When Jacquelyn Davis’ son was having a hard time meeting his reading goals during pandemic lockdowns, she began crafting games and other activities to strengthen those skills. To her delight, her games worked, and her son began to excel at reading – so much, in fact, that his teacher asked her to share them with other students. Davis was thrilled to see one of her creations, Kangaroo Cravings, assisting other children with improving as readers – and decided to further its reach. Today, she runs Clever Noodle, a company that creates engaging learn-to-read games that help children with learning differences thrive – and help educators, parents and caretakers share the joy of reading.
Editor’s Note: Clever Noodle has been named to The Story Exchange’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
We fill a gap in the market that I discovered when I was trying to support my own child, who has dyslexia. I could not find games that were based in the science of reading – and that were also fun.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
We have won awards and recognition for our games. We were also featured on “Good Morning America,” in a segment shedding light on America’s early literacy crisis. But the greatest success to date remains the moment when I saw our unique approach click with my son, Madden, and then with his entire class. That was, far and away, the most rewarding part of this work – as is knowing we can do the same for so many other children.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
When I launched during the pandemic, the supply chain was wrecked – shipping costs were through the roof, and manufacturing was prohibitively expensive. We did have to pause at one point, just to give the situation time to level out. I continued to look for a more affordable manufacturer, ultimately making dozens of calls and conducting hours of research. Finally, a large toy company offered to help, and connected us with a new manufacturer so we could move forward. Thanks to that connection, our first game is now in over 7,000 homes and classrooms – and counting!
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
When I couldn’t find anything to address my child’s reading struggles, I wasn’t planning on starting a business to solve the problem. But as the old saying goes: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In retrospect, only the power of a personal situation – of a parent trying to help a child – would be enough to have me launch a product during a pandemic!
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself, and be bold. You cannot get a “yes” if you don’t ask the question.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
My work is directly tied to the progress and well-being of today’s children. On the toughest days, I recall the faces of kids having their “a-ha” moment with reading, as well as the gratitude of the parents, grandparents and teachers who are dedicated to them. And of course, seeing the incredible progress my own child has made, as he pulled himself out of a significant reading deficit to become a confident, competent learner.
What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days?
“Roar” by Katy Perry or “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys.
Who is your most important role model?
My father, who made problem-solving part of my DNA. He didn’t accept complaining about problems. He always asked, “What are you going to do to fix them?” Also, I am increasingly inspired by businesswoman Rosalind Brewer. As a daughter of assembly line workers and the first-ever woman CEO of Walgreens, I am impressed by her rise to leadership, without the privilege of social capital and family resources to assist her. And finally, I am guided daily by activist Margaret Mead – especially when she says: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ◼