Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Jason Wilson, Founder of Natural Learning Enterprises, LLC., located in Jackson, MS, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Natural Learning Enterprises is a mission-driven business focused on developing content that promotes scientific literacy and critical thinking about life and the natural world. Our programs focus on five primary high-impact subject areas, including:
- Natural History and Wildlife Conservation
- Ecologically Conscious Agriculture and Industry
- Ethnobotany and Ethnomycology
- Philosophy of Science and Environmental Ethics
- Logic and Critical Thinking
We are particularly interested in exploring ways in which technology and media can be utilized as powerful tools to encourage people of all ages to interact with and learn from the natural world.
Our customers vary depending on the brand and learning initiative. For instance, our "Toadstool's Treasures" program is a mycology education initiative targeted toward elementary and middle school-aged children as well as teachers and homeschooling parents or guardians. Through the Toadstool's Treasures children's book and the Toadstool's Treasures website, which is full of mycology-focused games, activities, lesson plans, and other content, children can discover the fun and fascinating world of mycology which is often excluded or minimized from traditional school science curricula.
On the other hand, our "Curious About Cannabis" ethnobotany science program is targeted toward adults looking for reliable science-driven information about the Cannabis plant and Cannabis-derived products. We developed a Cannabis science textbook for colleges and universities, produced a podcast featuring interviews with world-renowned scientists, and developed an online learning platform that allows anyone to access college-level Cannabis science courses for free.
"Isn't Life Curious?" is another adult-targeted initiative that is focused on exploring issues that are at the intersections of science and philosophy. The Isn't Life Curious? Podcast features conversations with philosophers, scientists, skeptics, farmers, artists, and other curious minds.
"GardenWild" is an educational initiative focused on teaching people of all ages how to garden in a way that helps support native wildlife. The GardenWild website helps direct people to some of the best resources for building wildlife gardens and supporting your local ecosystems, one yard at a time.
Tell us about yourself
I come from a family of teachers and preachers, which means that science and philosophy have always been at the forefront of my mind for as long as I can remember. I have also always been very artistic and technologically inclined. I started making home movies on camcorders and rode the evolution of A/V technology to the graphics cards, mixers, and SLR camera I use today.
Being a skateboarder in middle school and high school, I learned to edit videos while trying to make "sponsor reels." When I learned to play guitar and piano, I learned how to record and edit audio. In college, I studied bird watching and learned a lot about photography and lighting. In my professional career, I taught outdoor science education, was a botanist for a brief time and worked in natural products laboratories studying plants and mushrooms. All of these experiences, interests, and skills came together sometime around 2016 when I decided that I wanted to use all of my skills to develop educational media in a serious way.
The unfortunate truth is that our traditional education systems have largely been a failure when it comes to producing a scientifically literate community capable of abstract critical thinking. Approximately 28% of people in the United States are considered scientifically literate. Science is often taught as a series of trivial facts to be regurgitated on standardized tests. The magic of science is often vanquished in the pursuit of a standardized curriculum. Many kids are then made to believe that they "aren't good at science," creating a feedback loop that ensures they will stay as far away from anything that seems "science-y" as they can. This is a tragedy!
When it comes to philosophical literacy, I have never seen a real measurement. Philosophy is generally not taught in most public schools - often out of fear that it touches too close to religion. Debate (aka logic) class has been shed from many schools or treated as a class reserved for nerds.
Science provides us with tools for critically evaluating our observations. Philosophy provides us with tools for critically evaluating our perceptions and ideas. These are tools that help empower people and make them stronger and wiser. Why would we want to cultivate a future without these tools?
We have a real problem here, and I think about it every day. All of the projects and content I develop are focused on addressing these problems in the varying ways they present themselves.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment so far has probably been the development of the "Curious About Cannabis" brand. The Curious About Cannabis book is now in its 3rd edition and being utilized by colleges across North America in Cannabis science curricula. The podcast is nearing 100 episodes. The learning platform is gaining new members every day. It's been great to see this program take off the way that it has, which has allowed me to give away a lot of books, courses, and other things to people that are passionate about learning. It creates a pretty great feedback loop that keeps me inspired to create more content for the brand.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Managing time and expectations. From my perspective, if you are not 200% passionate about what you are doing, you should consider doing something else - because the time commitment for being a business owner or entrepreneur is immense. I generally work from the moment I wake up - I stop when my daughter is home from school - then I start again when she and my wife are asleep. I keep working until about midnight or so, then I get a little sleep and start again. And even though I'm working so much, there is never enough time to finish everything I need to do. There will never be enough time.
That's why task prioritization is a crucial skill to develop as a business owner. What needs to get done today? What else can wait? Each day I try to remember to ask myself if I'm working on tasks that make the best use of my limited time. I also am always looking for strategies to make my tasks more efficient.
And I do all of this every day for very little pay compared to what I would make working a typical 9-5 job. There are times when I may go months without any income to pay myself. I think it is critical to have the right expectation about what it takes to succeed, as well as the passion and dedication to put the time in that is required in a disciplined way that does not sacrifice your relationships with people you care about.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Understand your audience.
- Manage your time as your most precious asset.
- Operate lean, but invest where it matters.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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