At an early age, STEMedia Founder and CEO Nehemiah Mabry was encouraged by his father to go into engineering. After he completed a NASA internship in high school, Mabry was hooked, eventually going on to earn his PhD in engineering at NC State.
But years before, Mabry’s father failed to finish his own engineering degree. His story was one of many that reflect the low retention rates in STEM, especially among students of color.
According to a 2019 Educational Research study of undergraduates, 40 percent of Black students switch out of STEM majors, compared with 29 percent of white students.
Mabry wanted to change those statistics, so he created STEMedia, a Raleigh-based edtech platform and media company for diverse, STEM workforce development.
Currently, the tech platform is looking for $2 million in seed funding to scale from its current level of 20 customers and $200,000 in revenue. The startup has now completed paid projects with NC State, the University of Texas at Austin, Best Buy, GM and CVS Health.
But when STEMedia began in 2012, it was initially just a way to help higher education institutions and other organizations create content that spoke to the demographics they were trying to serve.
In 2020, Covid brought an even greater demand worldwide to digitize how we educate and engage talent, Mabry said. It accelerated the value of on-demand asynchronous education content.
“There’s still value in in-person, face-to-face communication, but it accelerated something that we already knew was a whitespace,” Mabry said. “It gave STEMedia in particular the impetus to realize that hey, now’s the time.”
This type of diverse talent engagement is a proven benefit: overall, companies with more diverse executive teams were 33 percent more likely to see better-than-average profits, according to a recent McKinsey study.
“It’s not just promoting retail spending power in their advertisements, but rather strengthening their ability to have a competitive workforce,” Mabry said.
The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion encouraged Mabry to pivot toward a scalable platform solution that brought everything they had learned about career development and educational media to provide content, community and career opportunities for young adults in STEM. In its content, STEMedia prioritizes the experts from historically underrepresented groups because they offer a sense of belonging to talent they know is out there, Mabry said.
The content sometimes focuses on soft skills—like interviewing, networking and project management—in addition to the more “hard skill” technical topics. STEMedia’s network includes 200,000 different collaborators, and the platform has been tested by a few hundred users so far.
“We believe that there’s innovation, advancement, and untapped potential that lies in a more diverse workforce,” Mabry said.
The business case for diversity
Very often, DEI issues are only presented in a moralistic, ‘do the right thing and combat structural racism’ way, he added.
“While that is true, and I believe that as well, I don’t think people realize how much the world has been missing from there not being the participation that we should have across the board,” Mabry said.
After taking on STEMedia full time a year ago, Mabry has more than tripled revenue. He’s now looking to accelerate content production and bring in more talent for development and marketing. STEMedia is also hoping to bring on three to five more higher education pilot users.
“The difference that took place when I went from a side hustle to all in, that really was incredibly powerful a year ago, making that shift,” Mabry said.
The move to full time has inspired Mabry with renewed determination to take STEMedia as far as it can go, he said.
“I truly believe that more than being a great business, this is shifting the image of what STEM success looks like, of what the technical workforce should and could look like,” Mabry said. “And it has outcomes that are better for everybody.”