Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to speak with Adrian J. DeLeon, the co-founder and CEO of Innovare.
Spiffy: Welcome, AJ! What challenge are you addressing at Innovare?
AJ: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Innovare supports leaders of education organizations, including schools, districts, and nonprofits, to use data strategically. With our app, that aggregates messy data into one clear dashboard, our customers can see information that allows them to make better decisions to impact the students and communities they serve.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
AJ: Education allowed my family to move out of poverty, and I began my career in education helping students achieve their college aspirations and later supporting leaders to improve outcomes for students via data. I have always been good at building authentic relationships and at helping others reach their goals. What I do now "bottles up" these strengths into a technology that has the potential to impact millions of lives around the world.
Spiffy: Could you elaborate on how, through this technology, you and Innovare are working towards a more equitable world?
AJ: Our organization promotes a more equitable world by impacting education via empowering the leaders of education organizations to make good decisions. We know that in addition to teachers, the leaders of schools and other organizations in education have a significant impact on students and the quality of life in every community in the world. So we help them, so that they, in turn, can help the people they serve. This as an aggregate changes the world.
Spiffy: Very inspiring! Tell me about a recent Innovare milestone or initiative and the impact it makes on your community.
AJ: We recently had the opportunity to receive investment from venture capitalists, philanthropic leaders, and education champions who want our company to grow so it can impact more leaders in education all over the world. This was a huge accomplishment, since in the US, fewer than 1.2% of Latinx-led firms receive this type of capital to scale. We are proud to be among that small percentage, but want to help change that statistic by demonstrating that investing in companies like ours is good for everyone—investors, the company, and the people the company serves.
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
AJ: I have faced a lot of challenges throughout my career, but one that transformed my life was when I didn't get accepted to some of the most prestigious doctoral programs in Political Science. I got waitlisted at Yale, Harvard, etc and ultimately didn't get in, but that led to my work in education, and that led to where I am today, which I think was supposed to happen.
Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
AJ: I have learned that you have to not try to change things that are outside of your control. I always try for everything and everyone to be in alignment but that is not always going to happen, and as a leader of my own organization, I am realizing what I can change and what I need to live with and problem-solve around.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
AJ: I want every child of color out there, every person who has ever felt different or someone who has felt like the world didn't give them a fair shot, to know that everything is possible and that they should never give up on their dreams. I want people to look inside and let the genius they have come out!
Spiffy: Great words to wrap this up. Thanks for speaking with me today, AJ—it’s been an honor!
A former educator, school improvement coach, data strategist in Chicago Public Schools, and consultant at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Adrian J. DeLeon (AJ) is Innovare’s first founder and CEO. He is an alumnus of Education Pioneers, The Surge Institute, and Stanford's Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative. He is Mexican-American, gay, and admires Frida Kahlo. (Nominated by Lorenzo Thione at Gaingels. First published on the Ladderworks website on March 21, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.