Science in the Playroom

Miguel Martins, founder of Science4You, devotes his time to turning science into toys

Making science fun for children - fun enough to be played with, to be experimented with and to be entertaining – is the idea behind Science4You. What started out as an end-of-term project has now become a fully-fledged science company with offices in two countries. Its catalogue features very unusual and futuristic-sounding toys like an eco-house, a seawater-powered car, or a wind-energy farm. A kit to grow plants and a food wheel are also found in the range of scientific toys designed to stimulate children's curiosity for nature and the universe.

The aim of Science4You is very clear – provide quality toys that are fun and educational. Its current success and expansion prove that it has found a clear void in the toy market.

Yet Science4You was born modestly, out of a final-year academic project. Its creator, Miguel Martins, was a student of Finance when the seeds of the company were planted. It started out as a two-dimensional project in which the Faculty of Science of Lisbon University provided the ideas for scientific toys and Martins’ management school sketched the business model to market and sell the innovative toys. Sometime after graduating and after experiencing working in the banking system, Martins decided to apply his academic project to risk capital. In January 2008, Science4You was officially born.

Because Science4You was set up with risk capital, the initial investments that were necessary to start transforming scientific ideas into material objects were secured, inspiring confidence that Martins innovative project would succeed.

"I don't think people were unsure about the idea as I created Science4You through risk capital"

Martins also reveals that his business strategy was what ensured Science4You's long-term survival and impressive growth despite the current economic downward spiral.

"Science4You is a company which was born in the midst of an economic crisis. The current challenges of consumption are not alien to us and so we are set on succeeding through quality products. In this way, we are able to capture and keep our clients," he said.

Great emphasis is put on good ideas, not just any ideas either but ideas that are related to recent scientific experiments and that can result in toys appealing to children. This aspect is what makes the partnership with the Faculty of Science so important.

As Martisn explains, "We have a partnership with the Faculty of Science in Lisbon and so many of our toys are born out of ideas proposed by that school."

"We work on our toys with the whole range of ideas provided by our staff in mind"

Adding to the equation is the fact that these scientific toys have to be fun, what works in a lab might not work in a playroom. To ensure such a scenario does not occur, input from every staff member is valuable.

"We work on our toys with the whole range of ideas provided by our staff in mind. Currently, Science4You has employees from different backgrounds and this allows us to respond perfectly to market demand."

The multifaceted approach demonstrated in the toy creation has also paved the way for deepening the partnership with the Faculty of Science, which has been fruitful beyond toys. Summer activities and birthday parties are in high demand by clients who have already experienced the joys and wonders of Science4You's unique toys. Celebrating a birthday in lab coats, looking through microscopes and marvelling at a replica of an oozing volcano can help make a child’s day nothing short of memorable.

However, science is not limited to playtime and students might find that it has come and knocked on their classroom door.

"Besides these activities, we also teach Experimental Science in many schools in Lisbon. It's our goal to bring science everywhere," Martins said.

Shopping malls, offices and Christmas parties qualify as part of this ‘everywhere’, as Science4You provides science-related entertainment in these areas and events. This holistic model of doing business says much about the dynamism of the company – it doesn't wait for people to notice it and recognise its value, instead it multiplies its activities to make science appealing and approachable. As a consequence it successfully produces a desirable consumer product.

To ensure customers know just how desirable, the company’s marketing strategy is integral. Science4You relies on a partnership with a communications company to disseminate its activities and toys.

"At the same time, our website is quite important as it's where our online store is, something which works quite well, and also where we update information on Training Courses, Summer Activities and Birthday Parties. This translates into a significant amount of daily views," he adds.

Science4You toys are found in virtually every supermarket chain in Portugal. Their educational nature, eco-houses, human body puzzles and solar-powered planes have also earned them a presence in many bookstores all over the country.

When asked about the future, Martins has his eyes fixed abroad. After the opening of an office in Spain's capital last year, Science4You's creator mentions the opening of an office in another European country as a short-term objective.

"Science4you establishes its position in the Spanish market almost naturally. Spain is a natural market for any Portuguese company willing to expand its business across the border, not only due to a short distance, but also because of a smaller price to pay when entering the market."

Brazil and Angola are other countries where Science4You's products are available, an expansion that has helped Martins to be chosen as the Best Entrepreneur of the Year 2010, an honour awarded by the European Commission, and the 1st prize at the European Enterprise Awards in the category of Internationalisation.

"The goal of Science4You is always internationalisation, not just of its products but also of the concept," Martins said.

To spread the love for science everywhere and across borders is a noble goal that lies at the heart of this company. With a proven record-track of successes and a strong will to succeed internationally, Science4You seems to have a bright, solar-powered future ahead.

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