New Business Aims to Deliver Science to 8-11 Year-Olds, One Month at a Time

There’s a new Connecticut start-up launching this month, aiming to engage upper elementary school age children with the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through monthly hands-on activities delivered right to their doors.  What began as a response by two college friends to an entrepreneurial start-up challenge is now a full-fledged business, hoping to grow as it excites children ages 8-11 about the potential of the STEM fields. The business, Genius Box, delivers a “monthly STEM adventure to a subscriber’s mailbox, featuring a topic to explore and the tools to do so."  Each box will contain activities or experiments that further illustrate the topic of the month, providing hands on learning opportunities through a narrative “challenge” posed in each box.genius box  horiz

Kate Pipa and Shivangi Shah received second place at Demo Day at Northeastern University a few years ago, and “with much excitement and encouragement,” decided to launch a company based on their idea.  Next was a successful crowdfunding campaign in fall 2013, which led to initial beta testing and feedback collection, including work with students in Connecticut classrooms to obtain reactions from students and their teachers.  Earlier this year, a prototype Genius Box was provided to middle-school age participants at the Connecticut Technology Council’s annual Girls of Innovation program.

Genius Box aims to connect kids with real life examples of science, technology, engineering, and math to further the understanding of these critical subjects “in a way that resonates with upper elementary school aged children.” The topic to be explored in December’s inaugural Genius Box will be Kaleidoscopes.  The company’s website is now accepting one month, three month or six month subscriptions for the monthly deliveries.

“We are excited to staco foundersrt this new chapter,” said co-founder and CEO Kate Pipa, who lives in Shelton. “And we are excited to bring kids a new box each month of hands-on fun that also doubles as a learning opportunity and is making social impact for the kids and for our partner organizations.”

Co-founder and COO Shivangi Shah adds, “We hope that the next generation of geniuses will embrace STEM and apply it to the world around them. We want them to believe they can change the world.”

Each box includes a narrative story and activity cards to explain topic and activities in a fun, engaging way, and three or more activities and experiments in each box.  Each monthly kit is “designed in a way that puts each genius in the driver's seat to solve the challenge at hand, with minimal help from adults.”

Extending the Benefits

Pipa and Shah have also added a social benefit component to their sales. For each box sold, Genius Box Inc. will donate $1.00 to a partner nonprofit. December’s partner organization is Connecticut-based ManyMentors, which connects middle and high schools students interested in the S.T.E.M. fields with near age peer mentors via interactive, engaging workshops and a highly innovative online platform.

Genius Box is also among the first social benefit corporations in the state of Connecticut, allowing the company to pursue an expanded mission that embraces societal good along with profits.  Legislation creating the new designation was approved by the state legislature earlier this year, and took effect in October.

The company’s website explains “We want to provide an experience that inspires, encourages, and empowers kids to think big. To be curious. To experiment. To make mistakes. To explore new topics. Overall, to be the change makers and problem-solvers of tomorrow, today.”  Aiming directly at its target audience, the site invites, “Adventure on, geniuses. Your monthly mystery awaits.”

The company is currently shipping only within the United States, and offers free shipping.  More information about Genius Box is available at www.geniusbox.me.

Photo:  Kate Pipa and Shivangi Shah

 

Benefit Corporations Find a Home in Delaware, Connecticut to Try Again Next Year

During the summer, progress was made on efforts to advance social benefit corporations – businesses that aim to impact their communities in addition to making a profit – but that progress did not come in Connecticut.

Delaware became the 19th state (plus the District of Columbia) to enact benefit corporation legislation in July.  Similar legislation did not make it through the Connecticut legislature in 2013, despite widespread support and no known opposition.

Delaware, as corporate home venture-backed businesses, 50 percent of all publicly-traded companies, and 64 percent of the Fortune 500, is considered by advocates to be among the most important states for businesses that seek access to venture capital, private equity, and public capital markets.

The goal of the legislation is to create in state law a new type of corporation—the benefit corporation—that best meets the needs of entrepreneurs alcertified B ogond investors seeking to use business to solve social and environmental problems.  Benefit corporations operate the same as traditional corporations but with higher standards of corporate purpose, accountability, and transparency, advocates say.  The new designation provides business leaders with legal protection to pursue a higher purpose than profit, and they offer investors and the public greater transparency to protect against pretenders, supporters point out.

In Connecticut, despite being introduced earlier this year with the backing of Governor Dannel Malloy, overwhelming support in the state House where it passed by a lopsided 128-12 on May 20, and co-sponsorship by the legislature’s four top leaders, legislation establishing the “benefit corporation” as a new type of corporate entity never came up for a vote in the State Senate, and thus it died when the session ended in June.

Among the leading advocates of the proposal in Connecticut, the reSET Social Enterprise Trust has vowed to renew the effort next year, a commitment echoed by a broad coalition of supporters in the private sector and in government economic development circles. “In the next legislative session, reSET will re-double its efforts to secure passage of tsocial benefit corp maphis much-needed legislation,” the organization emphasizes, pointing out that the bill “drafted in cooperation with the Connecticut Bar Association and BLab, is the most comprehensive of its type proposed in the United States.”

In recognition of the milestone achievement in Delaware, more than 600 businesses around the country signed an Open Letter inviting their peers to join the movement to redefine success in business.

The letter stated, in part, “we see this as a big market opportunity, because a large and increasing number of people want to support a better way to do business -- better for our workers, better for our communities, better for our environment.  Until recently, corporate law has not recognized the legitimacy of any corporate purpose other than maximizing profits. That old conception of the role of business in society is at best limiting, and at worst destructive. By serving a higher purpose and by meeting higher standards of transparency and accountability, we build our most important asset -- trust. This trust enables us to attract the best talent and turn customers into evangelists, helping us make money and make a difference.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell, writing in the Huffington Post, said “These new Delaware public benefit corporations will harness the power of private enterprise to create public benefit. In the short term, they will create high quality jobs and improve the quality of life in our communities. In the long term, as many enter the public capital markets, they will help combat the plague of short termism that we have seen over the last five years can undermine a shared and durable prosperity.”

Markell noted that the new public benefit corporations will “have three unique features that make them potential game changers” – “concern corporate purpose, accountability, and transparency.”  Prior to serving in government, Markell, now in his second term as Governor, was senior Vice President for Corporate Development for Nextel, having been one of the first fifteen people hired by the company.

Among those advocating for benefit corporation legislation across the country – including Connecticut - is the nonprofit organization behind the Certified B Corporation designation.  B Lab is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that serves a global movement of entrepreneurs using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Lab serves these entrepreneurs through three interrelated initiatives that provide them the legal infrastructure and help them attract the customers, talent, and capital to scale.

Benefit Corporations and Certified B Corporations are distinct terms. They share much in common and have a few important differences. Certified B Corporation is a certification conferred by the nonprofit B Lab. Benefit corporation is a legal status administered by a state government, such as the case this summer in Delaware (and almost in Connecticut).  Benefit corporations do NOT need to be certified.

Certified B Corporations have been certified as having met a high standard of overall social and environmental performance, and as a result have access to a portfolio of services and support from B Lab that benefit corporations do not.  The B Lab website indicates more than 800 companies in 27 countries and 60 industries have earned the designation.