BABE #163: ELIZABETH BENSON: CEO + Co-Founder, B & G Educational Innovations and RealLifeSim
When Elizabeth saw the need for a product that didn’t exist, she wasted no time putting her ideas on paper and making her vision a reality. Fast forward, and today she's the CEO and co-founder of B & G Educational Innovations and ReaLifeSim, providing wearable clinical training tools in 10 countries and 4 continents. Instrumental in bringing Elizabeth’s dream to life was her involvement in Jacksonville’s very own idea festival — One Spark! Winning the Microsoft award and the connections she fostered through the experience helped to launch what is now a very successful product helping aspiring healthcare professionals across the globe.
Hometown: Nutley, NJ
Current city: Jacksonville, FL
Alma mater: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Drexel University, Regent University, Duke University
Degree: B.S., Biotech/Life Sciences, Nursing, M.S., Education Leadership & Advocacy
Very first job: Roth’s Deli, NJ
Hustle: CEO, Co-Founder of B & G Educational Innovations, LLC & ReaLifeSim, LLC
Babe you admire and why?
Mother Teresa. I wonder if she’s ever been called a Babe? She had passion, tenacity, and was considered controversial in her time; she challenged the accepted norms. She changed lives one at a time with kindness, but she was no pushover. She was headstrong. The ripple effect from Mother Teresa’s actions continue today. "Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love."
Favorite fictional female character?
Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser. One of my daughters gave me the book Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (more than 20 years ago) saying the female lead character reminded her of me. Wikipedia defines Claire as "a warm, practical and independent former combat nurse who inadvertently travels back in time to the Scottish Highlands in the mid-18th century."
Go-to power anthem?
The Warriors Code - Dropkick Murphys
What is something you want to learn or master?
A couple of new languages
Go-to news source?
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
My Mom. She passed nearly 20 years ago now. She was strong, compassionate, stubborn and so much more than a role model - she was my best friend. She didn’t get to see my children grow up and succeed to become productive citizens.
Tell us about your hustle, providing an overview of your job and roles.
As Chief Executive Officer, I am responsible for the ultimate success or failure of B & G Educational Innovations and RealLifeSim: our clinician-created, wearable hybrid simulation products that provide safe pre-hospital and healthcare skills training. I provide vision, strategy, direction, and execution for the organization, and am directly involved in establishing the organization’s legal and business structure, culture, and goals. To interact effectively across these various disciplines, I move routinely between roles as leader, motivator, project manager, collaborator, salesperson, quality control officer, bean counter, government liaison, market forecaster, problem solver, and occasionally one of my favorite roles, shenanigator!
What does your typical workday look like?
As the primary contact for the company, my day starts from the time I get out of bed, as I grab my phone and begin reviewing emails. Once in my office, I will review my Google calendar and project board for tasks with specific deadlines, and take action to move those to the next step or to completion. Regularly scheduled meetings (by phone or video chat) with key elements such as App development, manufacturing and customer service occur each week. Although I leave my office for dinner and to spend time with my husband, I monitor my phone for business issues right up until I climb into bed. I’ve worked 16 hour double shifts in trauma ERs in the past, yet no job has been more grueling, and fulfilling, than this one.
What inspired ReaLifeSim? What was the most important part of your vision for it, and what has the evolution of the product looked like?
Two years ago, during an end-of-semester Simulation-Enhanced Interprofessional Education session (a student group medical simulation scenario), a student rolled a supply cart with a fake simulation arm to a 'patient,' performed a skills checklist perfectly, and inserted an IV catheter (into the simulation arm on the cart) without properly speaking to his patient first. This was a clear indicator to myself and co-founder Linda Goodman, RN, that we needed to provide our students with more opportunities to work with realistic patient volunteers, and receive more real-life practice in simulation scenarios. Scouring the internet trying to buy this item led us to the realization that such a thing didn't exist. So, I sketched a design and we bought IV tubing, IV bags, and tattoo sleeves. Using these supplies plus a hot glue gun and red colored water, we created our first alpha prototype. Fast-forward to present, working many long hours with an incredibly talented team of experts, we’re selling ReaLifeSim and VetReaLifeSim IV and blood draw-wearable clinical training tools in 10 countries, on 4 continents.
