Proof that Success is a Science Unto Itself
What Began as a Crowdsourcing Initiative Is Turning into a Generation of New Female Scientists
Rigorous, creative, award-winning science kits for girls
2017 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Bronze Winner
Two scientists and moms move to Portland, meet at their daughters’ science fair and go on to start a small business together. Although it sounds like the plot of the next summer blockbuster, it’s the real-life story of Yellow Scope — an innovative company founded by two women who are every bit as engaging as the science kits they create.
Kelly McCollum, MPH, built a career in academic research in Philadelphia, specializing in epidemiology and biostatistics. Marcie Colledge, Ph.D., has loved science for as long as she could remember, preferred looking at specimens under her microscope to playing with dolls as a child, and, ultimately, discovered her passion in neuroscience. For different family reasons, both McCollum and Colledge ended up taking work sabbaticals and moving to Portland, Oregon. It didn’t take long for these two kindred spirits to connect.
McCollum and Colledge volunteered to run a Family Science Night program together, where they were constantly looking for ways they could integrate a fun theme to capture the kids’ attention and engage them in the scientific process. The buzz around the events sparked conversation in the classroom, the lunchroom and everywhere in between. The kids never had so much fun learning. They knew they were onto something.
“Then, we hit on the idea of packaging the experience into a kit. We bought art kits for our kids all of the time. Why not a science kit?” McCollum said.
McCollum and Colledge had already done a substantial amount of STEM research and realized that women were dramatically underrepresented in these fields. It wasn’t that girls weren’t good at science; it was a confidence gap. So, they knew they wanted to focus their efforts there.
“We did a Google search on ‘science kits for girls’ and got a screen full of pink and purple sparkly make-up kits. It was all ‘make your own lip balm,’ ‘make some perfume.’ We were shocked,” Colledge said. “We thought, we can do better than this. We can make rigorous but fun and creative science kits that take girls seriously. That was our aha moment.”
They had their product. They had their target audience. And, they most definitely had their mission.
Nearly from the beginning, Yellow Scope has been a FedEx customer. So, McCollum and Colledge have known about the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest for years. This year, they decided that they were at the right stage of their business to apply, and were happy to make the Top 100.
“We’ve won a lot of smaller things, more local things. But FedEx is so global, with so much reach and credibility, that finding out that we were a bronze grant winner felt like the next level of validation for us,” McCollum said. “It’s like, FedEx is recognizing us? It felt amazing.”
McCollum and Colledge will use the grant money to ramp up Yellow Scope’s digital marketing strategy — something they’ve looked at, but didn’t have the budget to pursue before.
Most importantly, Yellow Scope wants to continue making a difference.
“One particularly memorable story for me was from a woman who bought a Chemistry Kit for a young girl she mentors. She walked in on the little girl doing an experiment and asked if it was fun to play chemist,” McCollum said. “The little girl looked up at her and said, ’I’m not playing chemist. I am a chemist.’ That’s exactly the kind of confidence we want to instill.”
Running a small business is a process, with lessons learned along the way. Those lessons can come in the form of corrected mistakes or good decisions that ended up being great decisions or unexpected victories.
Here are Yellow Scope Founders Kelly McCollum’s and Marcie Colledge’s top three:
- BUSINESS ACUMEN & MANAGEMENT: Take Time to Learn How to Run a Business
Neither had started a business before. Before they moved forward with Yellow Scope, they took a class on the foundations of business where they wrote their business plan, perfected their elevator pitch and learned about the cost of goods sold. Taking the time to learn business skills up front reduces missteps down the road.
- MONEY MANAGEMENT: Learn to Manage Cash Flow and Operate Lean
When you’re building a new small business, it’s important to operate lean. “We’ve learned a lot along the way about managing cash flow effectively. Even the simple things, like getting terms when you can and being a little more thoughtful about timing how your money flows out makes a difference,” McCollum said.
- CROWDSOURCING: Do Your Homework and Prime Your Community Before Your Kickstarter Launch
Kickstarter can be an exceptional way to gain funding and visibility for a new, innovative product. But, you can’t just put the product out there and expect to do well. McCollum and Colledge primed their community. They emailed every contact, telling him or her about the Kickstarter launch and asking for support. They ended up 50 percent funded in 24 hours, and ultimately overfunded by 32 percent.