Grace Conyers of ‘Insanitek Research and Development’: “Slow, but steady”

Slow, but steady. We got the offer and signed up for the program at the end of September. In two months we’ve vetted it with industry professionals, gotten familiar with the software, and gotten feedback from a user standpoint from parents that would be investing, high school students that were interested, and adults changing careers. The […]

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Slow, but steady. We got the offer and signed up for the program at the end of September. In two months we’ve vetted it with industry professionals, gotten familiar with the software, and gotten feedback from a user standpoint from parents that would be investing, high school students that were interested, and adults changing careers.

The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Grace Conyers.

Grace Conyers is the founder and sole proprietor of Insanitek Research and Development, a science apprenticeship and independent science maker space. She’s a tea addict, dancing chemist, and spends days digging holes and teaching kids about science.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I could tell you so many stories about my childhood! I didn’t have a very good one as my mother was emotionally and physically abusive and I grew up in poverty. There were a lot of character developing moments. When things got intense, I would often retreat to my room if it was safe, but more often I would go outside and explore just to stay away. I developed a great love of the outdoors stemming from this desire to get away.

I say developed, because one of my earliest memories was being traumatized by mud. I was 3 or 4 years old or so when I was exploring my grandparent’s garden. My grandmother had just watered her plants, and I was crawling around. I got my hand stuck in the mud, which didn’t seem to bother me. But, when I pulled it out and saw the mud dripping off my hand, I stopped dead and watched it for a brief moment before unleashing a scream. Maybe I thought my hand was being eaten? I don’t know what goes through a 4 year old’s head, but it traumatized me so much that I steered clear of the garden for years. If you only knew that about me, you’d never guess that I’m a soil chemist today!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A lesson my guardian gave me as a preteen going through an angst phase once told me: “People will come and go throughout your life. Family will die or move away. You might move away. Friends aren’t always forever and you’ll separate over time and often times completely. The only one you will ever have to live up to your entire life is yourself. Before you go to bed at night, look yourself in the eyes in the mirror and ask yourself if you’ve lived today in a way you’re proud of. And if the answer is no, then something needs to change.”

Most nights I do this exercise in some way by reflecting on my day and see if there are ways I could live more honestly and according to my values. It helps me gain clarity, one day at a time. It also helps me give myself and others grace throughout the turbulence of life, while also maintaining pretty good boundaries.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I have read many books and only a few movies that have inspired me in some way. However, the story that stuck with me the longest was a book, which also happened to be turned into a movie, is an old one called Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. It’s a story of a South African boy named Peekay that was born in the shadow of apartheid due to the racial divisions of the Nazis. His childhood is marked by abandonment and humiliation at the hands of Nazis, while being raised by his Zulu nanny and widowed mother.

After his mother passed away, he was adopted by his grandfather, who introduces him to a German professor, Doc, to help with Peekay’s studies. Doc teaches Peekay after school and gives him life lessons and piano lessons. When WWII breaks out, Doc is arrested and taken to a prison for being undocumented, but because he’s German he gets preferential treatment. He’s allowed to have his piano, and thus continue to teach Peekay the piano and life lessons. In prison is where Peekay learns more boxing techniques with the help of the local tribes that are also imprisoned by the Nazis.

This background helped Peekay learn many languages and help calm tensions between the tribes as well as learn how to creatively find ways to subvert the Nazi’s. Although the book and the movie diverge greatly by this point, there are adventures that are had that show Peekay doing what he can for those that are tortured by the Nazis, one by one. In this way, it shows how one person can make a huge difference to a community and bring people together in the face of such atrocities that would take away humanity and individual freedoms.

This story above any resonated with me often throughout my life. Growing up “on the wrong side of the tracks” I have seen many injustices and unmitigated hate towards people. I have often been the subject of it myself for being poor. However, The Power of One gave me naive courage as a child to try being part of the solution. After giving it one shot then another at helping my community, I realized that being one person making real changes, taking real action, and spending time with those that feel the injustices is what can make more of a difference than throwing money at any charity or organization.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

Before the pandemic I was steadily working my way to having a science maker space where we also helped students as an after school project. We were teaching students that needed help with their science and math with hands on examples that brought science alive. We were teaching workshops to homeschoolers and others in our community to help the love of science, logic, and knowledge spread.

We were growing achingly slowly, but gaining traction and had just hit another growth milestone and gained a bit of steadiness. Marketing was working, we had gained new clients, new projects, and our reputation was growing locally. It looked like 2020 was going to shape up to be a good year for all three of us independent researchers. We had just sat down the day before to daydream about what we could aim for in Q2 of the year and possibilities, so we were full of hope. Our goals were to open up another workshop for our community outreach, get a ICP-OES machine to look at chemical compositions for three new avenues of research, and brainstorming more ways to work with our community to solve problems they might have.

Then, the announcements were made. We are all germaphobes, so we were feeling pretty comfortable with our current set up. Washing hands, sanitizing everything regularly, and not being too close together was already a norm around our facility. Besides, we relied on logic and called all of our virologist friends to talk to them about how viruses work so we could prepare more. And, with the professed “only two weeks to flatten the curve” we were confident we could add a few more safeguards in place to protect our clients.

