Richard Schweiger, WG’98, bounces between management consulting and entrepreneurship. He is also involved in venture capital and startup incubation as director of C&A Strategic Advisors LLC, and has been known to be a C-suite officer at technology ventures and corporate settings. But if you ask a 4-year-old what Schweiger’s greatest accomplishment is, the toddler might just say Space Racers.
It’s a new, half-hour animated series designed for preschoolers about talking, zooming spaceships that travel the galaxy on missions as cadets in the “Stardust Bay Space Academy.” Schweiger and team have produced 26 episodes, with the first airing on public television stations this past May. It airs on public television across 73 percent of the U.S., in nine out of the top 10 markets, including Philadelphia. On Aug. 13, it will air in New York City.
“It is really kind of snowballing,” Schweiger says.
Watch the trailer for Space Racers above.
The idea for Space Racers came to Schweiger in 2009, during a time when he was selling a startup and was open to creative ideas, as he recounts. He had been watching the viewing habits of his two young sons, ages 3 and 5 at the time, and as any good Whartonite would, he began contemplating the business side of cartoons. He realized that there is no greater asset than a branded asset from which you earn multiple revenue streams, namely, merchandising. In the past, writing had been a hobby, so it wasn’t a stretch to think of cartoon concepts.
Then came the trip to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., where he watched his boys play around the spaceship exhibits.
Next, cue the Wharton connection. Schweiger shared his idea with numerous School classmates and acquaintances, and eight out of 10 came back positive about the idea. He teamed with an old University of Chicago friend and worked for a year on the screen play. With it in proverbial hand, he searched WhartonConnect (the School’s online alumni directory) and cold-called people involved in film and TV. Would they take a look at the script? Several did, and Schweiger received four to five “fantastic” responses, he says.
Another big decision was to focus on TV rather than movies. On a tip from a Wharton professor, Schweiger realized that the economics around building a film brand are risky (and pricey).
“It was a real no brainer for us,” he says. “The eye balls were much easier to acquire as a TV show, and they would be longer-lasting, creating a solid foundation for a brand.”
Schweiger and his partners spent another year and a half searching for a broadcaster, traveling across North America, U.K. and Latin America.
They courted investors too. Not only is Schweiger executive producer and creator on Space Racers, he’s chief fundraiser and his team has raised about $6 million in capital for the project.
And they wooed the world’s top space agency, NASA. One of Schweiger’s investors quit his day job as a bond broker to become a producer, and part of his job was to travel to space-related events around the country. At one NASA launch, he connected with someone in the agency’s education and public outreach office. One phone call later, and a partnership was born.
“They like to collaborate with producers of content who will spread the word of why space is cool,” Schweiger explains, adding that it’s the first time NASA’s been involved in a show for preschoolers.
NASA’s inclusion highlights a critical aspect of Schweiger’s endeavor—education. The show aims to tap kids’ natural curiosity (and obsession with cartoons) to teach them about the power of scientific observation to learn about the world around them. It is based on the S (“science”) and T (“technology”) in the early childhood STEM curriculum (the E being “engineering” and M “mathematics”). NASA provided a stamp of approval on the show’s curriculum, and offered a universe of content and ideas.
“As a country I think we’re concerned that Americans are not becoming the best scientists and engineers,” Schweiger says, “and we could be falling behind as a nation as a result of it.”
In the major cities where it airs, Space Racers is partnering with science and space centers, which plan to host screening events, borrow curricular materials for their own programming and even create exhibits based on the cartoon characters. Included on this list is the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum where Schweiger’s inspiration first took off.
Editor’s note: Find if and where Space Racers is airing in your market at www.SpaceRacers.org. In New York, it will appear on NYC Live (Channel 25) Wednesday and Saturdays at 11:00 a.m.; in Philadelphia, on MiND TV Saturdays and Sundays at 8:00 a.m. and Mondays at 7:00 a.m.