This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the nine student startups who are participating in the Terp Startup summer incubator phase of our Fearless Founders accelerator program. Participating student entrepreneurs received a stipend up to $5,000 that would enable them to work exclusively on their startups over eight weeks in the summer.
Former elementary school teacher Nina Silverstein MBA ’17 is the founder of social venture 2B, a children’s book and clothing company that aims to inspire children by giving them a means to envision what they want to be when they grow up. The t-shirts would be printed with representations of what, for example, a doctor would wear when doing his/her job, and the books would contain a kid-friendly overview of what a doctor does and how a child can prepare to become one when they grow up. These sets of t-shirts and books would be available in a wide variety of professions, some that many children, especially in underprivileged circumstances, may never have considered or even been aware of. Nina hopes that 2B will break down barriers and broaden horizons for children of all backgrounds, encouraging them to believe that with hard work, they can achieve anything they set their minds to.
How did you first come up with your idea?
Nina: I taught kindergarten and first grade in Baltimore City for three years. A lot of teachers will actually start the year by asking their students what they want to be when they grow up, to really help engage the kids in class and to try and make the learning relevant for students. I went that path and asked my kids, and for some of the students who were particularly passionate I would address them as “Doctor” Demetria, or “Police Officer” Marquis. There was a distinct difference on days when I would just call students by their name, or by “Doctor” so-and-so, and their happiness and engagement level just skyrocketed because they had someone believing in them and calling them what they wanted to be.
In addition, we would have career days, where we would have guest speakers come in and show the kids what it means to be a physical therapist or businessman, etc. The kids didn’t know what they weren’t aware of, and for them to learn about it and to meet people who are those professions was very eye opening for them. Then as the teacher I could go in and make the connection for them that in order to become that when you grow up, it’s really important that we work hard and learn now in school so you’re ready to do those things when you grow up. So the idea for 2B, the clothing and book bundle company, came about because I thought, what if my school doesn’t offer career day, or what if for a teacher it’s not in the curriculum or they don’t have time to teach it, or what if kids want to engage with this outside of school? So I was trying to think of a way for all kids, regardless of whether or not their schools promote this, could learn about it and embody being each profession.
What are some major milestones you’ve achieved so far?
Nina: I’ve been working on developing some prototypes and I have about six shirts printed. It’s really great, one of the mentors from the Dingman Center, Micha Weinblatt [founder of apparel company Crooked Monkey], connected me to a friend of his in the industry that does printing up in Baltimore. Last Friday I went up there and we were able to print my designs together. He taught me how the printing process works and the different ways to manufacture. So that was really cool, I was geeking out over t-shirts. We even printed a doctor onesie. Other milestones include working on our website, which has a fully-functional coming soon page—there’s more on the back-end I’ve been working on—and getting in touch with graphic designers who can help me extend the product line.
What drives you to keep going?
Nina: I have been working alone in the incubator, but my fiance and whole family have been really supportive. They know I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I’ve had this itch to make this idea into a reality, so I want to test it and see if there’s traction. As a teacher I would’ve loved to have this for my students, as a future mom one day I would love this for my child. I don’t want to wonder, “What if I did this?” I saw a really great quote on an airport billboard once that said “Better an ‘oops’ than a ‘what if.’” So that’s what drives me forward, I just have an itch and I want to scratch it and see what happens.
How do you feel about working in an incubator?
Nina: It’s awesome. Everyone is so inspiring. I am always blown away by the quality of the work that people are doing. I think back to when I was an undergrad and I feel so unaccomplished because everyone’s…kicking ass, if I can say that! Everyone is phenomenal and I’m inspired to be around them, it’s a good place to be inspired. Working alone is hard sometimes for me, I’ll distract myself or do other things, but being in the incubator space together with everyone, I feel their energy and their passion and it prompts me to get even more engaged and excited in what I’m doing. And we learn a lot from each other—people are sharing tips, and since we’re all at different stages we can provide different insights for one another. And my mentor, Bob London [2017 Rudy Award winner for Mentor of the Year], has helped me see the big picture. As a solo entrepreneur I’ve been caught up in a hundred different smaller things, and Bob has helped me take a step back and say, “What does it look like down the road when you’re successful?” We’re thinking backwards from that and how we get to that, and he has the expertise and the know-how and the go-to-market strategy that I’m lacking.
What are you hoping to achieve during Terp Startup this summer?
Nina: This summer I’m hoping to test out consumer demand and really get in front of customers who aren’t friends, classmates or family of mine. I’d like some honest feedback from store owners, potential customers, and get the site up and running and test out demand, and really see if there’s enough there to start building inventory or think of a production and manufacturing process down the road. I’d like to get a couple of partnerships off the ground and see if I can generate enough interest with some larger associations and start writing a few books.