It was the 1970s and at Shawnee Mission South High School, Chris Becicka was teaching English while down the hall her friend Linda Segebrecht taught biology.
Twenty-five years later, and a few jobs in between, Becicka and Segebrecht started Project Explore, an Overland Park company that educates thousands of people through special projects.
“We create experiences for anyone who’s looking for a creative or unusual way to share information to whatever audiences they are trying to reach,” said Becicka, explaining what Project Explore does. “It’s making that knowledge real and meaningful.”
Project Explore’s clients include museums, zoos, universities and other organizations that want to reach their audiences – whether students, adults or both – in a way that will keep them coming back time and again. Its diverse client list includes the Eisenhower Presidential Library, the Big Well Museum in Greensburg, Kan., Drury University, Cerner Corp. and the Kansas City Zoo.
Segebrecht said they used the acronym DREAM to develop every project: dream, real, experience, awareness and memorable.
“It’s not only developing experiences but making what standards our clients want to meet,” Segebrecht said. “Our first process is writing a proposal for a project — what the deliverables are, costs, etc. We look at the project in its entirety and make a chart of where our natural strengths are.”
Some projects take weeks, others months, depending on their complexity, but it is a thorough process. Working with such diverse clients has Becicka and Segebrecht learning about areas that are new to them, as well.
“It doesn’t just require good management, but our business requires a good investment of study on our part,” Segebrecht said. “One thing we’ve had to do is keep current about what’s going on in the education field.”
On the current Kansas City Zoo project, the women have learned all kinds of information about turtles and polar bears in developing a curriculum that’s appropriate for second-graders.
While the fruit of their labors is often public, the partners tend to work behind the scenes for their clients.
“We want it that way,” Segebrecht said. “When we walk away from a project they own it.”
For about five years, Project Explore operated as a not-for-profit. Becicka and Segebrecht did all the work themselves.
“We became a non-profit because the first people we worked with said, ‘We can only work with not-for-profit organizations,” Becicka said. “So we got the ‘Non-profit for Dummies’ book, filled out the forms, and three months later we were a non-profit.”
Segebrecht said, “It made sense at the time because our mission was so educational.”
However, in 2006, Project Explore reincorporated as a for-profit entity.
Q: Why did you change from a not-for-profit to a for-profit business ?
“We started getting clients who were not in the non-profit realm because we were really good at projects outside of that,” Segebrecht said. “As a for-profit organization it would be advantageous to get the designation of a woman-based enterprise.… Often when a company or government entities go for certain projects they need to include a certain percentage from disadvantaged businesses.”
Becicka said: “It made us more employable.”
Switching from non-profit to profit was an easy process, the women said.
“It was paperwork and we went through certain steps,” Becicka said. “It was actually easier because we had gone through the non-profit process.”
Q: As partners, what kind of agreement did you put together ?
“We shook hands,” said Becicka, but there is no formal legal agreement between them.
“Whatever walks through the door we split,” Segebrecht said.
“We split the duties and split the work, and we step in when one of the other needs it,” Becicka said. “We’ve made a conscious decision not to add staff. We didn’t want employees … we contract out occasionally. We work our buns off.”
Each brings strengths, and they work well together.
“We have our own expertise and combined expertise,” Becicka said. “There are times I’ll meet with a client or she’ll meet with a client, and times when we meet together.”
“What’s been great is we can build on our strengths,” Segebrecht said.
It’s those strengths and connections the two have made that have brought clients to Project Explore.
“We’ve done no marketing, which is not something I would advise another small company to depend on,” Becicka said.
“We’ve been so fortunate. I find it stunning,” Segebrecht said.
Q: How has the economy affected your work?
Project Explore felt little impact from the recession, its owners said.
“We’ve had maybe three months that have been slow,” said Segebrecht. “We’ve been lucky. It’s been steady, and we’re willing to work more than the standard 40 (hours).”
“We are willing to reach out in an area we don’t know much about, and that’s important for any business owner,” Becicka said.
Q: What is your growth strategy for the future?
“I don’t think we are really trying to grow the business,” Segebrecht said. “We realize at some time the business will end and will close. We create experiences, so I’m not sure we’re a sellable product. We’re comfortable where we are now.”
And the partners are enjoying the ride.
“I didn’t know this would be so much fun,” Becicka said. “We have a good time.”