Alex Ellison: Mover, Shaker, Queen of Little Earthquakes. Founder of Dunce Labs.

People become entrepreneurs to create the world they think we should be living in. In an existence that might seem to be without purpose, they are active participants in creating meaning for themselves and others. Entrepreneurship is about making a difference. Positive change? Coming right up!

With a definition like this, the number of entrepreneurs in your life is more than just the folks bootstrapping and hustling funding for their next big idea. I bet you have an Inner Mover and Shaker. I bet the earth trembles with little earthquakes when you step into your truth, especially when everyone else thinks you’re crazy.

The very embodiment of an entrepreneur inspiring positive change is Alex Ellison, the Queen of Little Earthquakes. Alex created Dunce Labs for the sole purpose of creating meaning in the lives of those she serves: high school students. During the pivotal time of life where young people are seeking the roots of their authenticity, Alex and Dunce Labs are shining light everywhere to help them find it and own their future.

Taking inspiration from Jimmy Page and the creation of Led Zeppelin, Alex and Dunce Labs know your brilliance and believe in you. Ready to hear about a revolution wrought with love? Rock on.

Alex’s Journey to Dunce Labs.

I remember in high school feeling extremely bored and restless. I wanted something new and fast! When I'd go to the counseling office to get ideas about doing something different, like study abroad or far-away colleges, I got some blank stares and brochures to local colleges. I was getting guidance for the herd. And this was really to no fault of my counselors - they are over-worked, with huge student case loads. I guess this continued to bother me throughout college, as I continued to lack a true sense of self and continued to distrust bland, overused advice. I wanted different. As this frustration continued to brew, I took a course my senior year of college called The History of the University. We explore the beginnings of the American university system and also looked at European models of education. The class culminated in a tri-national conference, where the students had lively discussions about the future of the University.

My path was becoming more clear.

Over the next 5 years, I would teach at the college and high school levels, work for an education consulting company, and finally, start Dunce Labs as an answer to what I thought was missing and what I thought was needed. Dunce Labs is a sort of respite for teens who are craving newness, excitement and something a little unconventional in their lives. We help them navigate high school and the college admissions process with a little more energy and passion. We give them the tools and resources to blaze their own trails, to engage outside of the classroom and to take ownership of their education, and ultimately, their lives.

Yes, we help students through the nitty gritty of college admissions, but in the end, we are really helping them see a bigger picture and get to know their brilliant selves a little better!

You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.
— Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon

what and who inspires you? why?

Students inspire me to keep going. Especially the student who has little confidence and a dim view of the future. I really feel like I can open a big door for these students and that keeps me going when times get tough. When students tell me what they have to go through at their schools, I am fired up to keep pressing forward. It's like I need these little encounters to keep the moss from growing under my feet!

when have you felt the most brave?

I may have been scared sh*tless at the time, but looking back, I think it was pretty brave to quit my job with a two-month old baby and go off on my own to start Dunce Labs. My parents thought it was crazy, people thought the business name was unprofessional and my old boss was threatening to sue me. I remember thinking, "You have to do this now. You don't have any other option. Just focus on this." And so I put all my energy into plan A, with no real plan B in sight.

how has community contributed to your success? how do you nurture a sense of community in your life?

I'm not sure I would have been able to start Dunce Labs and have the same level of success in any other community besides Reno. This community has nurtured my growth and has enabled me to take this leap, while not starving my family. This community was right for me, [but] maybe not for everyone. I think it helps to start a business in a community where you have human capital, the support of family and friends, low cost of living, high standard of living and some familiarity.

how do you incorporate playfulness in your life?

I'm not sure how much I actually play. It's something I actually have to work on. But I'm starting by just trying to get my mind to be more "playful". I'm trying to not blow things out of proportion, not to be too hard on myself and to keep a sense of humor. Once the sense of humor is gone, everything else is sure to fall short.

what does #climbyourownladder mean to you?

#ClimbYourOwnLadder reminds me a lot of what we tell our students. You don't have to fit into someone else's version of success. You don't have to jump over all of the hurdles that you think you're "supposed" to jump over. Do your own personal best. Beat your own time. Compare yourself to no one. Standardization is a huge problem in education. We hold everyone to the same standard and expect everyone to climb the same ladder. As Einstein put it, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

The dunce cap is typically doled out by people who don’t have a stake in the game and just want to break others down. It usually comes when you have a real passion towards something. Your job isn’t to join that group, but to silence it, to accomplish things so great and unimaginable that its members are too awed to speak.
— Alex Ellison, founder of Dunce Labs (duncecp.com)