Sunday, November 29, 2020
Every child deserves to be a superhero, thought Feruza Pettulayeva.
With five nephews, Feruza, CEO and co-founder of the Superkidstm startup knew a thing or two about Batman, Spiderman, and Iron Man. She also knew that learning could be an everyday adventure, and tried to show her nephews that education can be fun and interactive.
Feruza has a diploma with honors in air traffic control and is passionate about airplanes and travel. After graduating from the Flight Academy of Ukraine, she worked for the American Councils for International Education, Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), where she saw how the right support from trusted adults helps young people thrive.
While preparing for a children’s birthday party one day, Feruza decided to use the gathering as an opportunity to promote critical thinking skills, teach children about emotional intelligence, and help them set and achieve goals. The idea of a center for young ‘superheroes’ was born.
“Do you know what a dream is? And how a dream differs from a goal? Once you have a dream, you need to transform it into a goal and then make a plan to achieve it. It is not as easy as it sounds. Ideas and opportunities don’t just materialize out of thin air,” Feruza began to share with children at other birthday parties and events. Her words not only served to motivate her young audiences, but soon catalyzed her own next steps.
A few short months later, Feruza shared with the same children, “My dream of creating a center for superheroes first turned into a goal, and then came true with the help of the Startup Ecosystem project.” The project is a partnership between two USAID programs USAID Enriching Youth for Tomorrow, USAID’s Future Growth Initiative, and the Union of Economists of Turkmenistan.
As part of the six-month Startup Ecosystem project, six local companies aspiring to become sustainable startup accelerators ran separate mentorship programs with the guidance and support of USAID’s international, regional, and national startup experts, including 32 volunteer mentors from 16 different countries.
In June 2020, Feruza Pettulayeva, Aziza Taymazova, and Bahar Yazmuradova were selected to attend the Startup Academy led by MCT Agency, one of the six participating companies serving as mentors for the USAID Startup Ecosystem project. Each of the women brought her own unique entrepreneurship concept – Feruza came with the idea for a ‘superheroes’ educational center, Aziza wanted to create a new brand of children’s clothing, and Bahar planned to develop a reading club for kids. During the online sessions, brainstorming activities, and team assignments, the three women decided to join forces in pursuit of their common passion – innovative approaches to educating Turkmenistan’s future generation.
The result is the joint online project Superkidstm, a virtual space that encourages and educates parents to raise their own little superheroes at home. The project emphasizes a dual-generation approach to education, empowering parents to foster better learners. “By supporting parents to develop educational skills while working with their children, we create a stable learning environment both inside and outside of home. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of kids are staying home and watching cartoons, where more interactive and educational spirit can be added,” Feruza explains.
The accelerator program allowed the young entrepreneurs to turn their business ideas into marketable products. Coaches and mentors helped define their value propositions and target market segments, including their “sweet spot” customer, as well as develop marketing channels, metrics, software solutions for their online offerings, and other planning tools that Feruza says she would never have considered on her own. More importantly, the program helped the three talented women form a well-balanced team.
The budding entrepreneurs presented their project to investors and colleagues at the MCT Agency’s Demo Day (link is external) in August – and won first place. “Among 10 great projects, we were selected as winners. Our team was just created in mid-August, and we didn’t believe we could win since we had only two weeks to change our project from offline educational courses to online consultations for parents,” says Feruza.
In early October, the team launched Superkidstm in both online and offline formats. At the launch event, kids had fun coloring and learning English numbers with the help of teachers. Parents received valuable support from fellow parents and mentors on social and psychological challenges, as well as tips for student success.
The new business model led the Superkidstm team to a second place win at the Final Online Demo Day (link is external) on October 20, where winning projects from all six mentoring companies competed for the grand prize.
The team is determined to continue to grow the business by engaging the entire family in the education process. Feruza notes, “Most of those who are interested in our project are mothers, but we have been receiving calls from fathers as well.” Classes provide opportunities for participants to share healthy tips and build better relationships within their families.
The Superkidstm online program aims to provide quality recommendations and consultations from a speech therapist, child psychologist, and experienced tutors to help young parents build strong relationships with their children, encourage positive interactions, and inspire love for learning from early childhood. The initial pilot phase of the Superkidstm online program engaged 10 parents and their children. Superkidstm’s business goal is to work with 100 families by the end of 2021, with at least half of those engagements occurring online, and 20 percent of clients representing Turkmenistan’s provinces.
“Everyone has his or her own experience, whether it is education or business or aviation,” Feruza shares. “In our case, all three of us benefited from one another’s knowledge and experience, which helped create a great team. Together we have overcome fears. Staying flexible and open to new possibilities can lead to great things,” says an optimistic Feruza.