A Mid-Career Switch From Events To Robotics Leads Her To Pursue A Purpose In Life
Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Founder of Curious Squirrels, Ms Annie Chia.
Robotics is a field that most of us are not familiar with. However, this feisty 45-year-old decided to leave the career that she painstakingly built in events after 20 years to start Robotics educational workshops for children. With no experience and insufficient technical knowledge, she took courses, read a lot and put her heart into learning robotics.
Today, she is the proud founder of Curious Squirrels, a new local startup that offers enrichment programmes such as robotics and coding for children aged 5 to 12. Besides providing educational workshops, Curious Squirrels also has a strong social vision to help the underprivileged community through outreach enrichment programmes.
With a horde of curiosity that puts most people her age to shame and a tremendous amount of guts, she bravely pursued her passion. Meet Annie Chia!
You were in the events industry for about 20 years. So, the big question. Why the switch?
I actually graduated with a Bachelor in Science from NUS but I reckon that I am not the kind who can sit in a lab. Events is more dynamic while allowing me to meet people. After graduation, I was on a contract assignment for a Science Centre project with lots of learning opportunities and from there, I guess I got hooked into events.
It was not an overnight decision to change career, it has been on my mind for the longest time.
I always have a passion for fitness and decided to take a trainer certification which led me to the opportunity to teach group fitness for preschoolers and youths. With a Science background and my experience working with children, I got an offer to teach robotics for young learners.
From my own experience as a beginner learner and through the classes I have conducted, I realised that using Lego robotics is a very effective way to engage and introduce S.T.E.M. education. With a hands-on approach, it is a fun way for children to prototype and learn about real-world applications.
However, robotics enrichment classes are relatively costly.
Coming from a background where I share similar experiences with children from disadvantaged families, I believe every child should have equal learning opportunities regardless of their social status. This led to the birth of Curious Squirrels where I hope more young learners can benefit from the programme!
Why do you adopt a B2B strategy instead of the typical B2C structure that other enrichment centres are doing?
With the intention to keep costs low as a startup, I work with programme and venue partners to generate business opportunities instead of investing heavily in marketing. Also, I operate my business in a co-working space. This has not only helped to keep costs low but also gave me the opportunity to be in a conducive ecosystem with other start-ups whom some are now my programme partners. I believe this model suits my current business!
So, how do you make money then?
I am not a very ambitious person. I know that a business has to expand and grow but I think everyone has different goals. Mine is to grow in a realistic way. Things have picked up over the last few months through mostly referrals. I believe that when I do something proper, people will see the value and keep referring me.
Also, since I have the equipment, contend and knowledge, I offer training for CSR volunteers to assist as workshop facilitators. This is how I minimise operating costs!
Of the many outreach programmes you have done, which is most memorable?
I work with corporate, educational and non-profit organisations, and they are each unique and memorable in their own way. Every programme I have conducted gives me the opportunity to reflect and learn. But, a significant one will be the parent-child workshop. It gives me an added sense of satisfaction seeing parents spending time together with their children learning, playing and bonding together.
How different is your approach to education ? My classes are very hands-on and content-curated. For children, they associate and learn better when they build something such as using Lego blocks. There is more fun in the learning journey. By injecting real world scenarios into the learning materials, I then get them to learn coding and programming through problem solving. At the end of the workshop, they can understand basic robotics and apply this knowledge to solve real world problems!
What has been your biggest challenge?
Content development. Every session has to be tailored according to age group and programme objective. For younger kids, it cannot be too complicated so that their interest won’t be lost.
What about your future plans? Curious Squirrels will continue collaborating with more partners to deliver a suite of learning
programmes for the younger generation including the underserved children.
I am very thankful that I have met a lot of good people who have been supporting me on this journey! For the past year, business has picked up gradually and I hope to continue providing quality content with my programme partners to benefit more learners.
So what do you think are the factors necessary for an entrepreneur to succeed?
Looking back, I will not be doing what I am doing today if I was afraid to break out of my comfort zone. I realized by taking that first step, it often opens up new opportunities for me and also a chance to gain new knowledge of things.
Ultimately, you need to have a clear objective so that whatever you do will be aligned towards that vision!
How much money do you think is enough to start a business?
Enough to last me a few years without income!
If you ever feel that age or experience is a deterrent to your dreams or goals, think twice. Setting her life objectives firmly as a beacon, Annie took a leap of faith and started a business from scratch. Something that most people will only dream of doing.
It has only been slightly more than a year since its inception. Despite being a startup newcomer, Curious Squirrels is chugging slowly but surely on the right track to fulfill Annie's vision of educating children and empowering them with valuable skill sets for their future. As for her social mission of helping the communities in need, we are optimistic that her initiatives will grow and impact more people as she wants it to be!
“When the time comes, I can’t take anything with me. So while I can, I hope to build a social good that others can continue.” Annie quips.
Stay tuned for more inspirational stories on local entrepreneurs and businesses!
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