April 25, 2012

Ntiedo “NT” Etuk ’02: Play Hard, Learn More — Win Big

Businesses that were first pitched as part of Columbia’s A. Lorne Weil Outrageous Business Plan Competition are proving that visionary thinking — and tenacity — are keys to entrepreneurial success.

>>The Idea: To get kids excited about learning through interactive stories — and rewards. “The outrageous goal was to become the next Sesame Street or Disney,” says Ntiedo “NT” Etuk ’02, who won the competition in 2002. Kids would complete online quizzes about each story they read, racking up points to earn prizes like bicycles and CDs.

Prior to business school, Etuk was a tutor with Big Brothers Big Sisters while he worked as a policy analyst at a major credit card company. “It got me thinking about the effectiveness of rewards systems among adults,” he says. “Why would it be any different for kids?”

>>The Business: DimensionU (formerly Tabula Digita) produces educational video games for K–12 students that build math, literacy, and science skills. Inspired by his own childhood passion for gaming, Etuk narrowed his focus to software not long after graduation. Students in more than 70 school districts across the country — and in English-speaking regions around the world — compete with one another and earn points toward rewards from vendors including Amazon.com and Best Buy.

The World Economic Forum recently named DimensionU a Technology Pioneer and EdNet included it among its “Shining Star” products. Last summer, the company honored the winner of its first annual National Scholarship Tournament with a $50,000 scholarship — plus Lady Gaga concert tickets and a photo op.

>>The Takeaway: Stay positive. “If you look at some of the most revolutionary companies — Apple, Amazon, FedEx — they began as ideas that people didn’t believe could work,” says Etuk. “Be flexible, but don’t quit.“

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