Olivia Pavco-Giaccia ’16 knows how to make her pitch.
“Close your eyes,” she says to her audience of potential business partners and investors. “Picture a scientist.”
The group responds with descriptions of old men in white lab coats — the exact reaction Pavco-Giaccia is trying to change.
Pavco-Giaccia is the founder of LabCandy, a startup company that produces fashionable lab gear for young girls to encourage them to pursue the sciences. By challenging stereotypes, Pavco-Giaccia said she hopes to convince young girls that STEM-related fields are not for men alone.
LabCandy products include a bedazzled lab coat, a do-it-yourself goggle kit and a story book that Pavco-Giaccia hopes will become a series. Written by Pavco-Giaccia herself, the fictional tale revolves around a young girl who uses science to solve a challenge or mystery. A “recipe card” with instructions on how to replicate the experiment used in the story is printed at the back of the book.
Pavco-Giaccia, a cognitive science major concentrating on gender and decision-making, said the idea for LabCandy had always been in the back of her mind but did not come to fruition until she heard about the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute during her freshman year. When she scheduled a meeting with the program director of the Institute’s Summer Fellowship, Pavco-Giaccia said the director “listened to my crazy idea and didn’t laugh at me.”
Last summer, Pavco-Giaccia worked to launch LabCandy with the help of the summer fellowship. Among the key factors, she said, was going out and talking to girls at science fairs, high schools and elsewhere to figure out what customers would actually want in a product.
“We learned that we wanted to catch them early — kindergarten through third grade,” Pavco-Giaccia said. “By high school, a lot of them have figured out what track they’re interested in.”
Richard Foster, a lecturer at the School of Management who serves as LabCandy’s mentor and advisor, said that though the business is still in its early phases, he thinks LabCandy will help pique girls’ interest in science at the appropriate age. Foster added that advancing the objectives of LabCandy is ultimately in the nation’s best interest.
Pavco-Giaccia, who became interested in the sciences when she was a young girl, recalled walking through science fairs looking for other girls like her, only to find few, if any, around. She added that she hopes LabCandy will help make girls in the sciences more visible.
Though the business has grown since the YEI fellowship, Pavco-Giaccia is looking ahead to this summer when she will launch her newest campaign through Kickstarter, an online crowd-funding platform. Through the site, LabCandy will set an ultimate fundraising goal and encourage visitors to pledge funding in return for a prize.
But even Kickstarter comes with a catch, Pavco-Giaccia said.
“If you don’t meet your fundraising goal, then you get zilch,” she said. “But you can go as high above your goal as possible. It’s a really cool system and a great way to introduce a product into the world.”
Pavco-Giaccia said she plans on continuing her work with LabCandy after graduation, possibly in New Haven, where she said she has found a supportive entrepreneurial community.
The most rewarding part of LabCandy has been the reactions from the girls themselves, she said. Pavco-Giaccia recalled showing a jeweled lab coat to her young cousin who proceeded to check herself out in the mirror and ask if she was what a scientist looked like.
Juju Yonemoto, a seventh grader who owns the full line of LabCandy gear, said she wants to study the sciences because of the boundlessness of the field.
“LabCandy has made me more interested in finding out more about new diseases,” Yonemoto said. “I am interested in science because there are so many things that are yet to be discovered.”
Third grader Alexis Watkinson said LabCandy taught her that girls can work together to be successful.
Today, 24 percent of STEM-related jobs are occupied by women.
LabCandy, started by Olivia Pavco-Giaccia ’16 with help from a YEI fellowship, seeks to encourage
young girls to study science by creating fashionable lab gear and challenging stereotypes.