Miroslava, Erandi Aprende’s CTO & Co-founder. 1997
EdTech. Startups. Entrepreneurship.
These are really daunting words with equally daunting definitions. Simplifying them doesn’t help, only makes them more vague. But that’s not the goal of Erandi Aprence Inc and its founders.
Erandi Aprende Inc. is an EdTech (educational technology) company with an honest and admirable goal, it is a startup that’s excited to make a real impact, and its founders are entrepreneurs in the purest sense.
Entrepreneur, in it’s most straightforward definition, is a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal risks in order to do so.
But I find so much dissonance between the definition and the word. And not just for Entrepreneur, but also for EdTech and Startups.
Although, there is one thing that resonates with me in that definition- one that I think applies to all three words.
Risk is scary. Risk can hinder us. Risk can make us hide who we are. Risk can make us quiet our dreams.
But risk, I found as I conducted my interview, is nothing in the face of willpower and ingenuity- nothing in the face of passion and care.
So, take a risk. Read this interview. Learn about a true entrepreneur.
Meet Miroslava Rodriguez, or Miros to her friends and family: Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Erandi Aprende Inc.
Erandi Aprende Inc, in Miroslava’s own words, is a company dedicated to unleashing girls’ spark of curiosity in STEAM by encouraging them to explore the link between their interests and science and technology, embark on personal projects, and to trust in their abilities to make a meaningful impact in these fields.
Erandi Aprende Inc. wants it’s Learners to love learning as much they do and in the pursuit of that, close the gender gap in STEM fields. An admirable and necessary goal. Current analysis show that woman only make us 28% of the STEM workforce and Hispanic women, 2%. Another study showed that 9 out of 10 girls (ages 6-8) believe science and technology to be masculine skills. For Erandi Aprende Inc., who makes their products for young girls, this is especially relevant.
Let’s get to know one of the minds working on creating solutions to this problem.
I asked Miroslava to give me some thoughts before our interview and I got a pretty detailed document in turn. When I finally logged on for our zoom, I couldn’t help but make fun a little.
“You’re doing my job for me,” I scold.
Miroslava laughed but couldn’t bring herself to apologize. “I live for writing down my thoughts,” she admits, because it helps her express herself better and achieve mental clarity. She also tells me that when she was 10 years old, she actually wanted to be a writer and that a career in STEM was not really something she considered.
It might seem strange, given that Erandi Aprende was created with a STEM mission in mind, that the co-founder wanted a creative career rather than something in STEM. But Erandi Aprende, Miroslava explained, is about the “middleground that I really struggled to find when I was younger” between STEM and Art. This was proven during years of encouraging girls to engage with science and technology. Miroslava and her team had their hypothesis proven: Art is important for learning. That’s why Erandi Aprende makes sure to differentiate itself from other Educational apps by promoting STEAM instead of STEM.
The ‘A’ in STEAM: Art belongs in STEM and so does Miroslava
When Miroslava was 15 she wanted to be a musician. She wanted to express herself like one of her favorite musicians at the time, Soko. She liked how free the artist seemed, how she expressed herself in her lyrics. It felt attainable, according to her.
Unlike a career in STEM.
As a child, Miroslava watched all the popular kids science shows from her time. Her favorites were ‘Beakman’s World’ a show where a silly scientist explained science to kids and ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ a cartoon show about a child genius creating fantastical world-saving inventions who faces normal kid problems. For Miroslava being a scientist or anything science-adjacent, felt as fantastical as Dexter’s inventions. It did not feel “ obtainable for me” she says, “…I used to get excited about the idea of being an inventor and creating things but at the same time I didn’t know how that was possible for a child.”
Despite her parents background in STEM, both of them engineers, she didn’t feel like she “fit”. She describes herself as “not the best student in STEM subjects” and that she “felt a barrier between [her] and all of that [STEM]…Most of the time it was just another subject in school.”
When I asked her what her favorite subject was, if not a STEM subject, she laughed. With a wide smile, she starts to tell me about her 6th grade Writing Club. It felt like she “had a place there”. I was completely charmed when she told she’d written a short story about a group of kids recruited from around the world to a “secret continent” where they used their talents to save the world. As she told me about their zany journey, I imagined the group of kids, all of them full of potential, finally given an opportunity to change the world. It’s a wonderful story and one Miroslava believes to be possible, sans the “secret continent” of course.
As someone who believes in balance and the value of experiencing life, she tells me that while her career now as a tech startup founder is very STEM based, she still finds the lessons she learned in that writing club to be integral to how she invents things today. She made sure to emphasize that “the ability to put the thoughts in my head and ideas into words…into products comes from there.”
Like most 15 year olds, the idea of being a famous musician seemed great. And for Miroslava, who played the guitar and loved to write, a viable choice for the future. It seems a given then, that when it came time to choose her focus in college, that she would choose to continue her education in music, but that wasn’t the case for Miroslava.
“I went to a technical highschool so it was very focused on STEM. Things like humanities were looked down upon by students and teachers,” says Miroslava. That, coupled with her parents’ worry about her future, pushed her to study a technical degree in programming alongside her degree in music. Because while studying programming would essentially secure her future, music was still so integral to her: Miroslava.
Which is why it was so heartbreaking to hear her admit to dropping her degree in music. “In the beginning, I tried to live both lives,” she tells me earnestly. As I listened to her describe the struggle of balancing both aptitudes in a world that seemed very black and white, I see the way even years later, that struggle influenced her. Eventually, doing such seemingly separate disciplines was too much for her. She made a decision. “It was really hard for me because I felt like I was leaving a part of me behind. I had a problem with accepting myself fully in STEM. I didn’t identify as a STEM person”
I asked if she saw herself now as a STEM person and she grinned. “What I really enjoyed about [arts, music, writing]…was creating experiences for people or creating things that people could enjoy…I do that now.” Which is to say that she absolutely is a STEM person, now that she’s redefined it for herself. She realized that by allowing her ‘artistic’ side to flourish and be part of her STEM work she can still create experiences that enrich lives and be fulfilled by her work.
