Post by IU newsroom intern Bailey Briscoe. This story also appears in Inside IU Bloomington:
In high school, Mikaela Gilbert wanted to be a pharmacist. But it was her passion for business that eventually led her to Indiana University.
In a high school digital design class, she was asked to turn a wooden egg into a sellable product. Gilbert designed the wooden egg to look like a farm animal, with a weight in the bottom to make it wobble. Originally, the egg made a noise that corresponded with the animal design.
While her teacher thought it was a viable product and encouraged her to create a Kickstarter campaign, Gilbert instead brought it into her innovations class, determined to add more appeal to the product.
The egg quickly evolved into a foreign language training tool for children under 5, Gilbert said. The product, dubbed Chatter Eggs, speaks simple phrases in English and then repeats them in a different language, such as Chinese or French. While the toy is still designed with an animal’s face, the animal is representative of an area where the language being taught is spoken. For example, the Chinese-speaking egg is designed to look like a panda, Gilbert said.
She is currently working with an Indianapolis-based toy company to gather a prototype cost estimate that she can then send to factories for production.
“I see Chatter Eggs being an affordable $20 toy available in everyday stores like Walmart and Target,” she said. “It’s meant to be something a consumer can purchase on the spot, versus a $100 product that you have to really think about buying.”
After hearing Gilbert speak about her business venture at a Women & Hi Tech event in Indianapolis, it was IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie who encouraged Gilbert to consider IU. Gilbert is now a freshman in the IU Kelley School of Business, where she studies entrepreneurship and corporate innovation with a dual major in marketing.
One of the biggest challenges Gilbert has faced throughout this process is her age. Having very little business experience or knowledge makes it difficult to negotiate with toy companies, which is why she has had various mentors along the way.
IU has led her to some of her best mentor relationships yet. Through word of mouth, the father of her neighbor in the dorms heard about her business venture and thought it sounded like a good idea. They have since been working together to launch the product. She also seeks advice from Donald F. Kuratko, a professor of entrepreneurship in the Kelley School of Business.
“There’s so many different people around IU with so many different levels of knowledge,” Gilbert said. “If I run into a question about anything, there’s always someone to ask.”
Gilbert envisions Chatter Eggs as a stepping stone to building a company that provides children with foreign language learning tools from the exposure stage to fluency.