This week we sat with the brilliant Sari Hurme-Mehtälä, CEO of Kide Science, to discuss the inspiration behind the Kide curriculum and bringing STEAM to life with EdTech…
Tell us a little bit about Kide Science?
Kide Science is a Finnish pedagogical STEAM innovation that provides educators with top quality and scalable curriculum materials to implement early science education in a playful way. Kide Science’s pedagogy is based on years of rigorous scientific research by our founder PhD Jenni Vartiainen and follows the acknowledged Finnish philosophy on early education. When 3–8-year-old children do hands-on science experiments with the Kide curriculum and stories, they feel like they’re playing and enjoying themselves. Meanwhile, they are also learning the highly important skills needed in the scientific process and thinking. For educators, Kide Science is an easy plug-and-play model to ensure that their pupils will gain the skills needed in the future.
What do you want everyone to know about Kide Science?
Science education could prevent the formation of socio-economic bubbles. If science education were more firmly integrated into early education, children from different backgrounds could become more equal in learning and adopting the scientific way of thinking. This way, science education would not just remain a hobby for families where parents are already interested in science, but become available for all. That would, in turn, benefit our society.
When we look at the research, scholars are unanimous in the fact that science and scientific thinking needs to be introduced to children already in their early years. Still, young children do not benefit from the acquisition of detailed scientific content knowledge, so it requires remarkably different pedagogical approaches than what are usually implemented with school-age children. The problem is that early education teachers feel that planning science activities is difficult, and even if they have well-developed knowledge in science, they struggle to introduce science in a way that is appropriate for young children. We have a solution for that.
What are you looking to achieve next?
As a startup, we have had a very small team with no money reserved for paid international marketing. The growth might have been faster if we would have had bigger resources. Still, we are happy to see that without any paid marketing and big sales team, we have made deals already to 14 countries. This means that the partners have found us and wanted to be the first partners in their countries to start. Next, we want to expand in these existing countries and prove that this is a scalable business model and that it has a huge impact on early education to provide children with the skills and knowledge they will need to cope in the future. I hope many early childhood educators would be interested to use Kide Science as part of their weekly routine and see the change in children with their own eyes.
What has been the hardest thing about getting Kide Science off the ground?
Kide Science uses storytelling as a powerful tool to motivate children into science activities. Potential partners often ask whether we try to export Finnish culture with our stories, so I think this one is one of the presumptions we try to tackle. The story world of Kide is free of cultural stamps because it stems from the imaginary world called Supraland that is located in a different dimension. That kind of fantasy world celebrates children’s natural curiosity and imagination without binding it to a specific cultural environment.
I think, as a startup, the hardest thing for us has been the small team and resources located in such a small country as Finland that has not really had any education-focused VC’s yet. Still, we have managed to develop the product and export the Kide Science concept internationally, but it has not been easy. Also, getting the right people in your growing team, or the right sales partners to work with you is always a challenge.
What piece of advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Try to get feedback and traction very soon from the start, as it helps you to get investors as well. Everything does not need to be finalised, but try to get the feedback immediately from your target group. In addition, the founding team should have diverse experience and background, which helps a lot in the growth process. Your recruitment is an important decision in the start as well, as they build your culture. Remember to focus; your time is your most important asset in the beginning!
Looking back, is there something you would have done differently?
I think we have made such rapid readjustments and changes whenever something has not worked that there are not many things we would have done differently. But there is one lesson I have learnt, which I hope every other entrepreneur realises as well: you should always be raising funding, and you need to start it early enough. It takes 6 to 9 months at the minimum to close the seed round, and soft commitment from investors is not yet final! Funding takes a lot of your time, and you need to be prepared for that with your cash balance.
How do you think the support in your country has helped grow Kide Science?
The fact that Finland has been ranked the happiest country in the world many times, and is known to have excellent education also in early years, has helped. However, the Finnish brand does not last long if you don’t have the best quality solution to deliver. We are a member of Education Finland organisation that helps companies with exporting education. Moreover, we have had funding support from Business Finland that helps Finnish companies to grow quicker and develop their innovation for the global market. Of course, our fast scaling in Finland in the private and public sector has helped us to get funding and proves that this is something that even Finland needs for its early education.
How has technology helped advance your product to reach your audience?
I love the EdTechX saying how “Learning is the new tech” which we have said since our start. Kide Science’s innovation is not our platform; it is our quality pedagogy and resources. Technology only supports how we deliver our pedagogical model to educators. Of course, it is so much easier for startups to reach audience globally nowadays, but if you do not have a good quality pedagogy in your edtech innovation, the tech is not doing it for you. You should always think pedagogy first.
One thing that helps to reach your audience as well is that you have a marketing person in your team. Either that or you are at least willing to learn how to brand your product and make cost-effective social media marketing. That way, you will reach the early adaptors to your products through online platforms, and they will then hopefully be your best ambassadors. When customers find you, I think you have done something right!