Future Europe features a podcast episode from each of the EU’s 28 Member States. Each episode tells the story of a project that illuminates the way Europeans will live in the future. All the stories are told through the voices of people involved in the projects.
Magic with Portugal science toys
A group of children shout out with surprise and joy in a science laboratory as little plastic bottles explode a metre into the air. To the children it seems like magic, but this is all part of learning about science.
They are attending special sessions put on by Science4you, a Lisbon based company, so that they can have fun and learn at the same time.
Speaking over a chorus of young voices in the laboratory, instructor Mariana Valério says that the emphasis is about making the sessions enjoyable.
“We start by getting them all together and getting them excited about science,” she says. “We do activities like rockets and volcanoes – blowing up almost everything and they get very excited.”
Main business in Portugal science toys
Science4you runs the sessions as an offshoot of its main business, which produces special boxed kits of science toys that can be used by children at home. Popular products include titles such as, ‘The Science of Perfumes’, ‘Slime Factory’, ‘The Science of Soap’ and ‘Water Science.’
Miguel Pina Martins founded Science4you ten years ago and has overseen the company’s rise to a multi-million euro enterprise. He insists that the business is founded upon something more than just profits.
“Our mission in the end is to make education standards higher,” he tells Future Europe. “We are an educational company that makes toys that are fun. When you get this mix between education and fun, you get success, and you get the big differentiation from all the other toys.”
Science4you is housed in a non-descript building north of Lisbon. The plain exterior hides the creativity and industry within, where hundreds of people are putting together the multicoloured vials, powders, liquids and other ingredients that make up the kits.
Cooking up Portugal science toys
Flávia Leitão, the company’s research and development manager, cooks up the ideas for the products in the laboratory.
“This is where the magic happens,” she says with a grin. “I like the feeling of putting a smile on kids’ faces. I get to give them some interesting knowledge about science, and they give me the knowledge about how to teach them about science. It’s like a positive feedback loop.”
This formula has been an international success, with Science4you selling its products in 42 countries around the world. It has plans for further growth.
Improvement of the production process in Lisbon through the purchase of new equipment and licenses.
Contributed to the launch of new products based on the STEM concept that combines Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths in the design of games that teach children while they have fun.
Assisted the company’s further expansion to external markets around Europe—and beyond, where the company already makes 60% of its sales.
Helped develop and implement a new e-commerce strategy to face a rapidly changing commercial landscape.
Patrícia Leal manages the company’s scientific activities for children and she sees their impact.
“We want to get girls involved in science and get rid of the myth that it’s just for boys,” she says. “They say that it takes a community to raise a child, and we are proud to feel involved in the community.”
Portugal science toys financing
The EIB signed a deal with Science4you in 2017, providing it with a loan of €10 million. It has been important in helping the company forge ahead with its plans, according to Tiago Alves, Science4you’s head of International Business.
“Without having a good financial cushion, you can’t invest in the products and toys and innovate,” he says. “It just wouldn’t be possible with the capital we have. The EIB investment in our company makes all the difference between having a regular year and being able to innovate and put into practice our ideas.”
The EIB’s involvement came about after Investment Officer
Francisco Alves da Silva recognized its potential value far beyond Portugal and the boundaries of traditional business.
“This company produces scientific toys, which are important not only for today and for a business, but also for the future, because it creates an awareness among children for science,” he says. “With this company and these kinds of toys we are not only promoting new jobs in the short- and medium-term, but we are also creating the scientists of the future.