It’s a powerful question asked in classrooms every day, Jessica Munoz Valerio said, recalling her own experience with the common prompt and how tapping into and gamifying it could change lives.
“When my daughter was young — as early as 5 years old — she got asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’”she recalled, noting her daughter, Valerie, dreamed of saving the lives of animals as a veterinarian. The idea of becoming a police officer later became even more enticing to the wide-eyed wonderer.
Other children in Valerie’s shoes, however, might be less outright in their curiosity or struggle to pinpoint a dream profession with such ease, Munoz Valerio acknowledged.
“Most of us [as adults] are still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up,” she mused, calling attention to the weight of the age-old question and how it follows people well beyond pre-school and deep into adulthood.
“I’ve always been the type of parent who is looking for educational stuff for my kids. I love to learn and I love to teach,” Munoz Valerio said, noting that when she sat down to search for materials that could help her daughter better understand what a veterinarian does, her queries returned little that was useful.
“I felt like I failed as a mother,” she said candidly, discouraged by her inability to find the kind of information that could help her daughter understand the working world and tie it back to her interest in animals.
Munoz Valerio’s newly launched startup, Learning Careers Environment, aims to fill such a gap. Her hope: help kids explore careers through a gamified educational platform that promotes career exploration, readiness, and teaches such things as accountability and the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
“I saw an opportunity in the market. Learning Careers Environment is a tech company dedicated to helping students — not just teaching them,” she explained, noting her background in IT and engineering and touting the company’s ability to help students authentically connect with the idea of a career at a critical time in their development.
“As students become interested [in] careers, we want to create meaningful connections between their passion, their skills, and their future career of interest so that we can create [a future with] passionate and productive employees.”
Click here to explore Learning Careers Environment and all it has to offer students.
The platform currently offers exposure to careers that include teacher, firefighter, police officer, and veterinarian among a growing list of other job titles and job functions such as purchasing, customer service, and finance.
Watch an example simulation from the Learning Careers Environment platform below then keep reading.
Munoz Valerio launched Learning Careers Environment in 2020 amid the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Need for its platform was recently validated with her admission into the Pipeline Entrepreneurs’ Pathfinder program.
Click here to learn more about the companies selected for the first Pathfinder cohort.
“The value of education that they provide in that program is just amazing. I have been learning a lot and I think I’m going to be ready to get [initial] investment and take the company to the next level,” she said, noting top priorities for growing the company currently include getting the platform submitted to the Apple and Google Play stores for mobile download, rolling out additional career tracks, finalize its teacher portal, and acquiring its first 100,000 users in the months ahead.
Additional mentorship opportunities that could help Munoz Valerio reach such goals come from her day job at PayIt — one of Kansas City’s leading scaleup companies, she added.
“Seeing the growth of PayIt has inspired me tremendously in pursuing my own startup,” Munoz Valerio said. “What I’m learning from PayIt is how I’d like my company to be in the future — how friendly they are, how excited they are to come to work every day, and how that makes me feel like part of a family. … I want my company to feel like PayIt. We’re all working together and supporting each other.”
The venture is continuously evolving, Munoz Valerio admitted, but early adoption of the platform by parents, teachers, and students has given her confidence that the future of Learning Careers Environment is bright.
Her daughter agrees, offering the venture the ultimate stamp of approval, she added.
“She has been my inspiration. She knows it — and she loves it,” Munoz Valerio laughed.
“She supports this mission because she knows how important it is for students to learn. I love how excited she is about it and it motivates me to pursue this company and escalate [development of] this game for students,” she continued.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.