Sometimes you meet an individual, hear their life story, and can’t help but think, “That’s the kind of story you only read about in books or see in movies.” At least, that is how it is when you meet and hear from founder of ConnectEDU and former CEO of Motus, Inc., Craig Powell ’96.
Joking that he grew up in a “cornfield in Maryville, Missouri,” Mr. Powell went on to attend one of the most prestigious Ivy League schools, Brown University, after a shoulder injury forced him to forgo his commitment to the United States Military Academy (West Point).
Blair Academy is most excited to welcome back their once-postgraduate to speak at his first Society of Skeptics on Tuesday, February 28, where he’ll talk about his unique life story and how he managed to turn the circumstances he was given into successes as opposed to setbacks.
Mr. Powell’s story is something of an anomaly. By the time he reached eighth grade, Mr. Powell had served as head of his hometown’s 1991 middle school student council, shaken hands with the Missouri governor and won his school national recognition from President George W. Bush. Then, in high school, Mr. Powell was the only ninth grader to qualify for speech-and-debate nationals—something he did all four years of high school. He was also elected class president for all four years and ranked as one of the best wrestlers in the country. Specifically, he amassed a record sixty-three wins and zero losses in Missouri Class 1A wrestling, taking home the state championship title two years in a row in 1994 and 1995. By the end of that year, seven college wrestling coaches had offered the stellar student-athlete full-ride scholarships to their universities.
But if he had already gone to high school, then what about Blair? Mr. Powell joined Blair Academy as a postgraduate in 1995 in order to receive a West Point foundation scholarship that would help the young student pay for college while providing a balance to his interests in leadership and academic curiosities that extended beyond the wrestling mat.
“You think about these people in your lives who completely changed your trajectory. For me, many of those folks were former Blair wrestling coaches directly or indirectly associated with the School,” said Mr. Powell.
Their advocacy led to the opportunity to attend Blair for one year. That year was all it took for Mr. Powell to not only fall in love with the School, but also for the School to have taken a liking to the gregarious, 189-pound star wrestler.
Fast-forward to the following year, and a shoulder injury forced Mr. Powell to forgo his plans to attend West Point and accept an opportunity to study at Brown University; a school he had never heard of until his life experiences brought him to Blair. From there, he went on to a short stint on Wall Street before founding ConnectEDU at age 22. He subsequently built and scaled Motus - which he sold in December 2021 for $1.5B, from $12M of value when he joined. Mr. Powell is now investing in companies, running a youth development program named "Show-MeAcademy" as well as starting his next new thing.
When looking back on his career and explaining how his life unfolded, the advice that comes to Mr. Powell's mind is, “I get told thousands of times all the reasons why my entrepreneurial projects won’t work. And, these objective observers are often correct. You can’t be singularly objective and be a visionary or entrepreneur...you have to be kind of crazy to start some of the things I have. But, when everyone else tells you why you can’t or why it won’t work, I always think to myself, ‘I have to find the one reason that it will. Today, that’s a formula for me.’”
Additionally, he says that much of his successes are thanks to the people he’s met at various stages in life, including Blair. “Thanks to Blair Academy, I’ve developed a good sense of listening to people and understanding individuals’ motives and how to connect to them. Blair was the first institution in my life that simply asked me - what do you want to achieve and how do we help you get there? It’s a special place because of all the dedicated and special people committed to Blair and its students.”
All are welcome to hear Mr. Powell speak in the forum of the Chiang-Elghanayan Center next Tuesday at 7 p.m.
History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.