My background is in education technology and I’ve spent over 15 years working with technology companies to help schools integrate technology into the classroom. I started Because Learning to introduce students to the opportunity of conducting space experiments was a great way to get them excited about STEM!
We’re partners with Spire Global to leverage their satellite network so that students can collect their own data by designing a custom experiment that runs one one of their cubesats. We also provide general STEM curriculum and hands-on sensor kits for K-12 schools.
We’ve raised about $2 million (USD) to date. Our investors include Spire, Fresco Capital, Royal Street Ventures and Space Angels. We operate in over 400 schools across 30 countries.
The idea of the company initially started by Spire to leverage their cubesat network to inspire more students to pursue STEM using the excitement of access to space. I had been introduced to Spire through a mutual colleague. She told me of this amazing company that was sending satellites to space to provide access to anyone - even students.
We’re partners with Spire Global to leverage their satellite network so that students can collect their own data by designing a custom experiment that runs one one of their cubesats.
When I spoke with the CEO and he talked about the problem of the lack of students (especially females) pursuing STEM degrees, it was a mission that I was excited to help pursue. I am also a parent of 2 daughters and it completely resonated with me. As we got into classrooms, students and teachers were clearly excited to be able to run their own experiments and collect data from anywhere in the world.
We knew that in order to turn this idea into a product, we had to solve a pain point that our audience was experiencing. It was clear that although teachers and students were excited to incorporate more hands-on STEM into their learning, we had to really show them how and make it approachable for them.
The goal here was to create a product that could actually be used in the classroom. We felt like if we wanted to have an impact on increasing the number of students to pursue STEM degrees, we needed to focus on the classroom vs. after school clubs and programs. When we spent time in the classroom, I saw immediately how the students got excited to work with real electronics and collect sensor data that was from their own experiments. It made the concepts and learning personal to them and was automatically engaging. That is what has kept me motivated.
We spent a lot of time talking to teachers about how they could use a product like ours in the classroom to make sure that we provided them with the tools they would need to succeed. Fortunately I have a background working with educators through previous companies so I was able to easily get in touch with several educators that taught in the classroom, but also meet with higher administration to understand what their longer term STEM goals were and the barriers they saw to bringing this to their schools. If you start to understand the problems they have then really it becomes about creating a solution for them.
Also, we needed to be able to fund this so started meeting with investors to fund our company. For some investors they were excited with our connection to space and for others they were very skeptical about this market. In 2019, we're seeing a lot more investment happening in space and I think that's a great thing. In 2014 it took us about 5 months to raise the $1 million.
We raised our $1 million seed round in February 2015. Prior to that, I was working full-time on it and, though we had some revenue coming in, I was really not taking much of a salary. When you do a start up, I do believe that you have to commit to doing it and jump with two feet in.
When you do a start up, I do believe that you have to commit to doing it and jump with two feet in.
I had just had an exit with a previous startup that I was at so was able to also contribute a portion of the round. I was an early employee with Instructure that builds the learning management system, Canvas. It's the fastest growing LMS in the market today and the company went public. That funding went to primarily building the team around sales and development. We had about 10 of us total after this round. For us it was important to show traction to help raise the next round so our investors wanted to see growth.
We make it easy for teachers to integrate hands-on STEM in their classroom.
There are approximately 1 million unfulfilled STEM jobs in the US economy. We simply don’t have a big enough pipeline of students pursuing STEM degrees in this country. We believe that interest in STEM starts early so integrating these hands-on experiences and teaching critical thinking skills is necessary to be incorporated in today’s classroom for us to compete in this global economy.
We provide teachers with the Sensor Kits, over 150 lessons, teacher guides and instructions that they can easily follow to integrate hands-on STEM in their classroom. It also maps to the new Next Generation Science Standards that they already have to teach. Through our relationship with Spire Global, we also offer the opportunity to run an experiment on one of the orbiting satellites. Students can measure the earth’s magnetic sphere over Alaska and start to understand the phenomenon of Aurora Borealis.
Some of the challenges that schools have with STEM is there’s a high demand from parents and students to integrate STEM tools into the classroom, but we don’t give teachers enough resources to actually make it practical for teachers to use it. For example, imagine teaching 30+ students about 3D printing and have 2 printers in your classroom. It would literally take a month for all of their designs to be printed. It doesn’t scale well. Also, some teachers may shy away from it because they’re unfamiliar with the technology and don’t feel prepared for them to teach it.
My most memorable moments have been whenever I’m in the classroom with teachers and students and the excitement on their face when they’ve started coding or working with micro-controllers for the first time. Also, whenever we do an experiment in space, that’s pretty damn cool too.
Raising capital is always a constant challenge. You have to keep the momentum going and it takes up an enormous amount of the founders time. My best advice is to figure out a revenue model because revenue solves all problems. The more revenue you have, the less dependent you can be from investment. Also, the more revenue growth you have, the easier it’ll be to raise investment.
My best advice is to figure out a revenue model because revenue solves all problems. The more revenue you have, the less dependent you can be on investment.
Fortunately we’ve been generating revenue since we got started, but to raise the next round of investment it’s incredibly important to show momentum. The needle to raise the next round has increased quite a bit so be smart with the capital that you have and try to make it last as long as possible so you have time to execute your plans and generate sales.
Watching your burn rate is particularly important. Spend cautiously!
We’ve been spending a lot of time expanding into other countries because the need for STEM skills is a global concern. Thus we’ve been working with strategic partners to set up sales channels in various countries with a focus on the Middle East and Asia.
We will continuously look for ways to expand our reach into schools, but also look at new technology and resources that can best benefit students and teachers. It would be my hope that we can soon do lessons on what’s also happening with space exploration!
It’s harder work than I had imagined. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a leader, growing my team, and also how to react when times get tough. There’s a lot of burden on a founder’s shoulders and I’ve been fortunate to have a great cofounder by my side.
Part of building a company is also experimenting with product, approach, sales, marketing. I think it’s always good to try something new and if it doesn’t work, tweak your approach. What’s great about a startup is that you can be more agile to experimenting than larger companies can--so use that to your advantage.
For example, when we launched our kits, just to get started would take them nearly 9 hours to get going on an Arduino. We knew that could be a big deal breaker for a lot of teachers that don’t have a lot of time to spend on this. So we came out with a simple Chrome app to make the getting started process much easier and reduced the set up time to literally just a few minutes.
Let your local schools know about Because Learning! We’re always happy to do a demonstration of our platform and lessons and even put together a list of recommended lessons that they can teach based on their class objectives.
We’re always looking for new teachers and administrators to talk to and share our program.
Visit us at becauselearning.com and you can follow us on:
You can also follow me, Sunny, on Twitter!