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Quick Chat with Chong Ing Kai

Chong Ing Kai is the founder and CEO of Stick'Em, a Singapore-based social enterprise that produces affordable STEM kits made out of chopsticks.

Stick'Em aims to make STEAM education accessible through providing low-cost hardware and training teachers to run programmes.

Where did you gain the inspiration to start Stick’Em?

I have always been interested in building things from a young age, and this led me to assistive tech through Engineering Good, where we helped people with disabilities using our skills. After my O Level examinations, I took up teaching others robotics as a STEM-coding teacher. My students would always ask if they could bring the robots they built in class home. As robots built with lego were too expensive for that to ever be feasible, we experimented with other materials. We soon found out that cardboard was too stiff and we could only build generic vague shapes with it.

Hence, we used chopsticks instead, which allowed us to provide structure while being affordable at the same time.

Describe your daily life as a founder.

A lot of thinking is involved. Our daily operations are settled, so we are now thinking about expansion and how to target new markets.

What is the most fulfilling moment in Stick’Em that you have experienced thus far?

We once ran a programme with a social enterprise, 3Pumpkins, and the programme served to teach kids emotional regulation. Initially, our students would give up trying to build robots after 5/6 sessions. However, eventually, one of the kids sat down after finishing and looked at the robot and he controlled it without any issues. He went from a kid that just gave up to someone who would attempt to problem-shoot. I was very happy to see my students develop skills that would be beneficial for life.

In your linkedin profile, you mentioned this line: “I was exposed to the inequalities in our education system that were yet to be addressed.”

Would you like to elaborate on this?

I noticed that robotics and coding classes were only accessible to rich people. Parents of poor kids would never send their children to these classes. The parents of students studying in international schools could see the value in STEM education, but those from less advantaged backgrounds could not. To me, it’s not just about robotics, it’s about getting your hands dirty and building meaningful things.

What would you advice to a person who is just starting their career?

Don’t be afraid of asking for help.

If you are building something, put yourself out there and go for networking events. You never know who you will meet and what you will achieve.

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