Colorwheel Toys

One of the ways we have been investigating our business model is by going into toy stores and seeing what people buy. We visited an awesome toy store in Los Altos that also sells teaching supplies to see what they had. Their science kits section was very well stocked, and the employee I spoke to was very proud of the fact that they carried toys that were hard to find in other places.

Key Learnings:

  • Science kits frequently bought as default gifts for birthday parties.
  • The age range is usually somewhere between 6 and 10 years old
  • Parents judge kits based on their packaging and whether they look too cheap (see attached photos for and example of popular packaging)
  • Generally teachers just buy stencils, workbooks, and art supplies from them. Some science kits that they carry can be used for classroom activities but not that many.
  • Some popular toys are gearations (see attached photo) and building sets with magnets in them (magnatiles, tegu)
  • The Science kit area is very crowded and it will be hard to differentiate our product.

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We had a meeting this morning with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. The foundation is focused on getting children, right now mostly middle school but expanding into elementary school, ready for college and careers. They are doing this by running several programs, the most notable of which is the step up to algebra program. An intensive multi-week, 4 hour a day, program that brings kids up to speed in algebra and raises their confidence in their own abilities.

One interesting aspect of their organization is that they measure the attitude of the kids before and after the program and find very positive gains. This will be an interesting direction for us to explore for use as a metric. They’ve obtained good results using this metric. The tests were designed in conjunction with a professor at Santa Clara University.

Additionally, they’ve invited us to an event for middle school teachers to work on design thinking in designing math/science curricula. We’ll also, hopefully, be able to connect with more elementary schools through them.

It was a great visit and very nice to hear about an organization that is working on helping prepare kids for college and getting them excited about their abilities in STEM.

Is it a single childhood experience? A revered role model? How can we combine these experiences into the experience we are providing?

We surveyed 61 people, 44 of whom were women, between the ages of 18 and 59. The majority were engineers. We found respondents through posting to social media groups (Facebook and LinkedIn), sharing from our own accounts, and emailing old classmates.

We asked 6 questions. The first 4 were multiple choice and intended to collect general information (gender, age, field in STEM, and # parents in STEM). Surprisingly, more than half our respondents had neither parent involved in STEM and about a third had only their father in STEM.

The last two questions were intended to gather information about formative childhood experiences that pushed these people into STEM and the decision to stay in STEM in higher education.

We chose to focus on the answers from our female respondents. Some common themes/responses:

  • Introduction to STEM by parents at very young age.
  • Playing with their dads.
  • Middle school and high school classes that they excelled in.
  • School science competitions, museums
  • Childhood curiosity got them hooked at a young age – connections to the real world.

Conclusions:

  • Provide STEM involved role models to the kids without parents or close family friends involved in STEM.
  • Pursue involvement with schools. Target science classes and competitions and get higher female involvement.
  • Provide the opportunity for more girls to have those discovery moments and experiences.

We’ve been looking at a lot of the research on girls engagement in STEM and what helps and what doesn’t. Below are some selected quotes from papers that we’ve found and paper that have been recommended to us by researchers and educators.

Why So Few?

“One finding shows that girls who believe that intelligence can expand with experience and learning tend to do better on math tests; these girls are also more likely to say they want to continue to study math in the future. That is, believing in the potential for intellectual growth, in and of itself, improves outcomes. A “growth mindset” is helpful for all students, but it is particularly important for girls in mathematics, where negative stereotypes about girls’ abilities persist. By encouraging a “growth mindset,” teachers and parents can encourage girls’ achievements and interest in math and science.”

“When test administrators tell students that girls and boys are equally capable in math, however, the difference in performance essentially disappears, illustrating that changes in the learning environment can improve girls’ achievements in math.”

“Research profiled in this report shows that negative stereotypes about girls’ abilities in math can indeed measurably lower girls’ test performance. Researchers have also documented how stereotypes can lower girls’ aspirations for science and engineering careers over time. When test administrators tell students that girls and boys are equally capable in math, however, the difference in performance essentially disappears, illustrating that changes in the learning environment can improve girls’ achievements in math.”

