Sasha and Vera, founders of Science.me
It’s frustrating that, even after 18 months in Moscow, language issues still make it a challenge to fully enjoy the rich intellectual life of Moscow. But it’s nevertheless striking to see the growing offer of lectures and workshops, as well as to find friends declining evening drinks because they have a French class or a “Painting and wine” workshop. The active urban class of Moscovites is keen to keep learning. It’s no surprise, then, that those who are addressing this need are part of the same generation. They make their business as they like it : erudite and accessible.
Meet Vera and Sasha, founders of Science.me.
We met in the Institute of Philosophy, part of Russian Academy of Sciences. We are now both scientists at this Institute in the department of Aesthetics. At some point, we realised we were lacking interesting educational content in places supposed to be intellectually active, like museums and galleries. To make up for it, we wanted to collaborate with people from different areas (like the arts, business, sciences…). Therefore, this initially started as a project to meet our own expectations.
Our first opportunity was with the Tretyakov Gallery for the De Chirico exhibition (Spring 2017). Going through the project and realizing that it was an interesting experience for both the museum and us resulted in the birth of Science.me. Since then, we have been working with the most popular galleries and museums in Moscow like the Tretyakov Gallery, Pushkin Museum, Jewish Museum, Triumph gallery to name a few.
The main idea of each Science.me project is to bring people together and to make knowledge from different areas more interesting, more understandable, and more available.
What is Science.me?
Science.me is an educational platform with events, programs of lectures and online seminars. We work on very different topics with one conviction: philosophy, art and sciences are tools to see the world. Even though you may not be an expert, you can still be inspired.
Science me is 18 months old and thriving. A team of 8 talented people who truly believe in making the world a better place by educating and inspiring others.
Over the course of this 18 months, we developed and enhanced our working process:
Either a client - museum, gallery, etc - asks us for an educational program for a given exhibition, or we have an idea and we decide how, where, and when is best to do it.
We explore different formats: such as lectures, digital seminars, or telegram chat to name a few. We design the content, invite the speakers, and find a place. Sometimes the events are free of charge, sometimes they aren’t .
Process the information:
We are trying to read everything, meet with interesting and successful people who could join our programs, listen to podcasts, etc. One of our team members goes to events to analyze new trends and different formats. Another team member is in charge of the database, bringing everything together - from social media, screenshots, names, topics to explore - and combine all in one place. Another colleague researches the venue for our events. To make sure we are not missing anything, we also build partnerships with theaters and other cultural organisations so our team or friends can have tickets and give us feedback about the show or exhibition they’ve seen.
Divide the tasks:
Half a year ago, we did everything together. Now Vera deals with partners, communication and the management of the team. Sasha works on the design of the programs.
We are also very proud that our unique approach and the high quality of our events is a known fact in universities. The researchers are very happy and we constantly get positive feedbacks from them. Recently, the Dean of a University said that it was an honour to participate in our programs. For them, this is an opportunity to speak to a wider audience (from 30 in a classroom to over 100 in a lecture) and to meet and discuss with experts out of their field and community.
With more than 8000 people in our mailing list, we don’t depend on the place where we do lectures anymore. Instead, for the place we work with, this is a chance to benefit from our communication toward our community. Two students are analyzing our audience for their final paper. For the last lecture, it showed that 80% of the audience came to the gallery for the first time - this is a real asset for our partners which they can benefit from greatly.
The business model is still a difficult question.
We are spending a lot of time on short programs because we are perfectionists. We are now thinking about developing bigger programs, finding sponsors and collaborators outside the art scene. At the same time, it is encouraging to see that, even though museums are still focusing predominantly on exhibitions, they are beginning to understand that, by spending more money on educational programs, they attract more people who are looking for information or entertainment. Educational programs are indirect communication tools for a museum’s exhibitions. This approach is already established in some other countries so we feel that this is the time to adopt this in Moscow and enhance it even further.
Working as a duo
We are both researchers and managing Science.me. Fortunately, teaching is not mandatory in our Institute because Science.me is more than a full time job - weekends and evenings included.
We are not earning much because we invest everything in the company but we are happy to see science.me growing everyday, event by event, lecture by lecture, and seminar by seminar. .
Sasha: Science.me is the best way for me to be effective and to do what I really want to do. I feel like I’m in the right place.
In a way, Science.me is like a research project. We work, read, analyze, prepare a lot our courses just like a researcher would do. Except because we work with a lot of people, we see their reactions. It is much more interesting than being just in the library. I feel alive.
Vera : I feel that we are going the right direction, that there is a huge market - not only in Russia - and this is very exciting.
Sasha : It is very important for us to make a project that changes the way culture is perceived here in Russia. This drive is not shared by all our acquaintances but all our entrepreneur friends agree that they feel they are designing their lives to fully live it. It is very hard to have your own project: you always think about risk, about the staff salary, about relations with business partners…but it is the only way to make something important. Life is too short.
Vera: This is like a vocation, something that makes us happy. Our environment is changing. At the beginning, people were asking “What are you doing? You could have a salary, a normal job…why are you doing this and being so tired?” Now, more and more people support us. They understand that it was not just an idea. We are working a lot and taking risks.
Being two is an asset. Besides playing good cop and bad cop, we can challenge each other to be even more flexible and adaptable. We are developing our own feminine leadership.