In most cases, becoming an entrepreneur is like becoming a parent. No one prepares you for it. And while Rudy Gonzales didn’t get a manual when his two daughters were born, he was able to get support and guidance when he launched his new business that was inspired by his children -- Build-It Workshops. His creative kid studio is the latest Kimco KEYS tenant to open its doors.

Rudy held his grand opening on Feb. 22 at Kimco’s North County Plaza in Carlsbad, Calif., welcoming children ages three to 12 and their parents into what he calls “a mix of mom’s crafting table, dad’s garage workbench, and a university robot lab.” Here’s some video footage of the festivities.

Kimco helped Rudy find the location for his business, guided him through the entire leasing process, is giving him free rent for his first year, and is providing other business assistance as part of the KEYS program. For Rudy, it’s been a rewarding journey filled with challenges and triumphs, all beginning about two years ago …

Laying the foundation

Rudy has a 12-year background as a biotech scientist. He and wife Aya, also a scientist, have raised their three- and four-year-old daughters to learn through playing, focusing on activities that build creativity and critical thinking skills, and that incorporate math and physics concepts.

But 2011 brought hardship to the Gonzales family when Rudy was laid off twice. The stay-at-home dad knew he wanted to start his own business, but wasn’t sure what it would be. Then one day at the Children’s Museum, Rudy was sitting next to another father at a table full of wood blocks, building towers. The next thing Rudy knew, he was engaged in an all-out building contest for an audience of cheering kids.

Rudy doesn’t remember who won, but he does remember realizing, “What if I filled an entire room with fun and interesting blocks?” With that, Rudy had landed on his business concept -- an interactive place where kids could engage in hands-on activities with their parents and learn how to be independent, creative, and innovative. It was the perfect combination of science, learning, and fun.

Block by block

Rudy developed his business plan and began working with Robert Lopez, Director of Lending for Accion San Diego, to secure a small business loan. Accion San Diego is a non-profit organization that helps low-to-moderate income business owners gain the credit they need to start their businesses.

Over the course of the loan process, Robert heard about the Kimco KEYS program, and told Rudy that he thought it would be a perfect opportunity to help him get Build-It Workshops off the ground. Rudy was immediately impressed by the opportunity to have free rent his first year, and inquired about our program. After determining Rudy would be a good KEYS candidate, we began the process of helping Rudy launch his business.

ACCESS GRANTED: Rudy signs his lease as our newest KEYS tenant

ACCESS GRANTED: Rudy signs his lease as our newest KEYS tenant

This included finding an ideal location for Build-It Workshops in a Kimco center, guiding him through leasing, supporting build-out (Rudy created a cool time-lapse video showing build-out), providing marketing assistance, helping develop and coordinate grand opening plans, and supplying other business assistance. Rudy told us he has especially liked how the KEYS program has been smooth and lightweight, and has given him the opportunity to test his business with much less risk compared to typical startup launches.

Newly minted

Build-It Workshops is now a reality. Rudy has created an interactive "open play" environment where kids and parents can construct DIY projects together. The center is chock full of toys, safe building materials, and blocks sourced from around the world, letting kids build anything they can imagine. Rudy videoed one child making a robot that you can watch.

MAKING THEIR MARK: The Gonzales family creates a new outlet for creativity and learning

MAKING THEIR MARK: The Gonzales family creates a new outlet for creativity and learning

Activities challenge children to learn by doing, inspiring the development of problem-solving skills; helping them understand form and function; and letting them discover connections between art, mathematics, and design. Carrie Gugger, a former candidate on NBC’s “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” posted a video review on Facebook of her children taking part in some of these activities at Build-It Workshops.

Build-It Workshops is also already gaining attention from the media. Make magazine named Build-It Workshops a “Makerspace,” which is a community workshop for creativity and innovation. CarlsbadPatch visited Build-It Workshops recently, and featured Rudy’s story as well as video footage of children playing and interviews with parents at the new studio.

Building bridges

Build-It Workshops takes direct aim at an important issue in American education -- that many students are lagging behind their foreign peers academically. American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading on international exams in 2011. Students in Latvia, Chile, and Brazil are making academic gains three times faster than American students, according to a 2012 report by Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance.

And in California, just 10 percent of elementary school classrooms provide regular hands-on science experiments, according a 2011 report produced by The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd.

But Build-It Workshops is countering this by supporting STEM learning (science, technology, engineering, math), which has gained traction over the past several years as part of President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign. The kid studio has the tools, toys, and environment to help bridge the gap between what many children are learning in school, and what they need to be learning to build their STEM skills and sharpen America’s global competitive edge.

Sky high

Rudy is moving forward with his goals of bringing value and fulfillment to kids and parents, providing a wholesome family atmosphere, and inspiring kids to be makers of things instead of consumers of things. He believes that creativity is in every child, and that each one has the ability to create great things with the right tools and a nurturing environment.

We’re excited for Rudy, and he’s excited that he has created a place that lets children’s creative genius flourish. His only hope now is for the father that he competed against at the Children’s Museum to come to Build-It Workshops for a rematch!

CREATORS UNITE: Rudy with his family and friends

CREATORS UNITE: Rudy with his family and friends

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.