Mountain View Voice

News - December 21, 2012

Toying with startups

by Angela Hey

How do you persuade girls to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) at college?

STEM subjects represent about one-third of the country's bachelor's degrees and females represent less than a third of the science and engineering workforce, according to the National Science Foundation. Early in my career at Bell Labs, at an annual affirmative action workshop, we were encouraged to give boys dolls and girls boys' toys, like electronics kits and chemistry sets. Girls who learn spatial skills early in life are more likely to choose STEM fields, noted the American Association of University Women in their 2010 report, "Why So Few?"

Bettina Chen and Alice Brooks have created a company, Maykah, to help girls, age 4 and up, learn spatial skills and engineering. Each grew up with older brothers and, like me, didn't like playing with dolls. This fueled their interest in STEM at an early age. Bettina studied electrical and electronics engineering at Caltech, then came to Stanford where she met Alice, an MIT graduate in mechanical engineering. They joined StartX, a Palo Alto-based accelerator that has helped 170 Stanford entrepreneurs and 60 companies get started. Professor Steve Blank's hands-on Lean LaunchPad course, provided invaluable advice and contacts. Stanford connections found them a manufacturer in China and a lawyer.

I found them busy packing their first product into Priority Mail boxes in the Dymond Industrial Park near Hacker Dojo. The first 2,000 units sold out quickly and they are shipping their next batch. The Original Roominate kit, at $59, provides a battery pack, motor, switch, dry-erase room panels for walls or floors, connectors and furniture building pieces. A Chateau de Roominate kit consists of 4 Original kits. The kits enable children to exercise design, artistic and construction skills by building rooms and then more elaborate creations. Bettina and Alice built a Christmas tree from a kit, using the motor to rotate a decoration.

Reenu Lodha, a recent MBA, from the University of Florida, has joined Maykah to handle marketing. Reenu notes that Florida has professors with great connections, and the fast-moving Stanford environment enables companies to launch quickly.

Maykah is sharing warehouse space with E&M Labs, another Kickstarter-funded startup making construction kits for small children. Founder Evan Murphy and his partner Mike, started 18 months ago by making a trebuchet on a laser cutter at Tech Shop in Menlo Park, funding it with Kickstarter. Trebuchets are weapons of mediaeval warfare used to hurl rocks at fortifications. "The Trebuchette" offered by E&M Labs is designed to catapult small foam balls. A friend then had the idea for semi-circular wooden clips that could hold cards together.

With more Kickstarter funding, Evan and Mike designed Skallops, triple-ply birch wood semicircles that look like half a daisy. There are long slits every 30 degrees and in between are shorter slits. Evan was kind enough to give me a Junior Pack of Skallops, which lists for $19.95. It contains a pack of playing cards and 52 clips. I had terrific fun building a Christmas tree with the kit. It was quite challenging to balance the tree, calculate angles and select appropriate slits for each card. Future Skallops kits will contain axles to enable construction of moving creations.

Maykah raised $85,964 on crowd-funding website Kickstarter.com from 1,154 backers. They also have angel investors. E&M Labs started with $350,000 in funding and is now going for a larger angel round. Both companies sell from their own websites (roominate.com and em-labs.com). It's now feasible to make and ship toys with very little capital.

Angela Hey advises technology companies on marketing and business development. She can be reached at amhey@techviser.com.

Comments

Posted by Angela Hey, Mountain View Voice Blogger
on Dec 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Angela Hey is a registered user.

Here are some links:
- National Science Foundation Statistics (Web Link)
- American Association of University Women - Why So Few? (Web Link)
- StartX - a non-profit housed in AOL building on Page Mill Rd (Web Link)
- Professor Steve Blank's website with entrepreneurship links (Web Link)


Posted by Angela Hey, Mountain View Voice Blogger
on Dec 21, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Angela Hey is a registered user.

More company links:
- Roominate toy from Maykah (Web Link)
- E&M Labs - makers of Skallops (Web Link)
- Kickstarter - a crowdfunding site (Web Link)


Posted by Jen, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Why bother when companies will just import cheap STEM labor from overseas to drive down wages?


