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Scouting Report: StemBox moves from Seattle to Des Moines

Scientists understand the importance of research.

And as Kina McAllister was starting her company StemBox, she had to conduct some research.

StemBox started in 2015 and is a company targeting young girls ages seven through 12 who can sign up for monthly subscription boxes of science experiments. Each month, a sophisticated experiment, authentic lab equipment and fun science accessories are mailed to their home to help fuel their interest in STEM.

So for research, McAllister went to her local Whole Foods.

“When I started it (StemBox) I was 23 and didn’t know people who had kids in the range that I was marketing for,” McAllister explains. “So I would go stand in the aisles at Whole Foods and ask people what they did with their kids after school, if they did science, if they look for that in their life.”

After her boyfriend was accepted into medical school at Des Moines University, McAllister and StemBox got in the car on July 21 and moved to Des Moines.

“I love Seattle,” she says. “It’s just a lot easier to exist here.”

Here’s the scouting report on the new company in town…

StemBox founder Kina McAllister

Leaving the lab

McAllister graduated from Seattle University in 2013 with a degree in Biology and a focus in chemistry and biology. She would go on to work for a research lab in Seattle but says she never felt comfortable in the space.

And it had nothing to do with her ability as a scientist.

“For being someone who likes to get up, put on makeup and do their hair, it just didn’t feel great,” she says. “And so every time I talked to women in the lab, they had similar experiences.”

So after a “TED Talk” at Seattle Ignite centering around women in STEM resonated with the audience, McAllister wanted to do something more tangible with it that might have more of an impact.

“Something like a physical product,” McAllister says.

So to get girls involved in STEM at a younger age, she started StemBox.

“When I grew up, there weren’t science kits for girls that actually honored their intelligence,” McAllister says. “It’s a lot of makeup, perfume and glitter.”

The first StemBox was a strawberry DNA extraction kit and the September experiment was a DIY constellation lamp with fiber optics and other stuff for the solar eclipse.

Between 500-800 a shipped each month to each of the 50 states.

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A high profile supporter

The first group of girls exposed to StemBox came at a workshop for 20 girls. McAllister said she drove around and posted flyers everyday after work hoping for 20 takers.

“It didn’t sell as many as I thought the first two days, but the third day they all sold out,” she explained. “And it turns out a parent at Microsoft put it on an email list.”

The workshop led to a kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000.

MTV News had picked it up, Upworthy and Melinda Gates were tweeting about it, so we ended up closing at 23,000,” McAllister said.

That capital allowed McAllister to have six months to prepare and partner with a fulfillment center.

“During that time, Melinda Gates put out a gift guide in December of 2015 with three gifts on it, we were one of those,” McAllister says. “And nobody told me.

“So I woke up with an inbox that just kept getting a new email every ten seconds. Buried under all that, was an email saying we were put on that list.”

Nearly three months into her time as an Iowan, McAllister says she’s loving Des Moines.

“It feels like Des Moines really likes to claim their businesses and they are really proud of them,” she says. “So I would like to be able to that for Des Moines and make them proud of StemBox.”

The Scouting Report provides details on a new company that moved to Iowa. If a new company moves to Iowa, other people would like to read about it. Tell us, please.

Scouting Report: StemBox moves from Seattle to Des Moines | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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