From Scientists to Science Communicators
Learning to walk
We are truly grateful for this experience. Starting as PhD’s of the Life Sciences, Wolfgang and I decided to build a startup for science communication in 2012. As scientists, we had only minor understanding of what it means to create your own company and not only create it – but fill it with life and purpose and keep it going. Luckily, we got help! The BMBF helped us with the EXIST stipend and right after this the Mediengründerzentrum NRW supported us by connecting us with local media creators here in Cologne. We made our way, creating a proper company (GmbH) and learned to exist as a media agency – now we were on the other side: Scientists became CEO’s, working for scientists. “
A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty“ – Eric Ries
Nine out of ten startups fail. 66% change their initial idea on the way – this means you have to be open for change, otherwise your chances of surviving out there with your company are not so high. Our initial plan was to create content. Wouldn’t every research institution like a movie about the work of their scientists? Apparently not…
Hello, do you need a movie?
Our idea was simple: Support scientists in communicating their research with the help of modern media. Initially we thought: Easy, every research institution will realize that video is the most powerful format to present their research to the public. So we grew our network and asked group leaders and coordinators wether they would like to present their science with a short video clip. Turns out, that’s not what they want (yet). The reasons are different, some of them are money issues or problems of understanding the advantages of online video outreach. We did some great movies for research groups but these were only a few projects compared to what we thought would turn out to be our main source of income.
No business plan survives the first contact with a customer – Steve Blanck
So what did our customers want? Turns out, this is not one product, but a whole spectrum of possible ways how to communicate science. This includes simple 2-D illustrations for websites and print media (e.g. flyers), 3-D animations of complex scientific content, recordings of scientific meetings, interactive solutions for science exhibitions and soft skill courses.
We can teach you how to do it
For us, soft skill courses are a perfect example of how the customers can change the direction of your services. Grad students all over the world have to take courses in hard and soft skills additionally to their PhD studies. In these courses, they learn valuable skills for their academic career, for example how to write scientific publications, create illustrations or being able to speak in front of other scientists or the public.
We offered one course at the beginning, teaching grad students how to use photoshop in order to create visual content for their publications. We realized quickly that this little course offer got popular among the students and by now we offer 7 different courses, taught by 5 different trainers. We would have never thought in the beginning, that this would have such a huge demand and here we are, making about a third of our income with these courses.
This is actually great. It shows, that PhD students accept the challenge of science communication with the help of modern media. They want to learn how to reach out to the public and be able to explain their research.
As science journalism declines, scientists must rise up and reach out. An average citizen is unlikely to search the web for the Higgs boson or the proteasome if he or she doesn’t hear about it first on, say, a cable news channel. And as mass media sheds its scientific expertise, science’s mass-market presence will become harder to maintain. – Nature 2009
So the lesson learned from the example of the soft skill courses was: Be open for change. Listen to the customers and get a feeling for what they really need. Some scientists needed movie clips for their scientific outreach, but many more actually needed training and guidance for their PhD students.
2015 – mediomix awakens
I know that some things will happen in the future. I know that I will always love to communicate with scientists about their research and listen to their stories. Of course, most things about the future I don’t now. Next year will be challenging, but this was true for every of the last 2.5 years so far. In 2015, the new Star Wars movie will come out and at the same time, mediomix will rise to the challenge to exist and maybe even expand their services in science communication. Just like the new Star Wars movie, no one really knows what’s going to happen. For mediomix I can say, that we’ll continue to work hard on our skills to become even better science communicators and also share this knowledge with as many young scientists as we can. And to be honest: Who needs the force, if you can master the skill of awesome science communication 😀