By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
The U.S. Census reports that 15% of engineers working in the nation are women, despite women making up 48% of the total U.S. workforce. Aerospace Engineer Marina Bloomer started experiencing this disparity in high school when she was the only girl enrolled in her AP Computer Science course.
In college, women only made up an estimated 10% of her classmates in her advanced math and science classes. When she began her career in aerospace, she was often one of the few women in the room. As she rose through the professional ranks, finding female peers became increasingly difficult.
Bloomer knew that the world was missing opportunities for innovation by not having diverse perspectives working on projects. She began working on projects that would introduce engineering to under-represented communities to address this problem.
While studying mechanical engineering at Tufts University, Bloomer taught STEM lessons to middle school students as part of the school’s Center for Engineering Education Outreach.
“I always had a passion for teaching engineering to kids,” Bloomer said. “I really enjoyed being able to see how to get all the kids involved and learning engineering and learning what we were doing, instead of just the kids who naturally were drawn towards it. I was able to really work closely, especially with the girls in the classrooms … I was able to really connect with them and build these relationships and encouragement and adjust the curriculum to encourage them to get involved.
“That was the early days when I realized, ‘OK, this is something to do my whole life.’So, I did my career. I was very successful in my career; I worked in corporate America, I worked in leadership positions. But I was always teaching STEM on the side. I always ran a number of summer camps.”
Her passion to change the face of engineering continued beyond her school years. A champion of diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace, Bloomer said she “started different programs to encourage leadership to consider the value of diversity and how we can have better inclusion with the employees that we have. I mentored young women throughout my career, too. I’ve tried to increase diversity in engineering.
“It is something I know we need to do, and I’ve tried to find every ability I have to make a difference.I could do what I could on the side during my volunteer time, but it reached a point where I knew that if I gave it my all and really put all of my skills and my energy and my focus on one thing that can really make a difference, I could have a bigger influence.”
The desire to create inclusion in STEM fields led Bloomer to launch Stellar Tech Girls in March 2022. The business hosts STEM related camps and classes for girls and non-binary kids ages 9-14.
She had years of experience creating dynamic and engaging STEM curriculum, and was a skilled manager, but had never founded a company before, so the aerospace engineer completed an MBA program at the University of Wisconsin to ensure her business plan was just as solid as her STEM skills.
The reaction to the newly launched company has been enthusiastic. Stellar Tech Girls has booked many birthday parties and Girl Scout troops in the three months they have been open, and their summer programs are quickly filling. It is not just parents and kids who are fans of the STEM programming, the new startup won first place in the Business Services category of the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
Of the win, Bloomer said, “the exposure has been incredible. And then on top of it, it’s just been really great as an entrepreneur, there’s a lot of ups and downs and it’s risky. It’s a risky move when you quit your really well-paying stable job, and then you go to having money going out the door instead. It’s been a really great validation too. As I’ve gone through the competition of getting great mentorship from people who have been there and validation that this business model will be successful and other people see that as well. So, it’s been a little extra fuel to keep going. It’s kind of a long road of getting a company up and running and growing.”
The bootstrapped business received a Main Street Bounceback Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC), which allowed it to open its first location in Middleton. Bloomer plans to continue to self-fund the business for now, but she has plans to scale the business as soon as the team is able to “create a stable curriculum and a registration and employment strategy that really demonstrates what the revenue can look like for one location,” she said.
Stellar Tech Girls is focused on expanding into other university towns in the Midwest that are similar in demographics to the Madison area.
“I really think we have an opportunity to make a bigger difference in the Midwest, for girls in the Midwest, with a program like this,” said Bloomer, noting the multitude of STEM programs that already exist on the East and West coasts.
“Stellar Tech Girls is a brand that inspires and empowers girls to consider being engineers and there is so much that I can do with that brand to make sure that I have the biggest impact possible.”
To follow the impact of Stellar Tech Girls, or to get involved by becoming a mentor or donate to the scholarship fund, click here.