Meet Natalie and Denhue: Founders of Little Scholars Playground and their mission to make learning STEM accessible to all

Natalie and Denhue are on a mission – to make STEM learning accessible to all.

When shopping for children’s books for their daughter, they found a gap in the market and took the opportunity to create a diverse book publishing company, and Little Scholars Playground was born.

We caught up with the founders of Little Scholars Playground to discuss how their business journey has been so far, the power of education, and find out how they are inspiring the next generation.

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Orla: How long have you been running your own business for, and what inspired you to create a diverse publishing company? 

Little Scholars Playground started one year ago after we had our baby during the pandemic, and we struggled to find lift-the-flap books that she loved with a Black protagonist.

We truly believe children can’t be what they can’t see, so we wanted to create books and learning resources that help all children feel represented.

Staggeringly, in the UK, when we started the business less than 5% of children’s books featured a main character from an ethnic minority group.

As people of action, we quickly determined that we possessed the skillset including illustration, design and marketing to begin to chip away at this problem.

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Orla: How have your skills from your previous work experience impacted your business journey?

Natalie: Before becoming a product designer (app and web), I worked in marketing for 8 years in the retail and publishing sectors. This has helped me to create a solid marketing plan for the business.

I ensure our social media is engaging and attracts our target market, our books are also now in bookstores, and we have received press attention which has helped get our business out there, so to speak. My background in tech has also inspired me to encourage parents to get their kids into STEM - particularly young girls.

Denhue: My writing career began by writing down big ideas for a young audience. I have worked as a senior airline compliance manager, which has plenty to do with my natural interest in STEM related topics.

Orla: Why did you decide to focus on STEM-related subjects at Little Scholars Playground?

Between us we have 20 years’ experience working in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) industry.

Denhue has a Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and Natalie has a Master’s degree in web design and content planning. Denhue has worked as a senior airline compliance manager and Natalie has worked as a product designer (web and app) and developer.

Only 6.2% of UK students enrolled onto STEM related subjects at UK universities are Black*. We’re also both well aware of the lack of Black people working in the STEM industry and work to encourage Black children to develop a passion for STEM, an industry which creates the leaders, inventors and innovators of tomorrow. 

Orla: Looking forwards, what does the future of diversity look like and what impact do you hope for Little Scholars Playground to have? 
Natalie: As a female in tech, I don’t see many women in my field. So, part of my mission is to encourage young girls to embrace the STEM industry early on.

We encourage parents to introduce STEM to young girls at an early age. I also want to ensure that all children feel represented. As I truly believe children can’t be what they can’t see.

Denhue: As a Black male in the aeronautical engineering industry, I don’t see many Black men in my field. So part of my mission is to encourage young Black boys to embrace the STEM industry early on.

Learning STEM doesn’t have to break the bank, therefore we want to make learning STEM accessible to all.

Orla: If you could give three pieces of advice to someone from an underrepresented community trying to break into entrepreneurship and start their own business, what would you advise? 
  1. We believe good marketing is key to a successful business. You can have the most amazing product or service. However, without good marketing people will not know you exist, which consequently will mean that you will struggle to sell.
  2. Another tip for product-based businesses is not to buy too much stock initially. There is nothing worse than having lots of stock you can’t shift. We manufacture the majority of our products in the UK, where we can produce smaller quantities. It may cost more, but this way we can get an idea of how well a product will sell and then produce more on the next manufacturing run.
  3. Lastly, keep banging down doors. You may get a lot of no’s initially but with hard work and determination you will start to hear the ‘yes’. 
Orla: Do you have any recommended resources for people who want to find out more about black history, innovators and leaders?
Natalie: Our new book STEM Leaders: Black inventors and innovators who changed the world is a great resource for children. STEM Leaders will introduce children to important Black inventors and innovators who changed the world.

The book is vibrantly illustrated and is a stimulating reference source. It is educational and takes you on a journey of fun facts, questions and answers, useful links, and activities to get children started with STEM experiments.

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Denhue: Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, written by Peter Fryer. It’s well written and allows the reader to learn about key Black people in British history.

You can find out more about Little Scholars Playground and the impactful work they are doing via their website.

Want to find more diverse learning resources? Check out Little Scholar Playground’s new book STEM Leaders: Black inventors and innovators who changed the world and their diverse collection of educational resources.

Looking for more inspiring stories from the IPSE community? Discover Nadine Campbell's journey into self employment and how she created a diverse, supportive community for fellow freelancers. 

*Stat from the Black British Professionals in STEM

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Meet the author

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Orla Lyons-Hamilton

Freelance Marketing Executive