Friday, August 09, 2019

Nickelodeon USA to Premiere 'Middle School Moguls' in September 2019

Nickelodeon USA will start to premiere Middle School Moguls, a series of four brand-new CG-animated half-hour specials, in September 2019!


Middle School Moguls is inspired by the concept created by Gina and Jenae Heitkamp, who also serve as co-executive producers. The specials chronicle the ambitions of four new friends striving to create their own companies while attending Mogul Academy, an entrepreneurial school where kid-business dreams come true. They follow students Valeria (voiced by Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez), Winnie (Daniella Perkins, Knight Squad, Blurt!), Celeste (Jade Pettyjohn, School of Rock) and Yuna (Haley Tju, Bella & the Bulldogs), who are empowered by Mogul Academy to test their business creativity, innovation and grit, but being a kid boss comes with grown-up challenges so they’ll have to think outside of the box and “mogulize” if they want to make their big dreams a reality.

Additional voice cast includes Tim Gunn (Project Runway) as Wren, a non-binary teacher in the Mogul Academy Fashion Branch, and Jane Lynch (Glee, iCarly) as Victoria Steele, the Headmaster of Mogul Academy. Additional casting news to come.

Update (8/9) - To celebrate the all-new series, Just Jared Jr. has unveiled a super first-look at the show, which you can watch here on JustJaredJr.com!


“We’re thrilled to partner with Gina and Jenae Heitkamp to bring Middle School Moguls to life on screen and to showcase authentic stories that speak to today’s generation of ambitious kids,” said Chris Viscardi, who was Nickelodeon's Senior Vice President (SVP) of Animation Production and Development at the time of the announcement in September 2018. Chris (The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Sanjay and Craig, KaBlam!) has since moved into a producer role for the network, overseeing the creation of feature-length animated content for both Nickelodeon and third-party digital and linear platforms.

“Kids today are learning about entrepreneurial opportunities at a much younger age. They want to start their own business and make business playful and empowering. They believe nothing is unattainable. Middle School Moguls taps into this entrepreneurial movement – building businesses based on kids’ unique skills, boundless inventiveness and taking action to pursue their passions.”

Check out Gina and Jenae Heitkamp's awesome interview with Thrive Global, in which they announce the exciting news, below!:

Gina and Jenae Heitkamp of GenGirl Media: “With Middle School Moguls we started a movement to introduce the empowering idea of entrepreneurship and being your own boss to a younger generation.”

I think that idea for us is truly Middle School Moguls. It’s introducing the empowering idea of entrepreneurship and being your own boss to a younger generation. Whether that’s running and Etsy store or being the CEO and founder of a media company, it’s about creating your own reality. And one amazing thing about the next generation of business moguls is that they have a focus on giving back. It’s no longer just about profits, it’s also about changing the world for the better — and we focus on that in the show.


I had the pleasure to interview Gina and Jenae Heitkamp. Gina Heitkamp is the Chief Executive Officer and Jenae Heitkamp is the Chief Innovation Officer of GenGirl Media, Inc., an entertainment company that creates engaging television programming and captivating “Me Media” toys that focus on the fun and whimsy of childhood while keeping in mind today’s tech and media savvy kids. The Heitkamp entrepreneurs and sisters are Co-Creators and Executive Producers of “Middle School Moguls,” a new CG-animated series of television specials premiering on Nickelodeon in September 2019. The TV specials chronicle the ambitions of four new friends attending Mogul Academy, an entrepreneurial school where kid-business dreams come true. They follow students Valeria, voiced by Olympic gold medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez); Winnie, voiced by Daniella Perkins (“Knight Squad”); Celeste voiced by Jade Pettyjohn (“School of Rock”) and Yuna voiced by Haley Tju, (“Bella & the Bulldogs), who are empowered by Mogul Academy to test their business creativity, innovation and grit. Actress Jane Lynch (“Glee”) plays Victoria Steele, the Headmaster of Mogul Academy. Tim Gunn (Project Runway) as Wren, a non-binary teacher in the Mogul Academy Fashion Branch. “Middle School Moguls” was conceived a when Jenae was working as a school counselor in Los Angeles inner-city schools. Jenae decided that she wanted to make stories and toys with fun characters for young girls that also were inspirational. She pitched the idea to Gina, who was working on her master’s degree in business at the University of California, Irvine. The sisters entered the idea into the University of Irvine’s business plan competition and were the first female team in the University’s history to be awarded the grand prize. With the awarded seed money, they created their first product — Middle School Mogul dolls (formally called iBesties). By 2016 the idea had blossomed into a book and doll line for Target. With the success of the dolls came an offer in 2018 from Nickelodeon, to expand the brand into animation programming. Prior to co-founding Gengirl Media, Inc., Gina built her own go-to-market consulting company, Creative Kick-Off. She consulted on product and technology launches for a wide range of businesses. During her undergraduate education she worked on the U.S. product launches of Red Bull and Vitaminwater. Jenae Heitkamp, Chief Innovation Officer, has a background as a marriage and family therapist. She received her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fullerton and went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Southern California, in addition to a certificate in play therapy.

