Sunny Washington is the CEO of Because Learning, a Salt Lake City based EdTech company that provides a program for schools to engage students in STEM. Because Learning provides schools a complete STEM solution that includes hands-on tools, curriculum, and professional development so any students can run their own experiments right in the classroom or in space though a satellite partner.
Sunny has spent over 15 years at EdTech companies. She was an early employee at Instructure and Certiport. She’s passionate about education and wants to make sure that all teachers and students have access to tools that can provide a more positive education experience.
Tell us about Because Learning and when did you launch the business?
Because Learning started in 2014. I had just left Instructure after being there for 4 years and I was looking for a new opportunity to work at another startup. I was introduced to this exciting space satellite company out in SF that wanted to partner and launch a STEM education program that would also use their satellites. The opportunity sounded so interesting and I was definitely excited to provide this experience to schools. We've since added more general STEM programs in addition to space experiments for schools.
What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur/business owner and
what is the worst?
I love the ability to innovate and some of my most favorite moments have been when the team rallies to build and release something new to our customers even when it's long hours and hard work. My least favorite is some of the responsibilities that come along with running a business. You end up doing boring paperwork, raising money, people problems and a lot of that falls on the CEO's shoulders.
Tell us about the Hey Melinda project you're working on along with us, W Collective, Braid Workshop, Beta Boon, Womenpreneurs and Sorenson
Melinda Gates announced that she is looking to fund three cities to make an impact on equality for women. When I saw this, I immediately contacted Kimmy Paluch with BetaBoom and told her we should do something. She was already in touch with the other groups so we organized some activities around this to get on Melinda's radar. Salt Lake City (SLC) is the perfect city to invest in for women's equality. We have a lot of work to do to get from the bottom ranks, but we have extremely powerful groups that want to make a difference. It's been a highlight for me to work with these organizations and bring in other groups like the SLC Mayor, Erin Mendenhall's office. We're all on the same page, SLC needs to be one of those three cities!
Why do you think Utah ranks so low for women in so many different areas and what changes do you think need to happen?
Frankly, I think we as a state should be embarrassed at being in the bottom 10 for equality. We talk about how wonderful the state is for the tech community, but in a lot of ways it's great if you are white, straight, and male. Fortunately, we have an abundance of phenomenal women, people of color, and LGBTQ groups here that are actively working on this. We need our state leadership and tech leaders to step up, lead, and take meaningful action rather than just talking about how it's important. I'm so over just talking about it.
Do you prefer summer or winter in Salt Lake City and what are your favorite things to do?
I love the warmer months here. My favorite thing to do is have friends over for a BBQ and hang out by the pool.
What is it that you most dislike?
I dislike it when people are fake and aren't real. The "everything is awesome and I think everyone is great" conversations are exhausting for me to engage in. I appreciate authenticity even when it doesn't present you in the best light.
What is your greatest regret?
I wish I would have made some hard decisions sooner than later when building my company. Is it my greatest regret? Probably not yet...
How would you like to die?
I guess I would like to die in such a way that the impact on my family would be minimal, whatever way that is.
What is your motto?
Failure is not the end.
How are you managing during this time, what changes have you made to make sure your business is set up to function during this new normal?
Overall I'm holding up well under the circumstances that we're all going through. I recognize that my situation of being with people that I love and get along with, living in a place where we have room to have our own space, being able to have food to eat, pay our bills, and have high-speed internet is a privilege. I have my health and my family is doing well so I can't complain. I know many people don't have this luxury.