Vanessa Van Edwards was studying international relations at Emory University and planning a career working for the state department as a translator and communicator when she decided she wanted to do something different: Start a human behavior research company.
“I wrote my thesis on sociology, and that’s when I realized, ‘Oh my God, I love this,’” Van Edwards, 31, says. She also loved her part-time job: Writing short articles based on academic research. “I would take a 40-page paper, read it and try to find any usable nugget: What’s the one thing we can learn from this science?” she says.
But Van Edwards was also frustrated by the limits of academia. Most sociology research is based on responses from male college seniors, “and that’s where it stops,” she says.
Enter Science of People, a company that is riding a new wave of online education and training startups. With “a small but nimble team of six,” Science of People researches workplace cultures, runs online classes and hosts a variety of events, from speed-networking seminars for companies to speed-dating events for students.
A sampling of work includes a study of TED Talks speakers, which Science of People turned into an entrepreneurs’ workshop on how to pitch, and a review of 495 Shark Tank pitches, which yielded a course titled, “Body Language for Entrepreneurs.” An anlysis of highly rated photos on HotOrNot.com led to the class “Body Language of Love and Dating.”
Van Edwards declined to reveal revenues but pointed to online education site Udemy, which hosts five Science of the People classes that cost at least $20. So far 80,000 students have signed up. The company also has about 60 corporate customers, including Mercy Corps, WeWork and Kaiser Permanente. Landing these clients wasn’t easy, but the response from people who take the courses makes the startup slog worthwhile, Van Edwards says. “On a weekly basis, we have people saying we’ve changed some aspect of their life.”
“The No. 1 determinant of entrepreneurial success is stick-to-itiveness. Assuming you have a great idea, solid product/market fit and a compelling value proposition (i.e., the easy stuff), the most important skill you are going to need to have is the ability to gut it out when things get overbearingly tough. Because they will — over and over again, for the life of your business.”
Brian Vierra, venture catalyst, economic development for Central Oregon
Where they are now
Featured in our February 2015 issue, Light at Play has continued to grow its institutional presence. Its light-andsound reactive installations have been featured at the Smithsonian and the National Academy of Sciences; the company has also diversified into stage lighting and signage, as well as the cannabis industry. “[The] signs for cannabis businesses feature our ‘electric tiedye’ effect,” says co-founder Wayne Skipper. That design consists of liquid tie-dye on a 3-D surface.