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Kristel Bell
Launching a STEM Toy Company in A Pandemic

STEM Generation LLC, Kristel Bell

Title / Role: Founder & CEO
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Formed in: 2019
What do you do?

Many girls believe they are not good at math starting in preschool, and toys traditionally marketed to girls limit their learning. Surprise Powerz is a series of diverse dolls designed with the purpose of instilling confidence and new STEM learning in early-learning girls. Codie The Coder, Vera The Vet, Maria The Mathemagician, and Astro The Astronaut are the first dolls developed in the Surprise Powerz product line.

Surprise Powerz logo

Each of our 16-inch-tall Surprise Powerz dolls speaks over 75 phrases to engage your little girl in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) worlds that surround her. Each doll is also made with a diverse range of real girls' voices, and our Hispanic doll speaks both English and Spanish.

What inspired you to start your business?

Walk down the girls' toy aisle across almost any toy store. It's frustrating. The girls' toy aisles are dominated by princesses and traditional baby dolls. So many dolls are not made to prepare our girls for future success. Our Surprise Powerz dolls were made to encourage your little girl through inspiration and critical early learning so your daughter gains more confidence and is ready to take on the current world of today, and the future world of tomorrow. Surprise Powerz dolls

What's special about your business?

Governments, companies, and schools have worked to bridge the STEM gap between women and girls for decades, but the gap has only been bridged by 8% since the 1970s. Surprise Powerz is changing things up! We are helping to shape girls' beliefs about being successful in STEM starting in their formative years.

What have been the high and low points of being a business owner?

The highs have definitely been securing POs with big-box retailers, becoming WBE certified, and seeing girls build STEM confidence with the dolls. I also love the way my website is designed.

The lows have been figuring out how to navigate the impacts the pandemic made, such as premium freight forwarding costs and confusion, price inflation, and long timelines.

STEM development toys

What influenced you to seek help from SCORE?

After my first production was complete, I decided I wanted to get a few toy industry mentors to help me fill in some gaps, create a business plan, and get advice. However, from my experience with my many SCORE mentors, I got so much more!

How SCORE helped.

My SCORE mentors were critical to my success in launching a STEM Toy company during the pandemic. David Wild, Mary Couzin, Gene Murtha, Elizabeth Hauer, Bruce Ronner, and Bob Strauss's support made the difference I needed to navigate this big toy industry with confidence. I have been working with this group for a few years now. They provide a range of high-level toy industry, retail, and accounting experience. 

I began securing meetings with big-box retailers and needed some guidance as this was new territory for me. David stayed up with me tirelessly day and night helping with my presentations, problem-solving, and providing amazing guidance. David has always been excited to talk with me and never seemed to lose interest in helping me. Gene connected me with some amazing resources that prepared me to work with big-box retailers and provided great advice and encouragement along my journey. Liz is truly a trusted advisor and she is always there to help me navigate relationships with big-box retailers from terms to operational advice. She gave me guidance that made my life easier as a small business owner. Mary was my very first mentor and she provided great resources to help me to understand the toy industry. And Bob and Bruce were my most recent mentors, they provided great accounting advice and support. Never underestimate the importance of accounting with a business, it's 100% critical and Bob and Bruce made this area of my life so much easier.

(Rest In Peace Bruce, you were an amazing mentor to me.)

What's great about my mentor?

My mentors are great because they truly care about my success. My mentors are experts in these fields. And last but not least, they are patient.

Young girl playing with a Surprise Powerz stem toy.

My mentors
David R Wild

I can help you OPTIMIZE your sales pitch and marketing strategy. My expertise includes launching...

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Headshot of Gene Murtha
Gene Murtha

STRATEGY: Identify what to do and how to do it profitably NEW PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT: how to develop...

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Headshot of Elizabeth Hauer
Elizabeth Hauer

I have 30+ years of experience as a senior leader in the retail industry, with positions at Macy’s...

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Headshot of Bob Strauss
Bob Strauss

Bob began his career as a business consultant in the 7-Eleven franchise system. He later owned and...

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