Dr. Amanda Thompson is the CEO of Explore Interactive, a game platform that teaches STEM concepts through fun and engaging augmented reality adventures, and a professor of Finance, previously served as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Foundry. Her academic experience spans from venture capital to corporate valuation and from financial policy to capital budgeting in faculty, alumni, undergraduate, MBA, online and executive courses at Purdue and UNC-Chapel Hill. As an entrepreneur, she has overseen and managed projects with millions of dollars in funding and grant awards in bio tech and ed tech companies since earning her MBA and PhD in finance from Purdue University.
Do you procrastinate?
I don’t think I generally procrastinate. I think back to the bigger projects that I’ve done and usually what I try to do is break it into pieces and then schedule the pieces over time, building in flex time as a reward to myself if I stay on schedule or to keep on schedule if I’ve gotten behind. That’s what I do for bigger projects. I always have a lot of balls in the air so procrastinating just adds stress. Also I don’t think the project quality would be as good if I procrastinate. I might procrastinate to my mini deadlines before the final deadline but typically by the final deadline I have all my ducks in a row and feel pretty good about it.
Did anything in your undergraduate time lead you to your current path? Did you have a professor, internship, research project that led you to what you are doing now?
So my undergraduate wasn’t at Purdue. I was an industrial engineer and a business minor. The intersection between business and STEM is really exciting and I still work on that so that would be something that’s come through. I’m working also with the I-Corps program which is a program that commercializes technology, so it’s a program that’s at the intersection between STEM careers and business careers.
I would say I knew almost nothing about entrepreneurship in undergraduate, and even during my MBA still had what’s a typical mystique feeling about entrepreneurship: oh that must not be for me, that seems too ambiguous, too…something. And actually that’s one of the issues we’re trying to address with Purdue. Breaking through and getting it into the consideration set for students is a big issue. And then I guess you could say with an engineering degree, I wouldn’t have chosen that either if someone wouldn’t have pushed me to do it – I didn’t really know what it was. So that drives my interest in getting STEM in front of kids early so they can start thinking about it – again, get it in their consideration set so they have those very exciting careers in mind.
So for me, I wasn’t thinking this direction at all. I guess though what is a recurring theme all along is I’ve always been a teacher. My job in high school was as a piano teacher, so education has been a consistent thing that I’ve enjoyed.
What’s the biggest or scariest risk you’ve ever taken? How did you work up the nerve?
The company that I do now would definitely fall in that. There’s a reputational element to the risk and then there’s your own capital, your own financing, my own money that I’ve put in the company, plus just a lot of effort that could have been time spent on a compensated project instead of a startup.
Going in, it wasn’t as risky as others because I did have teaching as a backup. I kind of think of it like aspiring actors and actresses are waiting tables at night while they’re trying to do acting during the day – I’m teaching MBA classes by night while I’m trying to be an entrepreneur by day. I actually think the entrepreneurship improves my teaching. And the students really like the practical experience. I teach a very difficult subject, like everyone will say ‘oh my gosh it’s the hardest one,’ but despite that I typically fare pretty well with them in terms of their experience in the course.
How do you decompress after a long day?
I have a very nontraditional work schedule. I do intentionally carve out a lot of time to be a parent. I spend time with my kids mostly, in my spare time.
If I was talking about my own individual stuff, one of the things that I do that I feel takes your mind completely off of everything is go to the rock wall at the CoRec. Your mind doesn’t allow you to think about work when it thinks it just might die if you don’t pay attention- which you won’t, it’s perfectly safe but you have to focus on what you’re doing on the rock wall.
Who is a person in your field or history who you feel is unknown and more people should know about?
Oh this is so easy, I’ve been thinking about this a lot!. I’ve been working on some opportunities with a Purdue Alum, named Julie Wainwright who is quite famous. She was the CEO of Pets.com, which failed very publicly and very loudly – there were a lot of factors but she happened to be the one that was at the helm. And now she is the CEO of a company called TheRealReal which just had a very successful IPO and she’s just awesome and in the Purdue sphere, everyone should know about her because she’s amazing. She’s picked up the pieces – a total story of losing everything and still putting it back together and coming back and doing something amazing.
If you could snap your fingers and eliminate one problem or barrier in your field, what would it be?
What drives me crazy is inequity in education for kids. I mean, if you look even in Indianapolis you’ll find the schools that have leaky pipes, no supplies and materials, poorly paid teachers – and then drive 10 miles and you get to schools that literally have planetariums.
How can we say credibly or with a straight face say that this is a land of equal opportunity when some kids, when it comes to the quality of their education, which is critical to where they’ll be at the end of life, is so drastically different?