Member Spotlight: Ken Korber, The Healthy Music Project

Making a stunning career change after 30 years in the healthcare industry, Ken Korber writes music-themed children’s books and produces educational programming. He credits serendipity, but there’s more to it than that.

Ken Korber in Arlington Heights, IL

Ken Korber with his Healthy Music Project character, Maestro Vik.

When Lightning Strikes

We can all relate to it—that moment lightning strikes and an idea materializes out of nowhere. One that sparks a passion inside of us and energizes our centers of creativity or ambition. We might write it down; we might brainstorm on how to bring it to life. But it’s exceedingly rare to encounter an idea that shakes us to the core of our identity and moves us into action, and it’s even rarer to pull it off. So it was with Ken Korber, a former licensed physician assistant—who conceived of a complete 180-degree career change overnight—and is now a happily published children’s book author and 25N Coworking convert. So we decided to get to know this audacious revolutionary a little better.

It Started with an Insignificant Note

E: Tell us about your professional journey, and what personal experiences shaped this journey.

K: I’m actually a clinician by training and I have 20 years of surgery and heart disease under my belt; at the bedside, in the operating room, in clinics as a licensed physician assistant. So this book writing thing is a rather big departure from a medical article writing background.

“Ok, let me early retire from my job as a clinician, and then do this as a pick-up second career.”

My son, who is a music major in college, sparked the Musical Adventures of Grace storybook idea. It’s a series of music-themed children’s books with characters that have instruments or some kind of musical skills. It’s very much music-centric in terms of the themes, but they are also reading skills books, for kids.

Over time, I got busy enough with this idea that I simply couldn’t do both full-time. So I said, “Ok, let me early retire from my job as a clinician, and then do this as a pick-up second career.”

E: So when did the idea hit you, or is it something that was gradual?

K: No, it was very, very sudden. My son came home for Christmas break one winter, and I asked him what all these little notes were on all of these pages that he was using to study for his cello performance major. And he said “Oh, they’re grace notes. An insignificant note; sometimes the conductor uses it to color a piece.” So that was it—end of conversation—and I was happy to have had a conversation with my teenager that lasted more than five seconds! [laughs]

The next day, I woke up and said “Oh my God, a little note that wanted to be a big note!” And I quickly scribbled down 800 words to outline, kind of, a story. And the rest, I like to say, is history. Hay House Publishing took me on, and that’s where we stand, now, four books later, with Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin translations for each—and six other books in the works.

E: So you’re a natural.

K: [rolls eyes] So I’m a natural, yeah [laughs]. I think it’s more that I’m a visual learner, so that might have just transferred to “visual” writing.

A Matter of Serendipity

E: Do you think this was a coincidence of timing? Empty-nesting?

K: Yeah, yeah, totally. That also speaks to the issue of “Why Healthy Music Project”—well, because the timing was perfect for me. I had some retirement money I had set aside that I could use for development, organization, and logistical stuff. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do create The Healthy Music Project. This was a weird kind of serendipity.

I go with my gut a lot, and this was one of those things. It’s go with your gut, and listen to your wife. [laughs] Your partner, your significant other, is very important. And it wouldn’t have happened for me without her support and counsel.

E: And you were one of the first members here at 25N in Arlington Heights.

K: I saw this place in a Facebook ad and said, “Ohhhhhh this is good, this is really good.” Because this took me from virtual to a legitimate business footprint. I mean, I have a business now, with an office to meet clients. It allows me to interact with other businesses and allows me to have resources that are just a part of me being here, that I can tap into.

“I would never have been able to do things like this without being here, in this kind of coworking space. Isolation is a factor. It’s a barrier to success in many instances. This [place] helps to remove that barrier. To have this out in the suburbs is brilliant because it was such an unmet need.”

I’ve done the virtual stuff before, so I’ve become a bit of an advocate for this kind of alternative work-lifestyle.

What I always say to people when they ask, “Where’s your office?” is that [25N] is much more economically feasible than to go off in an isolated office complex somewhere, where you’re paying overhead, paying for services, paying for furnishings. Here, you have support services included, and a real community at your disposal—and I haven’t even tapped into Geneva yet. I can just go up to Geneva and go to their events, too, and still feel part of the larger 25N community. It’s those accumulated things.

