Founded by University of Illinois Engineering students Supriya Hobbs and Janna Eaves, Miss Possible strives to give young girls strong role models and valuable experiences through play. They are currently running an IndieGogo campaign to bring a line of dolls and apps for 5-10 year olds to fruition. The Miss Possible line will feature famous women in STEM with the first doll representing Marie Curie. They plan to add dolls for Bessie Coleman, Ada Lovelace before the end of 2015.
Supriya is a recent graduate in Chemical Engineering at the University of Illinois, and a long-time STEM advocate, especially for women. Janna is a rising senior in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois and has engineering work experience at two major aerospace companies.
On your IndieGogo page you quote Marie Wilson, founder of The White House Project as part of your inspiration for Miss Possible Dolls, “You can’t be what you can’t see,.” she said. What role models or mentors inspired you two to study engineering?
Janna: I come from a family of engineers and entrepreneurs. I grew up in an environment where problem solving, experimentation, and creativity were valued.
Supriya: With two chemists for parents, I grew up surrounded by science. I don’t remember a time when I aspired to be anything outside of STEM fields, because that was much of what I saw. My greatest role model growing up was my mother. She has been my biggest mentor, supporter, and cheerleader throughout my life and was a big part of my decision to study engineering.
A doll is great and an app is great. Why did you decide to blend real and virtual with Miss Possible?
Supriya: We thought this was a great way to join imaginative play and education. The doll brings a very human element to the toy, making it easier for girls to connect to the role models. We want them to recognize that this woman was once just like them, and that they could grow up to be just like her. The app takes the connection a step farther. Now that girls recognize these career paths as options, we want to give help them build the skills and confidence necessary to pursue them.
On your Indiegogo page you mention Innovation, LLC,a special dorm for would-be entrepreneurs. What’s it like living there? What kind of formal and informal assistance do you receive?
Supriya: Living in Innovation, LLC was great! The best part was being surrounded by other students with similar goals and passions. That meant that engaging conversations could come up in the lounge at midnight or while you were brushing your teeth. The programming was excellent, too. One of the highlights was a series called “How I Failed,” in which successful entrepreneurs would come and talk to us about a time when they failed and how they reacted to it. It took away some of the fear associated with failing as an entrepreneur and showed us that failure isn’t necessarily final.
We had access to lots of resources — books, building materials, 3D printers, etc. — and the advice and mentoring of Jennifer Bechtel, the program coordinator for the community. She has been one of our greatest advisers and advocates through the process of developing our idea and launching our company. We likely wouldn’t have made it this far without her! I hadn’t considered entrepreneurship as an option for me until I reached that community, so it made a big difference in my life and career goals.
Janna: My favorite part of Innovation, LLC was the culture. It cultivated an attitude of solving problems rather than just identifying them, and helped connect us with the tools to get started.
Engineering is a pretty tough major as it is. How do you find time to stay involved in your studies and build a business from the ground up?
Janna: We don’t find the time. We make the time. You have to do what you love and define your priorities accordingly, which sometimes means giving up a movie night or a few hours of sleep. Supriya and I both pursued engineering because we wanted to make an impact on the world. We could devote all of our energy to academics and really excel in just that area, or we could take some of that energy and throw it into solving a major problem. Which of those is going to get us closer to our goals? It’s clear what we chose.
As of this interview, you have 439 contributors and are 38% of the way to your $75,000 goal. What have you learned from your campaign so far?
Janna: This occurred to me today when I was discussing the campaign with a friend. I was lamenting over how far we still have to go, and he, flabbergasted, said, “You convinced more than 400 strangers to give you money. That’s a big deal!” What I’ve personally learned is that a crowdfunding campaign unites strangers in favor of a common goal. For contributors, this isn’t just about funding a start-up. This is about inspiring girls to dream bigger, and we have a responsibility to be open and honest about how we are doing it.