A student explores Pictoblox, STEMpedia’s graphical programming platform. Photograph courtesy STEMpedia
In 2016, STEMpedia founders Abhishek Sharma, Dhrupal Shah and Pankaj Verma were three entrepreneurial young students at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, dreaming of the latest technologies. “The phenomenon of robotics, which was such a buzzword earlier on, was driven by student competitions and Olympiads mostly in western countries,” says Sharma. When it comes to technology, he explains, “In the developing world, access and affordability were important issues.”
Sharma, Shah and Verma developed the STEMpedia platform to take on the obstacles faced by young people, regardless of their backgrounds. They wanted to create a product that would make learning technical skills and concepts simple, accessible and relatable for young students. Their platform became an all-in-one offering for everything STEM, incorporating futuristic hardware and user-friendly software as well as a vast library of tutorials, online courses and do-it-yourself projects.
“Back in 2016, we were, perhaps, the first Indian college student team to launch a product on a crowdfunding platform,” says Sharma. The start-up’s first product was completely bootstrapped and had no external capital support. “We realized that the acceptance of any product related to robotics or the Internet of Things would be higher in developed countries while generating mass awareness for the same in developing countries would require us to burn investor money and sustain losses for long,” he says.
Considering the above factors above, STEMpedia launched its product globally and raised money for its first production round via pre-orders. This was made possible by the maker communities that liked the product and spread the word within their communities and makerspaces. “This helped us validate our idea without putting a penny in marketing, and in return raise money for manufacturing via global word-of-mouth,” Sharma adds.
“The education solution by STEMpedia that blends theory with experiential learning is the future of learning,” says Erik Azulay, founder and president of ACIR, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting economic development and growth. “The pace at which technology is being adapted in various fields makes it imperative for the new generations to be technically skilled.”
STEMpedia’s Starter Package, which consists of an intuitive prototyping device and hundreds of electronic and mechanical components, has been supplied to over 250 schools under a Government of India program. The PictoBlox is a graphical programming platform while Dabble is a mobile application that helps in project-making and control. Tech enthusiasts learn how to use them and more from the online courses STEMpedia offers on artificial intelligence (AI), electronics, programming and robotics. “STEMpedia works by simplifying learning to enable learners to dabble with technical concepts while keeping it as relatable to the real world as possible,” explains Sharma.
STEMpedia worked very closely with students, trainers and tech enthusiasts while developing its products, to ensure better STEM skills via an experiential learning experience. As a result, the start-up has drawn clients from across India as well as the United States, including Carolina Kid Coders, Young Engineers North Atlanta, Arrow Electronics, Ericsson and Innovation Science and Technology Academy among others.
Recently, STEMpedia raised $55,005—550 percent of the goal—in a crowdfunding campaign towards Quarky, its new kit designed to teach children about AI and robotics. Feedback from users, including students, parents and teachers, on the AI kit and associated online course has been positive. “Before Quarky everything felt like it was theory or model,” said Pooja from Mumbai. “With Quarky it feels like I am actually implementing something and seeing it happening physically. I keep thinking about what else I can do with Quarky. It is so much fun.”
Paromita Pain is an assistant professor of Global Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.