Thank you so much for joining us Gina and Jenae! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
We grew up in a working-class neighborhood. Our dad worked for a machine manufacturer and our mom was a special education teacher’s aide. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment and always shared a room. There were many other kids living in the apartment complex and our best childhood memories were playing with all the kids in the common spaces. So much of our imagination and storytelling came from those experiences. Our entrepreneurial spirit was born there too. We made up dances with the other kids and charged the neighbors to watch us. We also sold lemonade, of course.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was really a thousand tiny steps. With Middle School Moguls, we wanted to share this entrepreneurial “you can do it” message with kids, and at first it was a book. From there we thought, “How can we elevate a book?” The answer was to make a doll. Then we thought, “How can we make a great doll?” Through research and trial and error we found out. Next, we wondered how we could reach as many kids possible. The answer was selling into big box stores. Finally, we asked ourselves how we could get the message out even further, and the answer was children’s media. We just kept asking ourselves questions, then finding the answers. We both pinch ourselves daily when we realize how far we’ve come.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Creating animation is actually really interesting in itself. Coming into the industry, we didn’t have any knowledge of how the production end of media worked. It has been incredibly interesting to be involved in every step of the process from storyboarding to working with the composer on the score. One of our favorite parts was working with casting to find the best young moguls to represent the characters in the brand. We are beyond thrilled to have such amazing people voicing our characters.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we first decided to make a doll, we hired a toy engineer and worked with her for months to create what we thought was the perfect rendering of a doll. We then found someone on Craigslist with a 3D printer and sent him the file. The doll was printed in plastic and we glued a tiny wig to her head. We were so proud of that doll. One day, on the way to a big pitch, we stopped for lunch and left her on the dashboard. When we got back in the car she was completely melted. Needless to say, she didn’t end up attending the meeting with us! In that experience, we learned that sometimes it’s best just to laugh at your mistakes. Honestly, we still crack up every time we see a photo of that first melted doll.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We are so excited about Middle School Moguls airing this September on Nickelodeon! We have other stuff in the pipeline, but Moguls will always be our first baby.

I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Jenae speaking — I’ve spent my career working with kids in diverse neighborhoods and my own children are bi-racial/bi-cultural. I want all of kids to feel seen, heard and represented. Growing up my favorite show was Different Strokes because they lived in an apartment like I did. Now that I’m older I realize it was a penthouse and that’s pretty different. But I remember feeling that connection at the time.

We recently attended a symposium where the speaker said, “The easiest place to change the nation’s narrative is in movies and television. Since it’s imaginary we can change the narrative tomorrow if we want.” That was so powerful to hear.

Gina speaking — There have been many studies that show that media has an important role in shaping identity and confidence even at a young age. That is one of the reasons we worked with the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media on Middle School Moguls. Our aim was to show as much representation as possible so that our viewers can each find a character to relate to and be inspired by.

Another reason it is so important to have diversity represented in children’s media is to increase empathy and reduce stereotypes. Early exposure to diverse characters can help reduce future prejudices. We hope that we can have a hand in creating children’s media, like Middle School Moguls, that help kids to grow up to be open-minded, accepting adults.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

1. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas or stories. Even if you don’t have the experience, still share it and you might be surprised who it resonates with.

