This Olympian, Mom and Entrepreneur is Revolutionizing the Way Kids Learn to Read
Julia Dexter is a tech entrepreneur and a former Olympian who competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia representing Canada as a member of the canoe kayak team. She began her business career in graphic design and has gone on to lead several successful technology ventures. Now, Julia has taken her tech business experience and a passion for literacy to create Squiggle Park, a learning game app to improve literacy rates for children worldwide.
Growing up, Julia’s primary passion was sports. “When I was a kid, I had no doubt, I wanted to be an Olympic athlete. I was a swimmer for about 13 years. It’s what I dedicated my life to, morning and night. I swam, and I made myself better, and I loved it. I thought I’d be a swimming Olympian, which wasn’t the case.”
When a canoe kayak coach came to her high school to recruit athletes, Julia, raised her hand. “I just loved the new challenge. The idea, that I could become so much better at something, again. It wasn’t about refining little pieces, anymore. It was about big, big improvement, day over day.” Julia progressed quickly, she set her sights on the Olympic games, and four years later she was representing Canada at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
After the Olympics, Julia decided to hang up her paddle, get married and start a family. She shifted her career focus and began to pursue a career in graphic design which led her into the world of tech startups.
Julia’s latest venture is as co-founder and CMO of Squiggle Park which aims to improve literacy rates for children worldwide. “My business partner Leah and I had worked in technology for quite a while, and we were getting more and more into gamification, and understanding how to motivate people to do things through games. We both had experiences in our lives where, people had struggled with literacy. We had an opportunity to work with a research team, to build out a reading skills methodology that would really accelerate the master. It was really about understanding early literacy, how to build a curriculum that kids could really master and grow confidence, and then wrapping it in a game that would just be so much fun and easy to play; because we’re talking about the youngest, little learners, preschool kids. So, it had to be something that they could play independently and easily.”
In October 2016, Squiggle Park released a pilot to teachers and now is used in over 6,000 schools around the world. “I’m so proud of the brand, the content, and just the success of the program itself. We’re used, now, in the U.S. and Canada, but also in Mexico, China, Oman, Germany. That to me, is really exciting, to start to see people around the world, benefit from what we’ve built.”
Reflecting on her life, Julia credits her success to focus, intensity, hard work and an unwillingness to give up. “I’ve learned that building business, is harder than going to the Olympics. I think that the persistence is so key, the idea that you just can’t give up, because you never know what’s around the corner. It’s about pushing yourself beyond where you think you can go.”
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