Bringing His Characters to Life

E: How did you find an illustrator? I mean, if I needed an illustrator, I don’t know—did you Craigslist it?

K: [laughs] Close! I actually Facebooked a campaign for a contest. From the time that I wrote the first draft, I thought that the illustrations would be a little note, with a face, as the main character. My post was very generic, very broad.

I got three responses. From strangers. Total strangers. And I said, “send me a picture, and I’ll give you $250.” It was like a little contest. So, I’ve come to learn that Pam, my illustrator, saw that Facebook thing and thought “this is kind of creepy” [laughs], but then she looked me up on LinkedIn and saw that I was a real person. She then sent me the picture of Grace—with a personality profile. And I said [puts hands up], “I have to go with this person. She knows.”

Ambassadors of Health

E: And The Healthy Music Project is your day-to-day now?

K: Yep, as of January, it’s my full-time business. I can now say I’m a published children’s book author. That’s my job [smiles]. It’s kind of strange [laughs], but it is what I’m doing five days a week… seven days a week… 24/7. The cool thing that sets me apart from some of the 5,000 other books that are out there is that I have this Healthy Music Project which is a way to use these children’s books as health education resources and tools.

To have younger children become ambassadors of health in their families, with messages that they can teach their parents or siblings about, because I gave them a cool little story and a character that they can relate to, is really kind of cool. It turns around the old advertising model—where cartoon characters were used for the promotion of sugary breakfast food or tobacco use—and makes them promoters of good products and healthier behavior. The ability to facilitate that is rewarding for me.

Coming Full-Circle with Coworking

E: So are you, like, eager to see who is moving in here [at 25N Coworking] and who you can connect with next?

K: Sure, any time you get a new person within the community here it’s like “Hmmmmm, let me think about that—is there a children’s book play here?” Something like that. But I think the most value will come from the B2B angle and the educational community outreach. Information sharing, those kinds of things.

We’re starting to partner with other businesses within the 25N community here that are looking to continue their outreach to customers or the community. I’m just another resource that they can use, or I can host it myself. It’s kind of fun. I can have them as faculty for my events, or I can help them create their own events!

And you can do these things [at 25N]. The fact that there are multiple meeting rooms is a huge advantage for me. I can do webinars now—I couldn’t host them before without a hotel room or recording studio—and I can have a wide audience as a part of that webinar. I can then turn around and get health education grants because of that blended, inter-professional audience.

“And, down the road, I want to be able to attract younger generations as potential employees, and they wouldn’t want a place that’s just a bunch of cubicles. This is much more aesthetically pleasing and functional for Millennials.”

All of this is because I have a facility now. It’s not as expensive as a hotel. We can get catering in if we need it. Our Summer book launch party will have live entertainment, we could have reading sessions for class trips—you can do little things like that here that make a difference. I would never have been able to do things like this without being here, in this kind of coworking space.

Ken Korber in Arlington Heights, IL

Ken Korber working in his private office at 25N Coworking Arlington Heights.

There’s just so many resources here, so I totally get it; I understand the value of it. To have this out in the suburbs is brilliant because it was such an unmet need. And the fact that we’re spread further apart in the suburbs is another reason to actually do it. It takes people out of their home offices and brings them to a central place where they can share their expertise. Isolation is a factor. It’s a barrier to success in many instances. This [place] helps to remove that barrier.

It’s modern. It’s the right way to do it—instead of an old, stuffy, corporate setting. And, down the road, I want to be able to attract younger generations as potential employees, and they wouldn’t want a place that’s just a bunch of cubicles. This is much more aesthetically pleasing and functional for Millennials.

E: …for when you develop your app.

K: [smiles] That’s on the list. That’s on the list, too.

You can find Ken buzzing around our Arlington Heights location. Learn more about The Musical Adventures of Grace or purchase the books at balboapress.com. Interested in collaborating? Email Ken at kenk@healthymusicproject.com. Happy Coworking!

Erin Maresko
Erin Maresko
erin@25ncoworking.com

Erin is 25N Coworking's Director of Marketing + Brand Management who is super-passionate about coworking, entrepreneurship, and lifestyle design.