We had no idea that the government would continue to use models that insisted that continuing the lockdown and shutting down life was the best course of action. We couldn’t have foreseen that the lockdowns would last months, not weeks. We watched nearly every business owner around us fold and collapse. We lost all but one client due to lack of money.

As we went through savings on rent and utilities, we had to start getting into the difficult decisions. We had to give machines back because we couldn’t pay loans on them. We had to lay off every employee because there just wasn’t enough money to pay them. The PPP loans weren’t nearly enough to help us survive months of lockdowns that impacted almost our entire cash flow. With the lack of cash flow and no end to the lockdowns in sight, we had to close our doors permanently.

While I was trying to figure out how to build up from scratch once again, I got a great opportunity from the state of Indiana that was tangential to what we were already doing — and in line with where we had planned to go in 10 years.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

Two weeks after we shut the doors and gave up, I was finally tired of feeling sorry for myself and us. I opened my emails for the first time in days, and found an offer that arrived that day from the state of Indiana that would allow me free access to a whole suite of training and educational tools from 180Skills.

The folks at 180Skills collaborated with businesses like Boeing and Harley Davidson and universities like Purdue and Indiana Universities. Schools use the software, and they even have a 3rd party certification possibilities. I was floored that I had access to this software for free for a year, and the possibilities danced in front of me. I imagined some of the clients we had previously that were training in new skills to get a raise at work using this to gain momentum. Then, I imagined students I was tutoring while schools were out being able to get good virtual training at a decent cost.

Of course, it’s not all fanciful dreams. Before embarking on this endeavor, I reached out to several industry leaders I know to ask them to review the coursework. While I’m waiting to hear back from a few of them, I am happy to say that so far everyone has been excited about the opportunities this could hold. It’s far from perfect as nothing replaces in person training, but this is a decent second.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

Really, I didn’t take this opportunity seriously until I had it vetted. The last thing I want to do is sell a product that isn’t viable. Once I started hearing back from business owners in fabrication, electrical, design, and even service industries that would prefer just the soft skills, I started to talk about this to the parents and the high schoolers. The feedback and enthusiasm I received from those around me in the community suggested that this is a direction that is not just possible and exciting, but wanted and needed in our community.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Slow, but steady. We got the offer and signed up for the program at the end of September. In two months we’ve vetted it with industry professionals, gotten familiar with the software, and gotten feedback from a user standpoint from parents that would be investing, high school students that were interested, and adults changing careers.

We even had two paying students sign up before we could even get the marketing materials together.

I’ll call that a win. We have a long way to go, but this initiative is looking like a good thing we didn’t plan on doing so this early in the Insanitek’s journey.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My business mentor and grandfather — they are one in the same person. The entire time growing up Grandpa let me help him run his business, a gas station. I learnt a lot of nuance and business savvy whether I was running the cash register, helping out fixing cars in the bay, or in the back offices helping with a variety of office tasks.

When I was fretting about losing everything we had built up over the years due to circumstances out of my control, I remembered something that Grandpa said a long time ago:

The basis of business is an exchange. One party provides a product or service that the other party wants. Everything else is details and flare.

I had that top of mind when I made coffee and sat down that fateful morning to open my emails.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I’m a white lab coat wearing scientist. My colleagues are also scientists and engineers. None of us have the certification to teach things like fabrication, although we’ve used many of the skills. To us the classes looked amazing, but we aren’t the experts. I had to dive through my network I had gathered throughout life to find people to vet it with a more critical eye.

Getting back in touch with people during the time of extreme duress is probably one of the more interesting adventures I’ve had. I got to hear a lot of stories about how they were doing, which because these were all industry people, business was way up. All of them were in great spirits and more than interested in this potential new direction of employee training.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Long video:

Short Video:

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

I focus on the real science. This is not the stuff that you find in the news. The news gets most of their money from attention, and the two emotions that get them the most attention are outrage and shock. I don’t waste my time or energy on places that are like that.

Instead, I go to science journals and read articles on topics related to Covid and viruses. I also watch a wide range of YouTube videos from virologist that explain what is going on, how viruses work, how Covid works similarly, and other such ways to filter out things that are likely to be highly biased, fueled with a marketing image, or has an agenda of any sort.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I hope I can inspire people to be self-reliant, curious, seek knowledge of all kinds, have courage to live a fulfilling life even when it goes against the grain of pop culture, and constantly evolve with the challenges of life. I hope that I can inspire people to embrace a more normal, humble life that doesn’t seek fame and money, but rather being present in their current reality and do good for the people that are in their every day lives.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I love people and their stories. I don’t want to really talk to a famous person, but I would love to sit down with the people in my community and develop relationships with them so I know how I could help them and their families.

How can our readers follow you online?

The hub of all our activity is our blog:

You can also find us on Instagram and YouTube under the name Insanitek.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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