2. Support shows and media that are inclusive in meaningful ways.

3. Continue the conversation by asking questions just like this one.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Not everyone is going to be nice (and that’s ok!). When we were doing our Kickstarter we got our first press. We were shocked reading some of the negative comments. It was our first experience being public with our idea and we tried to respond to people’s negativity with thoughtful answers. Finally, we learned to just let it go, but admittedly it took awhile.

2. Some of the biggest mistakes will make the funniest stories. There are so many things that seemed dramatic at the time that now we laugh about. When we give talks our mistakes are actually some of our favorite things to talk about because they’re so cringe-worthy.

3. Work with people you like. This seems obvious but everyone we work with or partner with, we genuinely like. Even if there’s a bigger more well-known company, we’ll partner with a smaller one if we get along with them better. For example, when our dolls were being warehoused our little warehouse threw us a welcome party when the shipping container arrived. They had balloons, banners and everything! It is still one of the more touching memories. It makes everything better when you have a good, supportive team.

4. Have good contracts. We’re both naturally very trusting people and often go on people’s word. We’ve learned along the way how important having things in writing actually is.

5. Enjoy the ride. Mothers are often told to enjoy every moment because it goes so fast, yet we don’t see entrepreneurs being given the same advice. We wish someone would’ve told us that we’re in for the ride of our lives and to hold and tight and enjoy.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
For other entrepreneurs, I would say to give it six more months. There were so many times we felt stuck but then six months later we were in a totally different place.

You are people of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think that idea for us is truly Middle School Moguls. It’s introducing the empowering idea of entrepreneurship and being your own boss to a younger generation. Whether that’s running and Etsy store or being the CEO and founder of a media company, it’s about creating your own reality. And one amazing thing about the next generation of business moguls is that they have a focus on giving back. It’s no longer just about profits, it’s also about changing the world for the better — and we focus on that in the show.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Jenae speaking — There are so many but Michael Connolly, from Retail Monster, comes to mind. We had heard Michael, who comes from the entertainment industry, speak at a convention in Vegas. We went up to him after he spoke and pitched our idea. We had nothing but a business card; no drawings, nothing written down, nothing. He called us the next week and told us he liked our idea. We were on cloud nine. We kept in touch and a couple years later, when our dolls were being sold in Target he introduced us to Nickelodeon.

Gina speaking — For me it’s not so much a person that helped but an institution. We came up with the idea for Middle School Moguls while I was getting my MBA at the University of California, Irvine. We ended up entering the idea in the business plan competition and winning the grand prize. The prize money was enough to get our first doll prototype made. After that, the university offered us free work space, mentorship and even introduced us to our first investors. I am so grateful for all of the wonderful people there that still help our business grow to this day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Jenae speaking — I have so many, but there was one in particular when I was trying to decide if I should leave my job/career to pursue making Middle School Moguls. It was a hard decision because I had a child already and it meant upheaval, moving, less money etc. Around that time I saw a quote that said “Jump and the net will appear,” and that did it for me.

Gina speaking — In the beginning of Middle School Moguls, as it was gaining traction, I dealt with a lot of imposter syndrome. I didn’t feel like we should be having success and reaching these great goals because we had no experience or training in the industry. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and for something to go terribly wrong. At some point in the journey I heard the quote, “Why not me? Why not now?” and it really resonated with me. I still use it as an affirmation to this day.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Jenae speaking — Oprah all the way. I love that she has used her voice to place positive, empowering messages into the world.

Gina speaking — I would love to have a private breakfast with Shonda Rhymes. She is a social justice advocate and one of the most creative and dynamic showrunners of all time. I’d love for us to one day become the Shonda Rhymes of children’s media.

How can our readers follow you on social media?
Online they can be found at GenGirl Media http://www.gengirlmedia.com and on Instagram @gengirlmedia, Facebook @gengirlmediainc and LinkedIn at GengirlMedia, inc

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More Nick: Nickelodeon Embarks on New Direction with its Biggest, Most Wide-Ranging Content Slate Ever!

Originally published: Monday, August 5, 2019.
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