Jacqueline von Edelberg

Founder of Scratch Out Scratchers

A unicorn with a brain. A deep-rooted Chicago connector and rainmaker. A pie-in-the sky, free thinking builder-type who gets sh*t done.

Not easily pigeonholed: Jacqueline is a University of Chicago political science PhD/Fulbright professor turned social entrepreneur, who comes to challenges with an intellectual rigor, global perspective, and high-tolerance for white-knuckle moments. With two decades applying creative thinking to seemingly intractable real world challenges, she is nationally recognized for her work building coalitions, movements, and digital platforms that drive civic engagement and create systemic change.

“I’m obsessed with finding the unique combination of ingredients to make a community thrive.” Jacqueline says. “For kids, grownups, organizations, or even entire cities, the question remains eternal: What needs to be in place so that we feel loved, trusted, valued, safe or joyful? I’ve responded to this question as an academic, an artist, a writer, a social entrepreneur, a community organizer, a mom, a ‘nasty woman,’ and an unapologetic activist.

Whatever the lens, when creative minds come together in service of helping others, the result is inevitably more than the some of its parts. However, the endgame isn’t the point. The point is the process. Engagement is the only thing that matters. I’m passionate about delivering beauty, building a more just and sustainable planet, and creating a world that lives up to our ideals.”

Where did the idea for Scratch Out Scratchers come from?

Here’s the backstory behind Scratch Out Scratchers: I’ve spent two decades as an activist/artist/author/social entrepreneur working to drive systemic change. But when COVID hit, I found myself sheltering-in-place with my kiddos, feeling utterly powerless.

One day, as we watched our twin brother rescue kittens shred a cardboard scratcher, my daughter wondered aloud: Mama, I so wish we could scratch 2020. With that spark, our humble kitchen table business was born.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I wake up crazy early, make two pots of coffee, and pretty much don’t stop until I collapse in a heap at midnight. It’s productive because I’m having a blast. After all, it’s not a fun ride, why do it?

How do you bring ideas to life?

One scratch at a time. I’ve just launched Scratch Out Scratchers, eco-friendly cat scratchers for social impact.

We are determined to create a progressive future based on equity, justice, and mutual aid – a compassionate place where everyone can thrive. We’re dedicated to supporting change agents, our heroic front line workers, and bringing a ray of sunshine to homes during these challenging times. We donate to COVID relief organizations and progressive causes with Every. Single. Scratch.

Pussycats are powerful. Together, we are unstoppable.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m excited to see silver linings emerge from COVID and 2020’s toxic political climate: science, truth, decency, honesty, and compassion.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Like all single moms, I’m the queen of multitasking. I give myself the freedom to bounce around. I’m also not shy about putting my kids to work in service of the ship US.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’m partial to this advice from Martha Graham:

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Life is precarious. Eat dessert first.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

At Chicago’s 1871 Impact Engine incubator, the advice was to “pull pasta.” Imagine action items are like a big pile of buttered spaghetti dumped onto a kitchen table. You want to pull out individual strands effortlessly. Then, keep doing that trick over and over again. If you’re meeting resistance, you’re not doing it right.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Neil Gaiman once gave a commencement speech advising graduates to wake up every day and “Make Good Art.” On good days, and on bad days, just get up and keep at it. I try my best to make beautiful things of value every single day, whether or not I feel inspired.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

With the help of some powerhouse fementrepreneurs, I built an online instant booking platform that connected families with the city’s best kid classes and camps. Just weeks into our launch, our parent company’s novice CEO decided to kill our entire division. Who knows if it was the right call, but in an instant, an entire year’s worth of effort vanished. That very painful lesson was one of the main motivations behind starting my own business. This time at bat, I will sink or swim by my own conviction.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Having battled cancer (twice), I can tell you first hand how important tiny gestures of compassion can be to patients. I’d love someone to run with in-hospital mobile, on-demand beauty services. In-hospital spas are already big business, but I’m imagining a mobile trolly cart that goes room-to-room doing blow outs and polish changes. I tried to run with this idea, but got stymied by the red tape of it all.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Hands down, Canva Pro. It keeps all my brand colors and digital assets in one place. Love it!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I live and die by Trello. I’m a visual learner and little ADHD, so I bounce from one project to another all day long. Trello helps me keep everything I need in one place, plus it’s super nimble and intuitive.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. I wrote my doctorate at UChicago on this work and can’t recommend it highly enough for his window into what makes us tick, particularly his belief that Americans were blessed and cursed with a “relentless agitation of the human spirit.” His read is as perceptive now as it was in 1838.

What is your favorite quote?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Key Learnings:

• Act deliberately with conscious conviction.
• When you see disrepair, roll up your selves, and fix it.
• When you see ugliness, make beauty.
• When you see hurt, throw glitter.
• When you see oppression, injustice, intolerance, or hypocrisy, stand up and speak out.
• Fight, scrap, claw, sing, shout — make your unique voice heard as only you can. It might seem as though no one is listening or even cares, but keep speaking out. Sometimes, you’ll get kicked in the teeth so hard, and so often, you’ll think blood is a condiment, but keep at it. Remember that you’ve got all the love and sunshine of everyone in this room behind you, so do not waver.
• Create the world that lives up to your ideals. Vote!