Since 1986, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship has helped foster countless students and entrepreneurs. We are always excited to speak with alumni about their successes. Today, we caught up with Margaret Croushore (Maggie), a 2013 UMD graduate who launched her business, KidFit Academy, in Oakland, California.
Grant Lee (GL): Hi Maggie! Tell me about yourself?
Maggie Croushore (MC): I graduated from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy in May 2013, with a focus in education policy and nonprofit management and leadership. Prior to UMD, I taught middle school literacy in Washington, DC for four years. I became involved with the Dingman Center at the end of my first year at UMD, when I pitched an idea that would get students more active throughout the school day. The idea has evolved over time into what is now KidFit Academy.
GL: Describe your business. What is the problem? What is your solution?
MC: KidFit Academy promotes healthy lifestyles, enhances academic achievement, and improves classroom culture through purposeful fitness education. Affecting about 1 in 3 children in the US, childhood obesity is a serious problem, with huge ramifications on children’s emotional, academic, and physical well-being. Concurrently, teachers have the immense challenge of teaching increasingly difficult standards, often with limited resources. Due to budget cuts and decreased resources, schools are limiting—or cutting completely—subjects like physical education. As a result, students are spending a lot of time sitting still, with limited opportunity for purposeful movement. KidFit addresses these issues with its holistic program designed specifically for teachers, giving them the resources they need to not only get kids moving, but also save time by facilitating smooth, peaceful transitions, allowing them to teach more material more efficiently. KidFit Academy provides materials and support to teachers as they implement three “10-minute activity brain breaks” at strategic moments throughout the day: morning, after lunch/recess, and mid-afternoon. These breaks are designed specifically for the needs of students at the specific time of day, helping them release energy, increase focus and better prepare their brains to absorb knowledge.
GL: How did you get involved with Dingman Center?
MC: I first got involved with the Dingman Center in spring 2012. At the end of my first year at Maryland, I pitched an early versionof KidFit Academy in the Pitch Dingman Competition, winning some initial funding to start testing the idea. The following summer, I participated in a week-long program sponsored by the Center, during which I furthered my idea and received more funds that allowed me to launch a pilot program at a local DC high school. The pilot went extremely well; students in the program lost, on average, 1-2 inches off of their waists and completed a grueling 5k running event at the end of the program. That success helped me launch another pilot program in Chicago. I was still in DC, but I managed the program remotely, testing how successful the program could be in a different setting. I worked with an elementary/middle school teacher and the program was also a huge success! Students in the program not only improved their health, but were also more engaged at school and showed increased understanding of important life skills.
GL: How do you differentiate your business from competitors?
MC: Education and health/wellness is a competitive market. One thing that makes KidFit Academy different is that it is structured within the school day, which is uncommon. It is hard to penetrate the school day since the time is so incredibly valuable and, rightfully, carefully monitored. As a result, many health/wellness programs are typically reserved for after school. KidFit’s model and program allows it to serve a different, and very important, need. Also, in order to increase accessibility, KidFit Academy provides all the tools teachers need to use the program online. As long as there is an Internet connection, they can use the program.
GL: What’s your vision for your Kid Fit Academy?
MC: KidFit Academy seeks to truly transformthe way schools approach fitness education. With school models, philosophies, and structures shifting, it is time for movement in schools to innovate as well. And,KidFit is about more than just movement; it uses fitness as a tool to help students build strength of body,mind, and character. Each week, an important life skill, such as goal-setting, determination, and grit, is introduced and discussed throughout the week. Most importantly, KidFit strives to bring joy and fun back to the classroom, allowing, teachers can connect to students on a whole other level. KidFit is not just about decreasing obesity among children, but also about creating healthier communities through fitness. When multiple teachers use KidFit, schools see the power of fitness transform the health of not only the school, but also the entire community.
