Ooh, we really like this company! San Francisco based startup KiraKira was recently named as one of the top 10 Emerging Education Startups by Launch Festival—plus it has an impressive number of female employees (hint: all of them). The startups is an online academy for girls that teaches 3D design and mechanical engineering to aim to change the status quo and break stereotypes. We talked with Malena Southworth, Co-Founder & Creative Director of KiraKira, to learn more.
KiraKira is an online academy that teaches girls engineering fundamentals and 3D design software through fun, interactive, jewelry design classes. At KiraKira we want to empower and inspire girls to have confidence in themselves and broaden the academic fields they consider. You could say we want to build girls up, break stereotypes down and rebrand engineering as a career that appeals to women.
What inspired you to start KiraKira?
Before KiraKira, my fellow co-founder Suz Somersall and I worked together to build the Suz Somersall jewelry line. As a way to reduce costs, we began 3D printing our jewelry. After researching tutorials to teach our interns 3D modeling, we realized that most existing classes are very uninspiring and intimidating for girls. Traditional tutorials teach how to design wrenches and auto parts, we want to teach girls how to 3D model through something that will excite them, and we realized an easy way to do this: through jewelry design. We saw the spark of inspiration and accomplishment in our interns as they learned engineering fundamentals and 3D design programs and we knew almost instantly that we were on to something.
We started researching and were astounded by the lack of women in engineering – only 7% of mechanical engineers are female. Even more troubling was the data regarding girls and STEM education. Statistically, we see the drop-off in female STEM proficiency between 5th and 9th grade, plummeting from a 60% proficiency in Math & Science in grade 5 to less than 20% by the time they reach 9th grade. It’s no coincidence that this is also the same age when girls’ self esteems are lowest and stereotypes like “girls aren’t good at math” and “engineering is for boys” become ingrained. This needs to change.
We want to reach girls before negative stereotypes and low self esteem hold them back from pursuing their dreams. Not every girl that takes our classes is going to become an engineer, but our hope is that after she designs a wearable piece of art on software used by architects and aerospace engineers, she will have the confidence to become anything she can imagine.
Tell us about the KiraKira Academy.
KiraKira Academy is where design, DIY, STEM and online learning meet. Though our focus is on girls, our online classroom and community is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Classes range from beginner to advanced on a variety of platforms including Rhino, TinkerCad and Fusion, among others. Students can choose from our many 3D printed jewelry classes as well as art and small object design lessons. Our classes are taught by women, including our female college and high school interns. We invite the girls to walk through the creative process with us, start to finish in classes that are designed to be fun, inspiring and educational. At the end of each class our student will have created a 3D design file that can be printed on any 3D printer. Our intention is to equip students with the confidence and tools to then create their own designs.
Tell us about the KiraKira store.
The KiraKira store currently offers a variety of 3D printed jewelry pieces, the same pieces that our students are learning to design in KiraKira Academy. After completion of a course, girls can reward their hard work with a physical replica of the design they created using the 3D modeling program. We want to inspire girls to create their own designs that they will be able to sell in our student curated store. Proceeds from these sales will go to their college tuition fund.
What value does KiraKira have that makes it stand out against other startups in the space?
There has been a tremendous focus on female education in the computer science space, however we found there was a need for alternative, innovative approaches to introduce girls to engineering. Currently only 13% of engineers are female and yet there is a new generation of 27.5 million girls in elementary school right now. This represents a massive opportunity to engage our girls. KiraKira offers a comprehensive community of learning, innovation and creation. Students can take classes, create their own designs, shop and sell these designs and most importantly, communicate and share ideas with each other. This is not currently offered anywhere else in a way that is engaging to our target audience.
What has been one of the most challenging parts of getting started? How did you overcome this and what did you learn?
Starting any business is life-changing. We have a very strong work ethic, which is wonderful, but the challenge is prioritizing and remembering to take time for ourselves. We remind each other (often) to sleep, exercise and just take care of ourselves. KiraKira is our baby and we have poured ourselves into growing this business over the past 9 months. It’s been an amazing and sometimes exhausting learning process for us. We’ve learned the importance of setting realistic goals and to celebrate your “wins” along the way. Our “wins” have helped us keep our momentum going and our setbacks fuel us to work harder and smarter.
What can we expect from KiraKira in the future?
Big things! Beyond our class offerings, we see the KiraKira community growing into a rich, diverse conversation amongst women of all ages. On a broader scale, KiraKira will provide a new generation of girls with the tools to innovate. We need to continually increase diversity of thought, with equal male to female participation. Crucial to this and to the future of design learning is a focus on community. Sharing knowledge, communication, and an empathetic human-centered approach will all be crucial to our ability to innovate. Through creating a community that nurtures and excites girls to learn, think, create and SHARE their designs, we will be able to transform challenges into new solutions for the future.
We love what KiraKira is doing! Learn more about them on their website here and watch the video below.
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