When we started the Squishy Circuits project in 2009 my undergrad research students and I never dreamt that it would take off the way that it did. We're delighted to know that there are Squishy Circuit builders young and old, around the world! We always knew we'd freely share all of our methods and information, but we realized that there were many people (particularly schools and parents) who wanted to be able to buy a complete kit, not just download a list of necessary parts and instructions.
My then undergraduate student, Matthew Schmidtbauer started the Squishy Circuits Store to meet this demand. It's been amazing to watch how hard Matt has worked to make the business a success. In order to grow his offerings, and expand the business, he is competing in the "Mission Main Street Grants" challenge. Below, I will share Matt's story of starting a company while in college, and what he would do if he won one of these grants. Please consider voting for him here.
My Squishy Circuits journey began in early 2011 when I was an electrical engineering student at the University of St. Thomas and had just started working with AnnMarie on the Squishy Circuits project. From the very beginning, I thought that Squishy Circuits was a fantastic idea – and I was very excited to be working on it. After attending several events, I realized that many people were looking for a single source for all of the components required for Squishy Circuits. As my mom stated, “I wouldn’t have bought this for you growing up. I wouldn’t know what to call these things, let alone where to buy them.”
Although developing a business plan, sourcing parts, and building a website were not necessarily things I thought I would be working on during my free time that spring, I started learning more about the process and finalized the Squishy Circuits Store idea. By June I had gained permission from AnnMarie, Sam (Squishy Circuits’ previous student researcher and recipe developer), and St. Thomas to continue forward. On June 15th, I filed the paperwork for Squishy Circuits Store LLC.
Armed with a small loan from my parents, I ordered raw materials from China. Upon their arrival, it became quite clear that “some assembly was required” and my parents and I began producing Squishy Circuits Kits out of their basement and garage. By September I had the first versions of the Squishy Circuits Kits available online and had started selling them. Learning to juggle school, work, kit production, and everything that filled the spaces in-between proved to be challenge, but, looking back, I can only think of it as a positive, learning experience.
Fast-forwarding to present day, I am proud to have sold thousands of Squishy Circuits kits in over 20 countries around the world. Although no longer a student researcher for Squishy Circuits, I continue to be a proponent of the program and am a firm believer that learning can be accomplished through playing and self-discovery.
To be honest, I am not sure if I ever expected Squishy Circuits Store to grow to the size that it has already. But, as Squishy Circuits continues to gain momentum in schools, libraries, and dining rooms around the world, I would like to continue to expand Squishy Circuits Store too. This grant would allow me to redesign the kit to break into new markets and create additional products that support different Squishy Circuits activities. More specifically, it would allow me to build up inventory so that I can start marketing at educational supply conferences and trade shows. Until now, I have been slowly growing by reinvesting the profits that I make, but with this grant I would have the capitol I need to scale Squishy Circuits Store to a new level much more quickly. Although I never anticipated that I would be running a company that provides hardware for electrical education using play dough, I am excited for the opportunity and am confident that Squishy Circuits Store’s future is a bright one.
Again, please vote here!