What do mosquito DNA and humility have in common? It turns out: A lot.
Or at least that’s the thinking of Loralyn Mears, PhD and host of Grit Daily’s Like A Boss podcast. We sat down with our very own — probably long overdue — to talk up her three books, humility, and her latest EdTech startup, STEERus.
Grit Daily: You had your own adventures before STEERus. Share those.
Loralyn Mears, PhD: Many of these adventures are best told over a glass of wine! But, for this audience, I’ll share that I’ve been in executive leadership roles for a few Fortune 100s, championed several startups, evangelized new technologies, launched more than a dozen products and done just about a little of everything. My career focus has been the life-science industry with all things anchored in tech. I’ve written three books, one of which garnered a national indie book gold medal. I’ve survived breast cancer and an abusive husband, dissected more than 50,000 mosquitoes, climbed Mt. Whitney and traveled the globe. How’s that for an adventure?!
Grit Daily: What was your biggest motivation for starting STEERus?
LM: Two years ago, I was in the audience at SXSW watching the final round of startup pitches. On the stage, there was nothing but incredible talent, brilliant ideas and unabashed arrogance. Not to mention only one founder over the age of 30. Hubris is one thing, but when you’re pitching a fledgling idea to investors who manage billion-dollar funds and founders whose names and companies are known to the world, you may want to reign it in a bit. But they didn’t. Many of those pitching, shut down the feedback they were receiving from the esteemed panel of judges. As I watched in horror, I thought to myself:
“Do these young founders not have any self-awareness? Are they wholly lacking soft skills?”
Loralyn Mears Ph.D.
Then I started doing some research and yup, bingo. Numerous studies by Linkedin, Deloitte, Forbes and so on found that soft skills are generally MIA amongst the majority of people under the age of 30, ditto for basic workplace competencies. That’s when the lightbulb went on for me. There was a market need and an opportunity to deliver something with the potential for massive social impact. And that’s how STEERus was born.
Grit Daily: What’s behind the STEERus name?
LM: Ha! If you only knew… The team got wrapped around the axel trying to name the company. I’m not kidding when I say that we generated over 500 possibilities – I have the list! Most of the “good” names were already taken from an internet domain perspective so that tripped us up numerous times. I spent a small fortune buying domains that we eventually discarded.
We kept coming back to the idea that we wanted to steer youth in the right direction and recognized that they needed to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives and careers. All these metaphors around maps, navigation, driving and so on kept coming up. And then one member of the team suggested STEERus – “steering” relates to guided driving and “us” represents that we’re in it together. Boom. Done! Although it was painful creating a name, the effort was worth it. Our name and brand fit what we do.
Grit Daily: How did you decide to tackle this particular issue?
LM: I’m a Ph.D. scientist, a market researcher and a journalist. Not only does that radiate “nerd,” but it screams “data-driven.” So, I dove into the market scrounging up every report, article, interview and everything else that I could find. I scoured the competitive landscape, which is something that I have routinely done for my strategic marketing clients, and found some white space. I identified the soft skills hill and that’s where I decided to plant our flag.
Grit Daily: For the uninitiated, what are soft skills?
LM: You’d be surprised how many people don’t know – there’s a lot of confusion out there about it. Some people call these life skills with things like how do you communicate, get organized, problem-solve, cope with challenges and that kind of thing. EQ, emotional intelligence, has finally started making its appearance on the Top 10 lists of soft skills most wanted by employers. But we didn’t want to limit our purview to soft skills. People are whole beings and there needs to be a combination of personal and professional development in all that we were doing. And life skills should include the basics around financial literacy and all the stuff that you don’t learn in school. So we’ve blended our product to offer life skills, soft skills and workplace competencies.
Grit Daily: What’s one conventional wisdom about EdTech that’s just plain wrong?
LM: That’s the toughest question I’ve had to date. I think that the ability of students to absorb lessons via asynchronous learning has been oversold. Students are not thriving today. Of course, it’s really hard to tease out the COVID-effect of social isolation from the impact of independent learning, but there’s clearly a problem. Since the pandemic began, studies show that 80% of students are being instructed less than four hours per day. That’s a tremendous difference from one year ago and it’s simply not enough. Couple that significant reduction in guided instruction with how ineffective many students are with respect to their ability to make self-paced learning work for them and, well, we’re going to see some pretty big gaps in knowledge and giant differences between student cohorts. I haven’t even mentioned the kids who don’t have reliable access to the internet or devices to learn on. It may not be possible to bridge those gaps, but that’s certainly where we’re aiming. We want to level the playing field and give every student around the globe a fighting chance; that’s why we’re the first company to bring executive business coaching to youth.
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