Innovator Profile: Clayton Custer and Taylor Waddell

Since 2020, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has irreversibly altered the world and its relationship with technology. Clayton Custer and Taylor Waddell were students at UW–Madison adapting to distance learning during quarantine. As young innovators navigating the new inextricable fusion of technology and education, the pair conceptualized a way for teachers to use the advancements made in technology that would live on past the end of the pandemic. Their goal was to make learning more engaging, accessible, and reliable enough to withstand even a global pandemic. This innovation is called EduReality.

With the guidance of D2P mentor Aimee Arnoldussen, Clayton and Taylor commercialized their product for the use of teachers in classrooms for STEAM education and technical training. “The team’s commitment to iteration, adaptation, and listening to the voice of the customer has laid a solid foundation for growth and excellence,” says Arnoldussen. EduReality now offers immersive virtual reality simulations that allow students to learn industry skills through risk-free trial and error and to explore environments that would otherwise be inaccessible. They have developed experiential learning tools across a diverse list of STEAM subjects and hope to continue adopting their XR technology into classrooms. EduReality aims to ensure that every student gets the experiences and information they need to be successful.

Clayton Custer (left) demonstrating EduReality’s VR simulation

We asked Clayton to share his insights on launching a company as a student and his thoughts on the role of technology in education:

Where did the idea for your company come from initially?

We started EduReality as students during the distance learning phase of the covid-19 pandemic. Taylor and I are both very hands-on learners, so losing the lab component of many of our courses was frustrating. We converted our shared dining room into a workshop and experimented with using VR to recreate our class activities.

How has D2P helped you, and what have you learned along the way?

D2P was incredible in teaching us how to be more business savvy by ironing out our messaging. As a developer, it’s easy to ramble on about a product you’re passionate about, but crafting a direct, concise message explaining what we do and our goals has served us well. The D2P network has also connected us with other founders at our stage and allowed us to learn from common mistakes before making them.

What other entrepreneurial resources/programs have provided guidance to you?

Madison’s startup ecosystem is expansive and amazingly supportive. Top of mind are:
Gener8tor – specifically gBeta, Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic, Capital Entrepreneurs, StartingBlock, Transcend Business Plan Competition, CS Nest, Madworks, Merlin Mentors, Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, Pressure Chamber Competition, and the Center for Technology Commercialization

What’s your current focus with the company?

Currently, we are working on testing and deploying a new platform, CareerDay VR. CareerDay contains bite-sized VR job shadowing experiences in STEAM fields and skilled trades.

What are your hopes for the company moving forward?

We want to continue driving the adoption of XR technology in learning environments and to build an ecosystem of STEAM educators that use the full potential of technology to stay on the cutting edge of innovation and information.

What drives you/why is this project important to you personally?

EduReality co-founder Taylor Waddell

We started this project by solving our problems within the learning experience we got. I often say that we’re building the learning tools we wish we had. Taylor and I were obsessed with science kits and DIY projects as kids, finding ways to use what we learned in school to understand the world and how it works. We both grew up watching Bill Nye and the Mythbusters perform more larger-than-life experiments on TV and demonstrate scientific concepts with incredible ingenuity. VR technology has expanded the possibilities for scientific learning. In hindsight, it seems almost inevitable that we would try to use it to get closer to those crazy scientific discoveries and communication experiences.

What advice would you give to other campus innovators that are just starting out with exploring the potential for their ideas?

Build a network early and use it often. So many incredible resources are available to student founders, and a vast majority of people are more than happy to help you out if you’re passionate and ask nicely. A close second would be that building a new idea is a marathon, not a sprint. I wish there was a movie montage moment where we stayed up all night working, caught a huge break, and rocketed to the stratosphere. Still, it’s been a bumpy road filled with rejection and persistence punctuated by occasional success. It’s been three years, and we’re just starting.

A student using EduReality’s VR simulation
Read more innovator profiles from D2P