Monday Motivation from Suz Somersall, CEO & Industrial Designer at Kira Kira Academy

Mondays can be rough and, sometimes, we can all use some motivation. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from industry leaders and some of the most creative entrepreneurs out there.

We sat down with Suz Somersall, CEO & Industrial Designer at Kira Kira Academy, to discuss embracing your inner nerd, the future of women in STEAM, and targeting Generation Z.

What inspired you to start your business?
When I was little I loved science. It was my favorite class. I loved science class because it was a place for me to experiment. I loved making things and learning about how things worked; how the earth turns, how plants grow. When I was in middle school, I was for lack of a better word a “nerd.” A happy nerd. My favorite pastimes included playing final fantasy, and building starship control panels on the top of my doll houses. I excelled at math and science. Somewhere in high school and definitely in college, my confidence began to falter. And when I saw the things taught in robotics and engineering classes, I opted out.

By the time I was graduated college I didn’t think I was good at math, or science, and would never have imagined myself in an engineering field. But after college, I found myself pursuing art and design as a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design. I knew I wanted to learn more about creating things. But still was searching for my focus. I happened to take a 3D modeling class and fell in love.I began to remember my 13 year old self. The one who thought she could build anything. I started to love using machines like these—3D printers, CNC milling machines and laser cutters—and programs like these—Solidworks, Rhino and Inventor—to realize the things trapped inside my imagination. I saw all the things that I could create. And I realized that we have things backward: if you lead with creativity, the love for STEM will follow.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
I moved to California to build my team and raise money. When I moved here I was alone, I didn’t have any team members and I had zero funds. Over the past year, we have raised half a million dollars and hired a team of five amazing women. (Something really rare in Silicon Valley—an all female team!)

What’s been the greatest reward?
Knowing that we are creating a product that has a social impact.

What is the biggest thing you’d like to see changed in the your industry, and how are you working toward making that change happen?
These are the statistics we want to see changing. Especially the one at the bottom that we are the most focused on: mechanical engineering.

Women in STEAM
There has been a huge focus on the need for female-focused STEAM education.
35.2% of chemists are women;
11.1% of physicists and astronomers are women;
33.8% of environmental engineers are women;
22.7% of chemical engineers are women;
17.5% of civil, architectural, and sanitary engineers are women;
17.1% of industrial engineers are women;
10.7% of electrical or computer hardware engineers are women; and
7.9% of mechanical engineers are women.

When girls are in fifth grade, their proficiency in math and science is on par with boys over 61% but by the time they are entering high school this interest and proficiency has plummeted to 20%. This means that by the end of middle school we have lost 80% of girls who could otherwise have been engaged in STEAM studies and ultimately high paying STEAM careers. This is why we are targeting Generation Z girls.

Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
My team. Seeing how hard they are working and knowing that on both the level of the team and our social impact this has become something much larger than myself. I can’t give up because it’s not just me with this crazy idea anymore. I have other people who believed in me and the idea, and they have helped to get us to where we are today.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to another entrepreneur just starting out?
Don’t give up. Ever. The highs are high and lows are low, and the rollercoaster is constant so just embrace living in uncertainty and you might be surprised by how liberating uncertainty can be.

What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
Put time on my calendar for me, doctor appointments, exercise, lunch with friends. If I don’t prioritize disconnecting and focusing on me for at least an hour a day, I won’t be my best self the rest of the time. Love yourself!

For more #MondayMotivation, check out our interview with Dana Donofree, Founder of AnaOno, to discuss the pain points of scaling, bridging the gender gap, and turning a life-threatening disease into a life-changing venture.