“ We Need to Support Girls’ Interest, Especially in Science”; Interview with Co-Founder Sari Hurme-Mehtälä
This interview is part of the EdTech Female Founder (#EFF) story series brought to you by SuperCharger Ventures.
What inspired you to start your journey as an EdTech founder ?
I have always dreamt of starting up a company and even being the CEO. But I needed to have something fantastic to work on, not just start a cafe or a shop.
After gaining business experience in sales and marketing positions in the Media and ICT fields, I felt the urge to do something more meaningful, especially after being a mother of two. And it was a dream come true when I bumped into Jenni and Aino — our co-founders at Kide Science, who were looking for a third founder.
In 2013, Dr. Jenni Vartiainen began her research into science education for children from 3–6 years old at the University of Helsinki in Finland. The empirical part concentrated on organizing a science club, where Aino was also a teacher. With the considerable demand and popularity of this new innovative pedagogical model, we 3 females with diverse backgrounds then founded Kide Science in December 2017.
Describe your company in one sentence
Kide Science helps teachers and parents support 3–8-year-old children’s scientific thinking through playful and story-based lesson plans.
What should an aspiring EdTech founder know before initiating their startup journey?
Education Alliance Finland made a great analyze on how building a successful EdTech business is like running a marathon! They noticed that when looking at the similarities between best-selling EdTech startups, it’s surprising to see how old successful EdTech companies are. From the media, you get the picture that startups make it or break it in five years. This can be true in other industries, but in education, successful startups seem to find success older. Half of the GSV listed super successful companies are more than 10 years old, and some are turning now to a respectable age of 20.
One of the best analogies to describe the slowly but surely built EdTech success is presented by Quizlet’s CEO Matt Glotzbach in an EdSurge interview. Glotzbach doesn’t want their EdTech company to be called a unicorn. He prefers the analogy of a camel.
“They can survive in the harshest environments,” Glotzbach told EdSurge. “They can go for long periods without food and water.” And: “When camels do get to a watering spot, they can guzzle water faster than any other animal on the planet. But they make it last.”
These thoughts come from a credible source. Quizlet is turning 16 years old in 2021 and the company is valued at 1 billion USD in their last funding round.
What has been the most difficult moment as a founder and how did you overcome it?
After the pandemic started our customers who had learning centres worldwide had challenges, and many of our customers needed to close their branches because of the pandemic. We tried to do our best to support them by offering all our solutions online and being remote-friendly. Luckily we managed to support some of them to keep their business and lessons running with students. Now it feels that many can reopen locations or effectively continue remote and online learning. We are so happy to see that.
What can the EdTech industry do to improve the gender gap?
To support girls’ interest, especially in science, adults should allow young girls to build interest in science by letting them act with science-related activities. It’s impossible to get interested in something you have never had the opportunity to try!
Lack of interest in science among girls is a manifold issue. One corner to start unfolding is to consider what kind of possibilities girls are offered to get interested in science. Interest is tightly connected to identity. Identity starts development during the early years: children construct the idea of themselves by identifying what they enjoy, what they are interested in, what they are good at. It’s partly hidden cultural praxis that we tend to offer boys more opportunities to engage in science and technology activities than girls. This is not due to children’s choice but how adults steer children’s ideas of what they should be interested in.
When children are young, boys and girls are equally interested in scientific phenomena. The difference starts cumulating from the messages that the surrounding culture sends. Still, today, when people are asked what scientists are like, the majority describes a scientist as a male with extraordinary intellectual skills. This is a very narrow image of who is capable of doing science. Meanwhile, we know that the world is full of different kinds of scientists with different looks, temperaments, and ages. Girls should have more role models in public discussions to relate with.
Can you tell us about a role model of yours?
My parents, how they raised me. They never stressed me over not being perfect or getting 10/10 for exams. They have always supported me throughout my childhood to be super independent, creative and brave to try out myself, which boosted my self-confidence and gave me a superpower: optimism! I hope I can give that same to my two young children. Everything is possible!
Can you share an example of when you had to pivot?
If the pedagogy and content is high quality, you can have different
channels to share them. We actually first thought we would make an app for parents doing science at home with their children, but there was a bigger international need for the resources for teachers.
In Finland, we have also inspired ALL families in Finland with young kids through our TV show series co-created with YLE by our founders and made a book series with Sanoma for families. During covid, we also did that home product version that grows our market potential exponentially. So we have pivoted quite many times but still, none of the things has been wasted time. More like new channel opportunities.
What will you consider as success in 5 years from now?
That we have impacted millions of children´s lives through more playful and engaging science education.
Looking back, what advice would you have liked to have received before starting your company?
I think I had the advice to choose the focus in our company what we are and for whom (for parents or for teachers, or for hobby providers) and we are trying to focus now more and more on our target market, users, product etc. But at the same time, if we would have focused on the first business model or target group, we would be dead. So in the early stage, you need to be able to learn fast and try different things (especially business models) to test what works and THEN focus.
Any other words of advice?
Just launch your idea/product asap into the market even if it is not “perfect” yet. Now looking back, I am pleased to have had a minimum valuable product to sell abroad, not spending a lot of money and time to develop our online platform or something else. We did take the right steps by validating the demand, co-creating with teachers and without huge fixed costs. Later, you will be able to and should modify the “final product” with real users and customer feedback.