STEM Starts Now — a digital program that teaches parents how to stimulate an infant’s curiosity and prepare them to learn about science, technology, engineering and math — is the winner of a regional competition featuring startups with a social mission.
The program was developed by Aimee Ketchum, a pediatric occupational therapist and entrepreneur, based in Lititz.
“I work with parents and babies every single day so I see the challenges and issues parents are facing,” she said. “I want to help provide solutions and information that’s based on research. The goal is to provide parents with the tools to give all babies everywhere the best start possible.”
Ketchum is also the creator of Aimee’s Babies, an early childhood development company that has produced apps, DVDs, CDs and videos for parents.
She was one of five social entrepreneurs who pitched their business ideas during a live event in late September as part of the Great Social Enterprise Pitch, which is sponsored by Lancaster-based nonprofit Assets and the Lancaster County Community Foundation.
Jonathan Coleman, interim co-executive director of Assets, said the live pitch was the final step in the competition, which includes educational sessions for participants. This year’s competition, the fifth, included 30 social enterprises from Lancaster, York, Dauphin, and Berks Counties.
“The goal of the Social Enterprise Pitch is to encourage the private sector to engage in solving problems — to become a force for good, a social enterprise,” Coleman said, “In 2016 Americans donated $400 billion to charity and spent nearly $800 billion on eating out at restaurants. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t eat at restaurants. But what if the restaurants were trying to solve the same problem the charities were? There would be so much more impact.”
The top five ideas competed on stage in front of a sold-out community audience and five judges. As the winner, STEM Starts Now took home $7,500 cash and $15,000 in pro bono services.
The remainder of the $65,000 in cash and services available as prizes was split among the remaining four contestants.
Finishing second was Trimatis, which converts plastic waste into 3D printer filament. Third place was awarded to Imagine Goods Sustainable Supply Co., which offers clothing produced by survivors of human trafficking. Rebelchique Dance Co., a dance company offering classes in underserved communities claimed fourth place, while The Laundry Ladies, a laundry service that allows mothers to work from home, claimed fifth place.
Ketchum said the Social Enterprise Pitch not only helped her refine her product but also develop the business plan for STEM Starts Now.
For a monthly cost of $4.99 per month or a one-time annual payment of $49, customers of STEM Starts Now gain access to special areas on the website, www.stemstartsnow.com, as well as a bi-weekly e-newsletter that provides developmental information from childhood experts tailored to their baby’s age. Subscriber information on the website includes videos from Aimee’s Babies and access to a music and exercise program for young children.
She said studies have shown that by the time a child starts Kindergarten 90 percent of their brain is developed. Additionally she said research indicates that if a child’s interest in STEM is not fostered by the time he or she reaches third grade, it can be gone forever.
“It’s really critical to begin creating an interest in STEM at infancy,” Ketchum said.
Since its inception in 2014, the annual Great Social Enterprise Pitch has distributed more than $1.1 million in prize money, pro bono services, crowdfunding and financial investment to participants.