Posted by Evan Murphy, a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 25, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Evan from E&M Labs here! We're really excited to have an article about us in the MV Voice by Angela, and we'd be happy to answer any further questions here, or feel free to email us directly.

contact (at) em-labs.com .

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, all!


Posted by Angela Hey, Mountain View Voice Blogger
on Jan 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Angela Hey is a registered user.

@Jen companies will look to the most productive, not necessarily lowest cost, labor to do the job. By training people early in life in STEM subjects the US has a chance to have the most productive labor on the planet. I was reminded at an SVForum meeting last week that the most productive engineers can be at least 10 times more productive than the least productive (Web Link) and the most productive teams maybe 100 times more productive than the individual programmers. So if the US can create highly productive teams then competition from lower cost overseas teams lessens. Productivity, not labor cost, is key.


Posted by Angela Hey, Mountain View Voice Blogger
on Jan 25, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Angela Hey is a registered user.

Correction:

I wrote in the article "Reenu Lodha, a recent MBA, from the University of Florida, has joined Maykah to handle marketing. Reenu notes that, whereas Florida has professors with great connections, it lacks the fast-moving Stanford environment that enables companies to launch quickly." I should not have said the University of Florida "lacks" the fast-moving environment.
She actually told me:
(a) The University of Florida has professors with great connections.
(b) The fast-moving Stanford environment enables companies to launch quickly.

Further she added "I am proud of University of Florida and I totally love it. It has taught me some of the best things in life. Professors are very inspiring and so is the University of Florida environment. The University is the pulse-point of the region's high-tech start-up activity. Needless to say - it is also the birthplace of one of the best brands- Gatorade!"


Posted by maguro_01, a resident of Willowgate
on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Ms Hey - Your ideas about STEM and education are good but for one consideration. An American student may study and get a first job out of, say, Computer Science, but they won't get any sort of career path out of it. These days no US engineer starting out should think they have a career path, can raise a family, and so on, being an engineer, programmer, or possibly most STEM programs. Even a science PhD these days seldom knows if he or she will be able to have a career until they are as old as 40. That last may possibly be because of an oversupply of science PhD's. The reality is that STEM occupations are a labor market like any other and subject to those economics.

Brain-draining the world is a privilege and clearly gains us excellent colleagues and good neighbors. It's plausible that it can add a great deal to the US economy and enterprise in general. But the sheer numbers involved tell us that most visa workers have been actually average (H1-B EB-3 category). Naturally that has depressed the local labor market for engineers and programmers. In the past, visa workers had to get a work visa through an employer, then the same employer had to apply for any Green Card. In the years between those two milestones the worker was effectively indentured. Whether such workers were low-balled or not, they have been salaried and many I know have been required to work extended hours as we all chose to do for a startup.

Programs where Green Cards can go with an advanced degree are an improvement as the effective indenture feature would be gone (as long as commercial diploma mills don't take advantage). The problem with any such programs remains our Pay-To-Play political financing system in Washington. The H1-B programs had features stuck in them, purchased by corporations for their advantage and the gross disadvantage of the workers and the context of tech work in the US. The indenture feature was one. They also bought tax breaks that helped them to move offshore artificially. I believe they also export quite a bit of IP generated here at taxpayer expense. I don't doubt the corporations are hard at work in Washington to slip things into any new immigration legislation.

There is no question that US workers, most certainly including STEM occupations, have to get up early in the morning and compete with the world. Further, business expenses in the Valley are not competitive and it's too used to it. It may be hard for the Valley to catch the next wave or the one after, whatever they may be.

Corporations will not repeal any principles of economics by driving citizens and GC holders in the US out of STEM occupations or driving down the local supply. It is not in the interest of the US that they do so but that consideration has no necessary effect Pay-To-Play Washington. If better US students avoid CS, say, the corporations will weep and wail in Washington that we have to "educate" Americans, suddenly Dodo's, but meanwhile up the number of visa workers, who by the way, are indentured. That can only cause a downward spiral in the generation of US STEM workers, a really bad idea.

By all means brain-drain the world, but in ways beneficial to the US and the new people, not multinational corporations who don't even see their main future in the US any more.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields