Fuse interviewed Washington University sophomore Ayana Klein, founder of edtech startup 3DuxDesign, to learn about her entrepreneurial journey and how her time at WashU has been crucial to her growth and success as a student entrepreneur.
3DuxDesign inspires the next generation of children to become thinkers, makers and innovators. Our cardboard-based architecture modeling system, design challenges and curriculum support STEM learning for kids of all ages and encourage them to think on a global scale.
In coming up with the idea for 3DuxDesign, what was the problem to be solved and how did you recognize it?
Growing up, I never liked the way school was taught. I felt that too much of education was based on grades and exams, which often decreases the desire to learn. When I researched this problem more, I learned that school-based education in the United States has not changed significantly since the Industrial Revolution. Students are still separated by age, and subjects are taught in silos, with each subject seemingly unrelated and disconnected from the others. This form of learning all too often feels like it lacks real-world application and is uninspiring to students. Subject matter often focuses on memorizing facts, and students are judged by scores, percentiles and standard deviations from the “norm.”
Additionally, with the increase in modern technology, artificial intelligence and computer learning, most jobs that require a pure knowledge base are performed by computers and robots. Students today need to learn 21st-century human skills like creative problem-solving, communication and the art of collaboration. Even more importantly, students need to learn how to navigate and prosper in the broader world outside the classroom.
Both globally and in the US, children in many communities suffer from lack of access to resources like affordable educational materials and qualified instruction. And in some more remote regions, students may feel disconnected from the world outside their own community. These students would benefit from a high quality, global and connected learning platform.
Let me begin by saying that I come from a family of doctors, and I grew up always wanting to be a doctor. But when I started 3DuxDesign, I began to think that business, specifically entrepreneurship, was something I was passionate about. At the time of college applications, I was still unsure of what exactly I wanted to do in life. My interests ranged from medicine to entrepreneurship to education, and I wanted to ensure that the college I decided on had a variety of programs and possibilities. I found that WashU was the best option. Throughout my time at WashU, I have had countless opportunities to further my growing startup. I started by speaking with multiple professors in a variety of fields and applied all of their recommendations. This outreach has created a wonderful support system that encourages me to continue my work even when it becomes hard.
I also started working with a team at the Skandalaris Center that has been incredibly helpful and supportive. Earlier this year, a member nominated me to represent WashU as the Student Spotlight in the annual Pipeline Entrepreneurs Showcase. This was an amazing experience and boosted my confidence as a public speaker.
“Throughout my time at WashU, I have had countless opportunities to further my growing edtech startup.”
Lastly, I took advantage of the opportunity to take courses in different schools and explore my many interests. I decided to take a few classes in the Sam Fox School, one of which allowed me to work with students in elementary and middle schools throughout St. Louis. Working with these young children was something I looked forward to every day as it brought me back to my childhood and my love for working with kids, much of the reason I decided to start 3Dux. This inspired me to reach out to other educators in the St. Louis area and I ultimately found a new program that I was able to intern with last summer. With that program, I ran a “Creating Communities Workshop” with middle-school students who used 3Dux products to design a community they could use and implement into St. Louis.
Overall, WashU has been a wonderful experience and I am excited to continue working with professors across schools along with the Skandalaris Center and the St. Louis community as a whole.
With the rise of the current global crisis, we are quickly working to create ways for children to gain the support and skill sets to overcome the fear, loss and disruption they are living through. Over the last month, we have worked to build a variety of fun and engaging video tutorials that support STEM learning at home, including activities that caregivers can do without prior teaching experience. We are also working to create small-group “Zoom programs” where students can continue to work together remotely. The value of these initiatives goes beyond the current crisis and can be used to offer children learning opportunities that will benefit them for years to come.
Additionally, over the long term, we would like to continue to grow our business by expanding the current pilot curriculum to a greater number of schools and a larger variety of age groups. We would also like to enter the toy retail industry and we are currently working with a few stores, along with Amazon, but have more potential for growth in this area.
“The value of these initiatives goes beyond the current crisis and can be used to offer children learning opportunities and connections that will benefit them in years to come.”
If you have an idea you are truly passionate about, go for it! I would recommend taking some time to outline your idea and speak to others, such as friends, family or teachers, first to make sure it is feasible, and if it is not, don’t take it as a failure but rather adapt the idea to make it work. Something important that I’ve learned along the way is that if you are passionate about something and others can see the joy it brings you, they will be interested too. That would be my main advice but I think it is also incredibly helpful to use your contacts; talk to your professors and reach out to others in your community. I have found that others love to help and will be happy to meet or set up a time to talk. If you want to start a business, be ready for ups and downs, failures and successes, but in the end, if you believe in your venture, don’t stop until you make it work!