“Research profiled in the report finds that girls assess their mathematical abilities lower than do boys with similar mathematical achievements. At the same time, girls hold themselves to a higher standard than boys do in subjects like math, believing that they have to be exceptional to succeed in “male” fields. One result of girls’ lower self-assessment of their math ability—even in the face of good grades and test scores—and their higher standards for performance is that fewer girls than boys aspire to STEM careers.”

All of these findings agree with what we have personally experienced and what we have found from talking to many parents, educators, and children.

Mathematics Self-Efficacy, Ethnic Identity, Gender, and Career Interests Related to Mathematics and Science

“In addition, as hypothesized, gender directly predicted students’ career interests in science and engineering.”

“it is known that adolescent girls tend to perform better in mathematics classes that encourage cooperative rather than competitive learning (Hyde, 1993).”

First, we wanted to thank Steve Blank for generously welcoming us into his ranch and meeting us on a Thursday.

He opened our eyes and CHALLENGED US on what we were doing. As a result of the hike [that he led] around the estate, we’re now more equipped to take on the road less traveled.

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SUMMARY:

  1. Start-ups do 2 things in general:  (1) Solve a problem, and (2) Solve a wired mental need.
  2. Take on this journey and DISCOVER: We picked a hard “STEM for Girls” problem to solve so we have to make sure to test multiple series of hypothesis and do enough discovery.
  3. Cake Mixes: You throw in an egg and people feel like they’re doing something
  4. Girl Scouts of America: There are lots to learn from an organization of 100+ years that got it right with little girls
  5. Basic Human Wiring: People intrinsically need to figure out how they are doing, and for parents: how are their kids doing relative to a grade level
  6. STEM parents vs Middle America parents: These 2 market segments behave very differently and therefore needs to be served differently

TEAM TAKE-AWAYS:

  1. VISION: Colorwheels needs to understand the vision that will tie all of this together
  2. NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK: Our team needs to filter the noise and uncover the signals we’re receiving from parents about what they want and need
  3. PRODUCT FAMILY: We need to offer products with varying Difficulty Rating Scales (from Level 1 to 20) to encompass different aptitudes and starting points
  4. PLATFORM TO DISCOVER AND CONNECT: We can create value-add aside from our product by hosting an opt-in service for our customers and users to find local Colorwheelers that they share interests with (STEM, parenting, etc)
  5. MARKET BROADENING: We need to come up with a strategy to target our different segments (STEM parent, Bay Area parents, Wealthy, Educated, Middle America, etc)

One of the ideas we have been exploring is incorporating aspects of the girl scout model into our business plan. This year is the 100th year that the girl scouts organization has been around, and, since its inception, there have been 50 million girl scouts. 

 

Badges:

Girls seem to be really excited about earning merit badges and using them to compare where they are to where their friends are. When we visited the Children’s Creativity Museum, even though the girls were not that excited by the badges in the beginning, by the end they were begging us for the badges and very excited that they had leveled up to be a “STEM Star” despite there being no actual value in being a “STEM Star” besides leveling up.

 

Community:

What we have found over the course of testing is that girls have a great time building our cars when there are other girls around and/or when Alice, Bettina, Miguel, or I are around to help them. This is a key part of the Girl Scouts model in which they focus on community.

 

Funding:

Girl Scouts are funded by a small fee from each scout. Past this they make money from donations. Additionally, the girls raise money for their own troop by having cookie sales. Having a small fee to participate and then charging for other things, kits, badges, etc is an interesting model to consider.

 

Organization:

The girl scouts are a very highly structured organization. There is a national council with 109 regional councils. Each regional council is divided into several service units aka neighborhoods and each of those has several troops. In 2004, Girl Scouts of the USA hired Professor Willie Pietersen, an instructor at Columbia Business School, to use his expertise in business metrics “to help Girl Scouts develop a strategy to ensure our future success and growth.”1  

1.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_Scouts_of_the_USA

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