Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
My columns this month will feature four minority-owned STEM businesses in the Kansas City metro. The cool thing about each of these businesses? They include at least one (if not more) aspect of the STEM concept — science, technology, engineering, and math.
To begin the four-part series, I conducted a Q&A-style interview with Janelle James, founder of 99 Prospect, which incorporates STE(A)M components — including the arts.
Company: 99 Prospect
Specialty: User experience (UX) research to gain user insight and deliver solutions that make businesses more profitable by managing change, innovation, and transformation.
Year founded: 2016
Founder: Janelle James
Cool fact: 99 Prospect is the street I grew up on in Brooklyn, New York. I used the name because it’s an ode to my childhood and where I fell in love with technology.
When did you fall in love with STEM?
As a kid I loved all things creative — music, painting, and drawing. I fell in love with STEM when I was about 6. I started playing Duck Hunt and Mario at a very young age plus I would try to figure out how the Nintendo worked by taking it apart. Due to my curiosity, my parents would bring me old computers and boom boxes to dismantle. I also loved using MS DOS and playing Oregon Trail. I ended up teaching myself HTML at the age of 12, and after that I was hooked.
Any advice for budding STEM enthusiasts/technologists? Explore all aspects of STEM to find your niche and shadow professionals in the field. I was a psychology major that loved to paint and draw but also loved technology. I thought I had to pick one over the other. Once I started networking and meeting other STEM professionals, I learned that my love of psychology, art, and technology fit right in with a niche in tech called UX.
Why is pursuing a STEM career or launching a STEM-centric business important for NextGen innovators? This is the digital age and it’s only going to get more innovative and forward thinking. I would encourage parents to make STEM fun. We are raising the next generation of scientists and mathematicians who can impact our future in unimaginable ways. It is up to us to get them to see that STEM is enjoyable and interesting. Without my early innate interest in STEM, I may not have had the confidence to become a STEM-focused entrepreneur.
How has diversity and inclusion played a role in the success of your company? Being someone who has benefited from diversity and inclusion throughout my career, I am now intentional about working with diverse contractors and clients. I understand in order for a company to grow and be successful, it is necessary for it to have that level of talent. Innovation comes from varying experiences, backgrounds, and ideas, from people near and far.
If you could do it all again, what would you change? Honestly, I wouldn’t change anything. Even though I didn’t start off doing what I am doing today, I think all the experiences — positive and negative — led to my resilience. It also gave me the ability to create 99 Prospect.
2018 Goals: Since moving to Kansas City, I’ve learned it has so much to offer. Yet, a major concern is top talent leaving the city. My goal is to work with more local companies on not only enhancing their user experience but also implementing workforce mobility strategies, to diversify their talent pool, and enhance their work life programs to improve employee engagement plus retain top talent.
Next week, the second part of my four-part series will feature Clarence Tan, Founder, Edcoda.com.
April Boyd-Noronha is the STEM parent advocate, diversity thought lecturer and author behind Lee’s Summit-based The STEM Broker, a boutique training and consulting firm focused on empowering girls, women, and minorities to succeed and advance in STEM careers. Email her at email@example.com or connect on twitter at @thestembroker