out on their tables. They smile and talk amongst themselves as they open the kits to expose the contents of straws, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, pipe cleaners and tape.
LaTasha Taylor Starr, industrial systems and manufacturing engineering doctoral student, and mathematics doctoral student Ariel Bowman operate an afterschool program at the Fielder Early Childhood Center in Arlington. There, they help a small group of kids learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics by performing experiments and building structures with the contents of their ESTe2M Builders kits, a learning tool that Bowman and Starr created.
“This was like a life-changer for me because I didn’t realize how, like, small kids are still in such an awe stage of science and just, like, STEM in general,” Bowman said. “Every week they come in so excited. They are literally running in to do these projects.”
Bowman said she’s appreciative of this experience because she’s able to see what the kits mean to the children. She wants all kids to have the same excitement when opening the kits.
The journey began when Starr saw an advertisement for the Pitch UTA competition in early February. Starr said she had the idea in her mind for some time and saw the business pitch competition as a chance to make it a reality. With only a few weeks to prepare for the competition, Bowman and Starr prepared their pitch and developed a prototype of their product.
After winning the spot of second place finalist at Pitch UTA, the duo went on to achieve first runner up at the MavsChallenge, the finalist round which followed Pitch UTA, and won a prize of $2,000.
Pitch UTA and MavsChallenge are stages in a competition for aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to gain prize money and coaching from experts.
Starr said these accolades validate the business as a worthy investment.
“We’re going to take that $2,000 we got, and we’re going to multiply it so many times over, it’s going to blow your mind,” Starr said.
While most of their competitors’ ideas were digital and application-based, she said what set ESTe2M Builders a part in the competition was that the company provides a tangible product.
Bowman and Starr are receiving business coaching from Hayden Blackburn, assistant director of TECH Fort Worth, a nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs launch and grow their companies. Starr said she appreciates how Blackburn has worked with the duo on how to go forward with the process of manufacturing and accounting.
Blackburn said Bowman and Starr are focused on growing their business. His focus with them is identifying weaknesses and seeing what skills they can develop to then amplify their strengths.
Bowman and Starr know how to convey their passion for teaching and inspiring children, but need coaching on how to create a business model, he said. They are aware of their limitations and are ready to form a team to help them further the business.
“I see them going far. They do their homework, and they put the effort into it,” Blackburn said. “Those entrepreneurs that are coachable and open to learning new things will always go far.”
Bowman and Starr said a top priority for them is to make a promotional video to share on social media and send to prospective clients. They are looking to meet with school districts to discuss incorporating the ESTeM Builder kits as a potential enhancement to lesson plans.
Kelsi Rogers, mother of a child in the program at the Fielder Early Childhood Center, said her son Flint comes home with his projects, and it’s all he talks about for the rest of the day.
“He usually takes it to bed and will usually sleep with it because it’s something he enjoys doing so much,” Rogers said.