Success Story: Nellie Springston
Nellie Springston has made helping children her life’s work. She began her career as a behavior interventionist in San Antonio charters, researching the brain. She found that toxic stress, screen time, the chronic distraction of modern life, and the effects of poverty were keeping children from being able to focus in school. Children weren’t developing their prefrontal cortices, the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. They couldn’t learn if they couldn’t focus. She needed an effective strategy to help them calm down, so she began to look into mindfulness meditation.
She discovered that teaching kids to pause, breathe, and check in with themselves helped them manage the emotions they felt, as they came up, so that they could stay engaged in the classroom. Dr. Lindsay Bira oversaw training her staff in mindfulness but, when Nellie brought her findings to teachers, they told her they needed a scripted curriculum to teach mindfulness in a classroom setting.
Nellie decided to leave her position with the charter schools and develop the mindfulness curriculum she saw a need for. Thus, Calma was born. Her friend, Jody Newman, encouraged her to seek support from LaunchSA and the staff there helped her create a business plan and find a logo. Suzan Browning, an artist who designed the 2018 San Antonio Fiesta poster, believed in Calma’s purpose so much that she designed the logo and some promotional materials for free. Once she was off the ground, Nellie heard about LaunchSA’s Venture Challenge and decided to join.
The challenges helped her set milestones for her business. “If I can do something each month, I could see what I’d accomplish in just one year,” says Nellie. The challenges also helped her figure out where it was most important to invest money in her business. “I’d literally never said the word ‘revenue’ before in my life, but I had to learn!” she says.
She was one of the ten finalists and, after she pitched her ideas to the judges, she made LaunchSA history by becoming the first Judge’s Choice Award winner. Nellie did not receive any of the funding allocated for Venture Challenge winners but the judges awarded her $3,000 from their own pockets. They were so moved by her vision that they couldn’t let her walk away with nothing.
That summer, she got her curriculum designed and out by August. Art Arilla, whose wife was an educator, created three 42 page curricula for Nellie for well below the market price and, with the help of her community, Calma was going strong. Nellie decided to move to Louisville and has continued Calma in that community. She is now working on developing a coloring book to help children learn to meditate. The business isn’t lucrative, but that’s not why Nellie does it. “What you do as a startup just depends on your definition of success,” says Nellie. “To me, success is helping even one kid.”