We love getting to know parents in our community. In our Home Work series, we ask moms and dads how they juggle their work while raising kids, hoping to get some insight on how to better balance our own work/playtime while being introduced to our neighbors and their cool businesses. Today Elyse Major interviewed Eric Bulmer. Meet the “Science Guy.” He is the Owner and Program Director of Pow!Science! a leading provider of Elementary Science enrichment programs in Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts with two locations that are part toy-store and part-workshop/party space.
Kidoinfo: What inspired you to start your business?
Eric Bulmer (EB): A couple of things. Although I loved classroom teaching, I was not enjoying the administrative aspects of the job and felt I was being held back. Teaching to a test has never been my style. Also, during my last year as a classroom teacher, I began performing science birthday parties and workshops for another company and saw the potential to take science “performance” a lot further. When Keith Michael Johnson, one of RI’s top enrichment performers, told me I “had the stuff” to go it on my own, I believed him.
Kidoinfo: How did you start your business?
EB: Well, opportunities with the company I was doing enrichment for came to an abrupt end with the untimely death of its then-owner. It was time to decide—scurry back to my comfort zone (the classroom) or give it a shot as a full time freelance Science Guy! I talked it over with my wife and we decided to give it a go. Most people that come to the toy stores don’t realize that Pow!Science! started out strictly as a birthday party venue and school program provider—the toys came much later.
Kidoinfo: How do you balance work and family?
EB: Admittedly not very well—I work far too much, and only take a few days off per year. Luckily, my business partner is my wife, and so we spend a lot of our day together. Working for ourselves also allows us to leave work to pick up our daughter and spend time with her after school and essentially whenever we want to—and she also attends many of our workshops!
Kidoinfo: Do you have any time-saving tricks that you could share?
EB: Plan ahead, and make lists. And plan ahead.
Kidoinfo: If you could give your past self (pre-kids or pre-business) any advice, what would it be?
EB: Not really … sometimes I wish I’d started Pow!Science! earlier in life, but then would things have turned out as they have? Who knows. Second guessing the past is dicey. Of course, “Plan ahead” would be good advice from past Eric to current Eric.
Kidoinfo: Where do you find inspiration?
EB: For work, I find inspiration from the toys and the way kids play with them. When I see a toy, the science applications and potential for use in a school or program ideas pop into my head almost right away and then playing with the kids helps me modify my ideas to make them even better. And although I’m often called “Mr. Wizard,” a more appropriate inspiration for me personally is Bill Nye.
Kidoinfo: What is the one kid or parent product that you could not live without?
EB: Eh, I don’t know. We do without a lot, so I’m pretty sure there’s nothing we couldn’t live without.
Kidoinfo: What is your favorite children’s book or music CD?
EB: My favorite children’s book is called I, Doko: The Tale of a Basket. “Doko” means “basket” in Nepali. Ed Young adapted and illustrated it, and it brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it. It’s an incredibly powerful story.
Kidoinfo: What do you do with your kids on a rainy day?
EB: Well, we have the resources of a very cool toy store at our disposal, so the options are fairly diverse. We do go to matinees sometimes though!
Kidoinfo: What is the last great non-kid book or film that you loved? What made it so great?
EB: Well, I really enjoyed World War Z recently. Thinly veiled, fairly scathing social commentary and satire with lots of Zombies. What could be better?
Kidoinfo: Do you have a guilty pleasure?
EB: I walk ALL around through Toys R Us a couple of times a year. The displays that they’re able to get from the Toy Companies are just so cool. That and whoopie pies are pretty much it.
Kidoinfo: If you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it?
EB: Work on getting my book of experiments for kids published.
Kidoinfo: Can you share a story or anecdote that is symbolic of your dual life as a business owner and parent?
EB: I over heard my daughter and some other kids talking about their parents once, in a restaurant. My daughter said “My dad is a scientist” and all the other kids said “Coooool!!” While not technically accurate (I’m not a “scientist” strictly speaking, but a “science guy”), it was still a pretty nifty moment.
Kidoinfo: How has the experience and on the job training of being a mom/dad prepared or changed you in business?
EB: I wasn’t a dad when I started Pow!Science! and parents would often ask me during parties and presentations if I had kids because I work well with them. I had a “canned” response that went something like, “I’ve got plenty to do working with other people’s kids for now!” Having a child of my own has put me even more in tune with my peeps, and I take a different tack with managing kids and groups of kids than I did in my early days as an Enrichment provider.
Kidoinfo: What is next for you and your business?
EB: We’re always coming up with new experiments and ideas for programs. This year was the first time we’ve been in a position to donate a program a month to Rhode Island schools and that’s something we’re hoping to expand and turn into a tradition. You can also look forward to a wider variety of physics and engineering based programs, hosted at Pow!Science rather than in the schools. The U.S. needs engineers and we’d like to keep helping kids build a solid foundation in math and the sciences. After all, they’ll be designing the cool stuff that will comfort us in our old age, right?