GL: What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
MC: It sounds funny because I definitely wasn’t looking to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship found me. Before policy school, I was an English teacher in a DC middle school. Prior to that, I studied childhood obesity from an academic perspective, writing my undergraduate thesis on the link between symbolic advertising and childhood obesity. When I began teaching, I saw the ramifications of childhood obesity play out in my classroom. In DC, 1 in 3 students are overweight or obese, causing huge emotional, academic, and physical challenges. I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of role schools were taking to improve this and decided to do something about it. Growing up, sports and fitness had been a huge part of my life. I like to call myself an athlete by choice, not design. I was not graced with much natural athletic talent, but I have pushed myself to be active, regularly participating in marathons and triathlons. I have seen the power of fitness transform my life and wanted to share that with kids. When I was teaching, I would use similar concepts to get kids moving in my English class and decided to create a program to harness this power in a more strategic way.
GL: What challenges have you encountered so far?
MC: Being an entrepreneur is really hard. As I mentioned, I first piloted the program in fall 2012 and am still learning about how best to achieve KidFit’s mission and vision. Last spring, I graduated from policy school and made the decision to pursue KidFit full time, moving across the country in August. It was a huge challenge to understand the new education environment in the San Francisco Bay area; I am still learning more every day. However, with a deep culture of entrepreneurship and dedication tohealthy lifestyles, I knew that it was the perfect place for KidFit to prosper and grow. But, similar to any market, it has its challenges. I am constantly meeting with key stakeholders to better understand the unique needs of the area. Despite all of the challenges, though, I continue to focus on KidFit’s mission; the work needs to happen and I am determined to persist.
GL: Female entrepreneurs are gaining attention. How does being an entrepreneur and a woman affect you?
MC: There have been times when I looked around and was one of the only women at events, especially in a founder role. However, I do see that this is changing. Recently, I attended a conference sponsored by y-combinator for female founders. There were over 500 women in attendance, many of whom were in a founding role. It was great to not only meet other awesome entrepreneurs but also share some unique challenges for female entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship can be lonely; it is always great to connect with others who are having similar challenges.It is especially important for entrepreneurs from historically underrepresented populations, such as women, to build connections and support each other along the way.
GL: What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
MC: That’s a good question. Entrepreneurship is about creation and empowerment. Seeing a problem and working hard to solve it, no matter what. To succeed, you need to completely put your pride and ego aside. You also have to be passionate because if you are not 100% determined, it is not going to be successful.
GL: Is there anything else that you would like to share?
MC: This has been a great journey and I owe a lot to the Dingman Center and MSPP’s Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Management for their guidance and support. I learned a lot at UMD and definitely built a lot of confidence and practiced articulating my idea through the various competitions. I am also excited to announce that the first Bay Area program launched in a kindergarten class this spring and it is going extremely well! Students in the program are loving the exercises and demonstrate increased focus, engagement, and joy in the classroom. The teacher is also noticing that she saves time in transitions, allowing her to cover more material throughout the day. KidFit has a long way to go to achieve its mission but we are taking small steps every day. Thanks so much to everyone who has supported (and will support) KidFit along the way!
An advocate for educational and health equity, Maggie Croushore holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston College, a Masters of Teaching from American University, and a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Maryland. Maggie was a four-year middle school English teacher in Washington, DC and a Teach for America corps member. She is also an avid athlete, teaching group cycling and participating regularly in athletic events; she has completed many marathons, half marathons, 5K’s, 10K’s, and triathlons, including a half Ironman.
Grant Lee is a second year full-time MBA student focused on Marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. Prior to Smith, he had four years of experience in retail marketing and sales management. He is passionate about sports, marketing, and entrepreneurship. To learn more about him, check out his blog: mrgrantlee.com
KidFit promotes healthy lifestyles, enhances academic achievement and improves school culture through purposeful fitness education. Our structured program incorporates 3 “10 minute activity brain breaks” emphasizing health and character development at strategic moments throughout the school day. Students are taught important life skills—such as goal-setting, grit, and determination—while increasing fitness levels and preparing their brains to absorb knowledge. By empowering teachers, KidFit helps transform the health of schools and communities.