Ever wonder how a company got started? How did they settle on their products or services with so many possibilities? What inspired them along the way? I know I have.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Lawrence Wagner of Spark Mindset recently, and we dove into these very questions.

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A little bit about Lawrence –  he is a high-energy, enthusiastic go-getter who slows down for no one, while conveying an equal amount of gratitude and humility that are infectious to those around him. Anyone who knows Lawrence cannot help but praise him not only as a person, but also his initiatives to impact the underprivileged groups in Colorado.

Spark Mindset evolved with the goal to help end poverty and violence in low socioeconomic communities through initiatives that shrink the income inequality gap. With one in five people born into poverty, it is essential to break the cycle and equip individuals with the skills and opportunities they need to thrive. Lawrence recognizes the importance of empowering youth with confidence in their abilities and encourages them by showing them paths to follow to change the visions of their communities.

As the foundation for Spark Mindset was developing, Lawrence was sure he wanted to help under-privileged individuals. However, learning about the power of collective impact really pivoted his vision in profound ways. Collective social impact in a structured approach that pulls together all aspects of society – government, academia, nonprofits, business, philanthropy and citizens – to provide their strengths in an effort to achieve significant and sustainable change on a widespread scale. Lawrence saw the possibilities of collaboration with other organizations and businesses that focus on social impact and the great power of change that is capable. Out of these changes the Cyber Nefarian project was born – a virtual reality (VR) program that teaches high school students cybersecurity and coding in a fun, engaging way.

Lawrence admitted that while he came up with the initial idea of the Cyber Nefarian project, his team really helped him grow it into what it is today. His participation in an AF CyberWorx sprint had a sizable impact as well. Lawrence joined a design sprint that focused on creating a 21st Century Cyber Training Model, and this is where he was first introduced to the idea of using VR in a classroom setting. He was also a participant in the recent #AFCyberOutreach sprint, which created solutions for making cyber careers more enticing and engaging for middle and high school students.

Like many, Lawrence had heard of design thinking and knew the concepts involved, but he had never taken part in a design sprint. The power and influence of the design thinking sprint stuck with Lawrence, and he has incorporated it into his own business model for Spark Mindset. Beyond adopting design thinking, Lawrence said that the sprint really opened up doors in terms of networking with influential individuals who have come to be a part of his success.

The Air Force CyberWorx initiative is an Air Force program that works toward fostering innovation to develop solutions to support the Warfighter. CyberWorx tackles large Air Force challenges using the design thinking methodology. The core of design thinking principles lies in the end user experience – participants ideate all of the necessary pieces to create the best user experience for the problem set. By brining government and industry experts together to collaborate, the variety of experiences and knowledge lead to a comprehensive solution that pushes the bounds beyond what a uniform group is possible of and does so on a rapid timeline.

AF CyberWorx participants are asked to volunteer their time to the project they are involved in, which could be 3 days, 5 days, or even a university semester. Of course, my curiosity arose as to why Lawrence was always so eager about participating when his days are full of other opportunities. He told me, “We always equate time and money, but we never equate them to value and impact. What is the cost to a company if you continue to work as is, instead of gaining new skills to improve?”

Participating in CyberWorx sprints provides great value to Lawrence and Spark Mindset. They are worth the time spent engaging with both DoD and industry experts who carry a perspective vastly from his own. Design thinking, while fairly new, is a rapidly growing area, and participating in sprints positions those individuals and their organizations at the forefront of their respective industries.

Lawrence is working hard to build out the Cyber Nefarian project and has an immediate goal of making it free-standing and self-sufficient. He hopes to expand his VR offerings in the future and encompass other essential industries beyond cyber.