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When (Tech) Stars Collide: How Seeds4STEM took root at Startup Weekend 2021

When Shannon Bliss and Samantha Avina met at Techstars Startup Weekend Monterey Bay 2021, it was kismet. 

As Avina watched former Hartnell College Dean of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Bliss pitch an idea for a program providing STEM experiences for kids, she became intrigued.

At the time, Avina was pursuing an education major at Hartnell College but wasn’t sure whether she was on the right path. 

“What I really loved about being an education major was working with kids. I was very passionate about working with nonprofits, so when the Startup Weekend came, and I heard what Shannon was doing, it worked out perfectly. I loved everything we’ve been doing since.”

Bliss and Avina created Seeds4STEM to provide hands-on, real-world STEM experiences to  3rd to 8th graders, keeping them engaged with STEM concepts. 

After winning second place at Startup Weekend, the two participated in the Startup Challenge 2021 and won first place in the Social Venture division.

“One of the reasons I think Seeds4Stem is really important right now is that children always need more exposure to STEM,” said Bliss. “There are some good studies out there that show if you can expose children to STEM outside of their school, they’ll be more likely to stay engaged with things like math.“

During her seven years as Dean of STEM, Bliss worked on Hartnell College’s K-12 STEM program, provided to 24 schools in the area. Bliss enjoyed working on the program— composed of an “Intro to Coding” curriculum and a NASA-based program— but yearned to expand it to other areas.

“As a biologist, it would be great to be able to provide some experiences to children more on the biological/agricultural side, so I had been interested in providing those experiences, but as a dean, I did not have time. When I left the college, it was an idea that I was working on trying to develop.”

Bliss credits Startup Challenge for providing resources necessary to bring Seeds4STEM to market.

“Startup Challenge really got us ready to go out into the market, launch a webpage, and start going through the process of incorporating,” she said. We had mentors during that process and went to various workshops that gave us information on how to put together a business plan.”

In addition to Startup Weekend and Startup Challenge, the co-founders also participated in Startup Launchpad. IIED’s virtual incubator, Launchpad offers mentoring and advising, workshops, referrals to resources, assistance in obtaining funding, and professional connections. 

Working with iiED Executive Director Brad Barbeau as their mentor, Avina and Bliss utilized Launchpad’s valuable resources to help them develop Seeds4STEM.

Avina, who is currently pursuing a Managerial Economics degree at UC Davis, emphasized the importance of mentorship.

“After the first Weekend, Barbeau became one of our mentors, and we’ve been working with him since. Meeting with him and checking in, it’s been really nice having that mentorship, said Avina.”

Attend this year’s Startup Weekend January 28-30, 2022, and start a new business. 

Startup Challenge is currently accepting applications for this year’s new business competition! Apply now! The deadline is March 7, 2022.

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