How did you navigate the app development process? How collaborative has this process been, and how often do tweak the platform?
Developing the App was like giving birth - no kidding. First, we were thrilled to learn we won the Microsoft award at One Spark! Then came the “morning sickness” phase - initial designs that worked or didn’t, lots of tests, and staying awake at all hours of the day and night to work with team members all over the world. The “2nd trimester” phase felt good and positive as we made fast strides, and our basic needs for the app were functional. During “3rd trimester,” as we continued to use and refine, development felt like it went on and on. Delivery was actually quick but painful - bugs knew to present themselves during critical demonstrations. It was an ongoing opportunity to learn patience, and now, it’s beautiful! Our RLSimApp is the first and only of its kind with secure access to track/record individual learner hands-on and communication skills performance, cloud syncing, remote instructor access for review, assessment, and feedback and English, French, German and Spanish RLSimApp screen and facilitator portal language localizations are standard features.
What attracted you most to One Spark? Specifically, how does One Spark contribute to the growth and innovation of the creators/attendees?
Our One Spark experience was significant for several reasons. First, the application process required us to look seriously at our product from a business perspective, including my taking an online course in start-up business development just so I could complete the application. Second, it placed us in a creator/entrepreneur/start-up environment, which opened up our thought processes about design, manufacturing, fundraising, marketing and other ways our product could be used. Third, our 2nd place award and then surprising 1st place award provided real-world validation for the product and our initial business approach. The genuine enthusiasm and encouragement we received from those within the One Spark organization, as well from those we met via that connection, were inspiring. Fourth, it forced us to make the kind of commitment necessary for any startup to move an idea off the napkin and into reality. We moved our business and home from Maryland to Florida. Without that step, we would not be anywhere close to where we are today.
With involvement in various STEM roles/organizations throughout your career; what do you think needs to happen to get more women in STEM?
"Conditions and context can make a significant difference to girls, young women and their interest in STEM. And the solution doesn’t necessarily require a curricular overhaul. We may be able to make significant strides just by showing girls and young women how STEM knowledge is applicable outside of the classroom, and how it can power their aspirations to make the world a better place.” This is not a surprising finding from a recent Microsoft report, but a good reminder that to close the STEM gap, continued encouragement from role models is necessary to reduce the gender disparity.
What would you say is your biggest career milestone and why?
I’d have to say my biggest career milestone has been seeing my sketch of an idea become a tool that’s now helping thousands of future clinicians gain greater competence and confidence, and ultimately providing better patient care.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
In everything before becoming an entrepreneur, gender was never an issue. Gender bias does still exist in business, but I’ve experienced that more outside the US, than within. With One Spark, I wasn’t taking any chances - so, as a middle-aged nurse and new to business, I began my pitch wearing my clinical lab coat (to look like a nurse) and when the clinical rationale was finished, I removed the lab coat revealing a business suit to present the business plans. I wanted the all-male panel to see I could be both nurse and business woman.
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to break into your industry?
Know what you know and identify what you need that you don’t know. Surround yourself with a team of experts that excel in what you don’t know. Inspire a sense of ownership in your team and trust them.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Life is about the journey, not the destination. Don’t make this a non-stop flight, take the multiple stops each day. Breathe and treasure the moments along the way. Share them with your spouse, kids, friends, community groups, and with your work team.
In partnership with: One Spark
One Spark is the world's largest idea fest—where entrepreneurs are able to seek feedback and interest in their concepts and the community comes together to experience, be inspired by, and interact with creators. Babes Who Hustle is so excited to be a part of this year's fest, taking place this weekend (April 6-7, 2018) at Daily's Place Amphitheater - EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL. Learn more and grab your tickets here!