Basil Kuloba, the founder of local Pensacola startup INERTIA Education Services, has ignited a passion for science in hundreds of Pensacola-area students. He explains in a Q&A how entrepreneurship in education is fueling his company’s drive to provide better education to all.
Basil Kuloba is no stranger to change. Nor does the 24-year-old founder of a successful Pensacola-based startup non-profit shy away from challenges. Immigrating from Kenya as a young child, he didn’t really consider becoming an entrepreneur of an education-based startup as his likely career path, especially one focused on mathematics or science.
“As a child, I was really bad at math, like really bad,” Basil states, describing his own education growing up as a student in Pensacola. “After having teachers who presented math and science to me in fun ways, I became much better at it. Consequently, as the time came for me to decide on a major in college, I decided that I wanted to become a scientist because I thought it was fun.”
It’s from that personal investment by his teachers that he charted on a path to launch his career in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education. In 2017, while attending the University of West Florida, Basil and two classmates together conceived the idea to bring science and math education to local elementary school students in a way that would be fun and engaging.
“Our primary mission is to elevate our community through education, especially through high-impact, experiential learning activities,” said Basil, who serves as the co-founder and executive director of INERTIA Education Services, which is based in downtown Pensacola.
Basil and INTERTIA aim to accomplish this goal of elevating local STEM education by offering and managing after-school programming for students in grades 3-5 at Oakcrest, Ensley, and West Pensacola elementary schools in Escambia County. Basil describes the programs as being free and open for students to attend and that they have proven effective at raising standardized testing scores — 33% higher compared to peers in Florida, Basil says.
“It’s my goal to ensure that every child, regardless of their identity, race, gender, home life, or zip code, are given the opportunity to reach their full potential,” says Basil. “To date, we have made an impact in the lives of more than 600 students and we hope to reach all of Escambia County.”
Since INERTIA began in 2018, they have been recognized with numerous accolades and in the summer of 2020, they were awarded a grant from Pensacola-based philanthropic non-profit Sunday’s Child to expand outreach programming to five new schools throughout Pensacola.
As director of INERTIA, Basil has his hands full building a startup organization and credits much of his early success to the positive influences he’s found in Pensacola. He describes his blessing of being able to live and work in a place full of professional mentors, friendly and supportive neighbors, and being surrounded by the beauty of Pensacola’s local culture, geography, and natural resources.
We had the opportunity to talk with Basil about why he chooses to call Pensacola home and what makes it such a special place to live and begin an entrepreneurial career.
Having not grown up in Pensacola, what brought you here?
I was born in Kenya, but I spent almost all of my childhood here in Pensacola. My family was able to immigrate to the States through the H1-B visa program, and we’ve been able to contribute to this country because of it.
What do you think makes Pensacola so special?
Pensacola has been able to grow while remaining a close-knit community that supports each other. I think it would be difficult to find another metro area our size that is still as connected as Pensacola is.
Briefly tell us about your not-for-profit, INERTIA. What inspired it?
My cofounders and I started INERTIA because we wanted to help students an opportunity to fall in love with science as we did when we were kids. It’s a lot easier to enjoy science when you get your hands on a project to build, mix, and have fun with. We’ve been doing this for 3.5 years now and love the impact we’ve been able to have.
What kind of impact has your work had in Pensacola?
I believe we’ve helped inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers who will go on to use their gifts to improve their communities. Small actions today make powerful changes down the road and I believe our company has done that.
If I said “Pensacola, Florida” to you, what are the first free-associative words that come to mind?
Southern and filled with potential.
What is the best-kept secret or hidden gem of Pensacola?
The house ramen at Khon’s on Palafox, with an extra side of chili sauce.
What are you reading?
I just finished Elon Musk’s biography by Ashlee Vance. I enjoy reading a lot, especially other people’s life stories.
What are you watching right now in your slivers of free time?
I’ve been watching Halt & Catch Fire on Netflix and also some newer anime shows here and there.
What would you say to a young person who grew up here but moved away and wanted to return to Pensacola?
The city is likely very different from the one you left in a great way. They can bring their blend of knowing Pensacola’s past and their outside perspective to make it even better
In the midst of the global public health crisis and recovery from Hurricane Sally, what keeps you resilient and going amid challenges that you may be confronted with?
Between my roles in INERTIA and at Studer Education, I’ve found that people are in need of our services now more than ever. I’ve been able to connect to my ‘why’ in a much deeper way and that keeps me resilient amid the challenges we’re facing today.
Who are some of your influences (local or global)?
First, my parents. They are the perfect examples of balancing work, play, and taking care of their community. Locally, Dr. Ken Ford with IHMC has impacted me in great ways as a mentor on my journey. I also admire how he’s built a nonprofit organization in Pensacola that has a global presence. Globally, I grew up a Kobe Bryant fan and I still have the highest respect for him and the impact he had on basketball and the world.
What’s next for you in 2021? Any personal or professional goals or aspirations?
My goal for 2021 is a continuation of my goal for 2020 which is to become the healthiest I’ve ever been physically, spiritually, and mentally. It’ll probably be that for quite some time.