She notes that having strong female role models was critical. “When I was younger, I always pictured a scientist as someone who looked like Albert Einstein. Having those female role models in my life really inspired me.” In high school, Olivia continued along this path, even working in a cancer lab at Georgetown University and a neurobiology lab at Stanford during the respective summers after her sophomore and junior years.
While working at Stanford, Olivia wrote a blog in conjunction with the Center for Talented Youth, with the goal of getting young girls interested in science.
Despite this spark of inspiration, the company did not self-assemble overnight. “I think there’s this misconception that when you create a product you just have this great idea and then you spend a year building it in your garage and you go out an everybody wants it. Going through it, that wasn’t the way it worked.”
Instead, when Olivia arrived at Yale as a freshman, she continued to work on developing LabCandy. She became the youngest fellow of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute in 2013 and utilized the talent and experience of others at the Institute to launch LabCandy. “I went in there, and it was a little bit scary because I was with graduate students and people who had three companies already and sold them! I didn’t even know what venture capital was. It was a learning process for me. What they really told me to do, which I found to be valuable advice, was to go out and talk to people. Talk to young girls and their moms and science teachers.”
What they really told me to do, which I found to be valuable advice, was to go out and talk to people. Talk to young girls and their moms and science teachers.”
In addition to identifying her audience, Olivia also learned about what really resonated with her target demographic. Through these discussions, “[I realized that] I wasn’t just making lab goggles. I was building characters that these girls could relate to.” The main character in the book Olivia wrote, Ava, uses science to solve problems. “The idea is Ava goes on an adventure and runs into a series of problems that she solves using science experiments. It’s interactive, so girls can write their own hypothesis, their observations, and recreate the experiment in their own home. [My hope is] that if they enjoy the experiments in the book series, that they may continue along the STEM track.”
“[I want to] help girls picture themselves as scientists. When I was younger I pictured a scientist as Einstein, alone in their lab. So, I created the character, Ava, to combat that. To create an image of someone who is fun, young, and hip—just like the girls who are reading these books. I want someone for these young girls to be able to look up to. And then say, well if Ava can do this, maybe so can I.” Olivia found that girls begin losing interest in math and science as early as age seven, so creating these positive associations at a young age is important.
The illustrations in the storybook, a collaboration with artist Emily Monjaraz, are beautiful. “It definitely helps to have talented people with you. I got lucky in that I found my partner, Emily Monaraz, who illustrated and laid out the books. She took care of all the printing and everything in that area. She really made the whole process so much smoother.”
For the first run of LabCandy kits, Olivia and her team opted to do a Kickstarter campaign. “We wanted to spread the word about our mission. The idea behind LabCandy is getting girls interested in science and helping spread the word about, ‘This is what a scientist looks like.’ Kickstarter is a good platform for raising awareness—about not only the business, but the mission behind it.”
I asked Olivia what the process of launching a Kickstarter was like. Was she nervous? Confident? “Of course, when you’re putting your baby out their for the world to see, you are a little bit nervous! You’re always nervous that somebody is going to call your baby ugly! I was nervous we weren’t going to reach our goal. Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money—it’s a lot to ask of people. But I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and pressed go. We ended up reaching our goal in under three days.” Everyone clearly loved LabCandy products and the mission.
After the success of their first campaign, LabCandy is hoping to create more characters and write more books. “But I think something I’m really interested in right now is moving into the digital space. I would love to have some kind of YouTube web series where Ava goes on animated adventures and does experiments. It’s another way to engage with our audience and spread the mission. I want to make our mission as accessible as possible. Anybody can log on and watch YouTube videos.”
The idea behind LabCandy is getting girls interested in science and helping spread the word about, ‘This is what a scientist looks like.’ Kickstarter is a good platform for raising awareness—about not only the business, but the mission behind it.”
One final piece of advice that Olivia recently received:
Find the most challenging and complex problem you can think of, and then study that, because your life will always be interesting.”