Despite how flagrantly opposite to STEM I am, I find myself admiring Miroslava and relating to her journey. From a young girl who only want to write to a 15 year old musician to a 22 year old deciding that STEM was her focus, to finally, a tech start up founder. If I’m honest, it almost sounds like a different person at each point but every step along her journey made into who she is: an amalgamation of ideas and dreams. And none of them are impossible for a woman like Miroslava.
So what is the tie? How does artsy Miroslava relate to resolute tech-y Miroslava?
The decision to pursue STEM wasn’t one made lightly. As mentioned, she had wanted to become a musician but double majoring is difficult, especially when they seem worlds apart. But she doesn’t regret her decisions. In fact, she’s felt confirmed in her choice and has since 2014.
2014 was a year Miroslava describes as “conflicting”. She was on the cusp of a decision and was searching for something that would give her the final push. Like magic, or perhaps divine intervention, an opportunity to be pushed arrived.
TagCDMX. An interdisciplinary (art + tech) event that brought together a diverse array of artists of all genres and engineers, offering masterclasses and workshops led by leading individuals in the field of art and engineering.
Without hesitation, Miroslava signed up for every available workshop, one of which was led by Moritz Waldemeyer– a renowned British/German engineer known for his fusion of technology, art, fashion, and design.
He tasked them with creating a design + engineering project, a challenge Miroslava was eager to meet. It was then, during his workshop when Waldenmeyer provided feedback to Miroslava, that everything clicked for her.
“Witnessing the blending of arts and engineering, realizing the potential to create remarkable things, and discovering I could have a place in this realm,” Miroslava explains, “…it was everything.”
It was that experience, and many more, that helped her define key elements for Erandi Aprende Inc. Like Waldemeyer did for her, she wants Erandi Aprende Learners to be just as inspired, to see the value of art, and experiment with their skills.
I define Miroslava as successful, not only because she has established a tech start up, but because of how she views her life. Every experience is valuable. Every experience has taught her something. From 6th grade Writing Club to a workshop with Moritz Waldemeyer, all of it has given her a method to living well. Here are just a few that helped her with Erandi Aprende Inc.
She advises me (and she really means everything).
“Have multiple sources for ideas”
In this day-and-age of blind conformity and a preference for instant rewards, we need more critical thinkers and life-long learners. Having multiple sources for ideas, like books, articles, papers, videos, and real life interactions is what keeps Miroslava creative and on-top of her game. In fact, the Erandi Aprende app was inspired by one of her favorite Sci-Fi novels, The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.
In the book an interactive intelligent book invented for a princess lands in the hands of a pauper with a mean family, the invention ends up being a light to the young girl and changes her life for the better. “It’s like the dream of anyone building educational technology,” Miroslava says about the book, “…I think right now we’re really close to doing that [changing lives for the better with technology]”
“I like this. I want to create this,”
“I love that!” I tell her. She laughs abashedly and tells me that it came from reading Harry Potter as a kid. She was 10 years old when she decided she wanted to write kids books and she’s not counting that dream out yet either. It was the first time she took the approach of: “I like this. I want to create this” and by ‘this’ she means an impactful experience.
“The best way to learn is by doing”, as stated by many gurus and Miroslava. “It’s about confidence.” She struggled with moving Erandi Aprende from being an “undefined product” into what it is now. When she would go to product development workshops she would ask the same question: ‘How do real product designers approach design and decisions’.
The key word being ‘real’.
Because Miroslava didn’t consider herself a real product designer or a real inventor. Like a lot of people she struggles with ‘Imposter Syndrome’ or feeling like she’s trying to go ‘above her paygrade’. But it was her work with Erandi Aprende Inc. that built her confidence in her skills. It brought opportunities like the Adyen Accelerator and the Halcyon Incubator, where she had to create and present solutions and designs.
Now Miroslava is getting ready to launch Erandi Aprende Inc.’s latest product, an interactive “AI-Amiga” that talks with Learners about their STEM interest and helps them develop fun STEAM projects.
Remember when she said that STEM once seemed fantastical? Well, she says the goal of the app is “nurture curiosity” and “foster confidence” by blending the rigor of STEM and the sincerity of Art, essentially she’s helping young girls make the fantastical real. “The Erandi Aprende app is what I wished I had as a child.” Now she gets to create an impactful experience for young girls; she’s reached her ‘this’.
‘This’, was a risk. It took a lot of effort and meant that she had to dedicate herself completely to Erandi Aprende Inc. It meant that she had to challenge herself everyday. It meant that she had to take all of the difficult experiences and lessons, the good and the bad, and focus them into a solution.
“I’m glad I chose this path,” she tells me sincerely, her eyes bright with true joy. She is at ease, even with all the risk, because she knows that it was- is- worth it.
I congratulate Miroslava for achieving the once fantastical and wish her good luck for all her future endeavors. I especially can’t wait to read the kids’ book she’ll write once she takes a break from breaking barriers for women in STEM. Maybe we’ll get a sequel to her short story, who knows.
I hope you enjoyed taking a risk on Miroslava and I hope you take a risk on Erandi Aprende Inc.
Elissa Casas is a Strategic Communications student at UH Valenti and the founder of Casa Pa’ La Raza, a platform for educating and encouraging Latino Americans. She also volunteers her time with Erandi Aprende in their Marketing and Operations department.