Entrepreneur

Sparkon releases ‘future visualization engine’ to help kids choose a career

Choosing a career can be a difficult decision left up to intuition and circumstance, but it doesn’t have to be.

Sparkon is building a “future visualization engine” that helps kids figure out what they want to be when they grow up. The system uses personality tests to measure 16 different areas of life. It then generates customized “sparkmaps,” or 25 page interactive infographics presenting potential education and career tracks. They are meant to help students discover their passions and how to turn those passions into employment. Sparkon also has a 16,000 video and quiz library for students to learn more about their possible futures.

“Our personality tests are for young people that lack work experience, but want to explore careers in terms that make sense to their lives,” said founder and CEO Bryan Starbuck in an email. “Everything we do makes it kid friendly. Our vision was taking Khan Academy to the next level, by building it for everything that a middle schooler or higher schooler wants to know now to prepare for their future.”

Let’s say your strongest “career personality type” is artistic follows by enterprising, you are extroverted, and you are passionate about art and video games. Sparkon suggests a range of jobs that bring all these together, like video game designer or art director, and suggests majors and skill sets that are useful for these areas. The engine then suggests specific videos, like “careers in the video game industry,” computer programming, or graphic design. There are also more general videos about college and SAT preparation, communication and leadership etc… Students can create a Netflix-style queue with recommended videos, and parents can also get involved by monitoring their kids’ progress to see what they are exploring.

Starbuck said that 46 percent of first time college students don’t graduate in 6 years and many don’t pursue careers related to their major. Sparkon addresses this issue by helping kids focus their course of study and supplying specific goals. It costs $3.95 to $5.95 a month.

Sparkon first started out as Empower.me and released an alpha version in August 2012 that incentivized teens with money to achieve learning goals set by their parents. Starbuck said after getting feedback from parents and kids, he decided to shelve the rewards-based model and focus more on intrinsic motivations, like future happiness and success.

The job market is tough right now. A recent report from Goldman Sachs, based on Department of Labor Statistics, found that unemployment rates of college graduates has surpassed those of workers without a high school education. Furthermore a report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that nearly half of the nation’s recent college graduates work jobs that don’t require a degree. Not only is higher education putting students into record amounts of debt, but the ultimate value of that degree is getting called into question.

This topic comes up a lot in the tech community where college dropouts have more prestige than Harvard graduates and you can succeed without a degree if you are smart, creative and entrepreneurial. Some kids know they want to be a doctor or a computer programmer from a young age. However some people (like me) remained clueless up until early adulthood, relying on palm readers and tarot cards for guidance.

Sparkon aims to be a slightly more data-driven, practical alternative to my approach.

The company is based in Redmond, Washington and has raised half of a $1.3 million seed round.

Photo Credit: Simone van den Berg/Shutterstock


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