How a Company Lawyer Become CEO of Mad Science

Shafik Mina knew that the experiential education company's competition was catching up, and he presented leadership with a vision to innovate.

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This story appears in the March 2022 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Mad Science was looking for a mad scientist. In 2013, the brand, which runs educational science programs for kids, wanted to shake things up. The company needed a new leader, and it turned to Shafik Mina, who seemed like an unusual choice at the time: He'd spent the past four years as the company's lawyer, and the only businesses he'd run were a catering company and a wholesale bakery back in the '90s. But he believed he knew what Mad Science needed to stay relevant — and he was right.

Courtesy of Crayola Imagine Arts Academy | Mad Science

Nearly a decade later, Mina is the president of two brands — Crayola Imagine Arts Academy and Mad Science—and the CEO of their parent company, 2inspire. Overseeing Mad Science's 133 units and Crayola Imagine Arts Academy's 24 units has been no small challenge. However, Mina says the market opportunity is there: Even with online learning and endless YouTube science videos, kids need a hands-on refuge to develop lifelong practical skills.

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You didn't have much leadership experience when you became president. How did you prove you could bring the change needed for a large company?

When I became president of Mad Science, it was the No. 1 leader in its space. But it couldn't define or visualize the future. It was comfortable being No. 1, and I saw that our competitors were starting to catch up. I pitched [the owners of Mad Science] a vision for how we could improve Mad Science at its core, maintain our No. 1 position, and grow beyond where we were. I also pitched the idea that we could leverage all the experience and knowledge we have as the market leader of science enrichment to create a house of brands that offers other programs. Once I got into the job [in an interim capacity] and started taking concrete actions to maintain our market leadership while building a house of brands, they realized that I was walking the walk, not just talking it—and that gave them the confidence to say, "The job is yours."

Since you assumed your leadership role at Mad Science and Crayola, have there been any changes in the franchisee-franchisor relationship?

One of the things I focused on early was building a culture of trust. When I started in the leadership position, we spent a lot of time making sure we had a team in place who understood that our franchisees are partners. That was not where it was when I took over, and it was something we had to work very hard to get to. We might not agree on everything, but we've got their backs, and we work hard for them to be successful. A lot of franchisors expect it to happen instinctively. But I think it's something you have to proactively work on, like any relationship.

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What does the education space look like now, especially amid all the changes that happened in the past couple of years?

The education space hasn't changed much over the past 100 years. Essentially the model is: You send kids to school, where there's a lot of focus on teaching them the theory. They absorb the theory, move up and get to university, and then they get a job. I think that's good, but it misses a very important aspect of practicality. When you move from the educational space into a career, your boss doesn't really want to know about the theory—they want to know how you do it.

What void are programs like Mad Science and Crayola Imagine Arts Academy filling?

We looked at what skills future employees and employers are going to need and identified a few: creativity, collaboration, and communication. When we identified the skills, we said, "OK, how do we use art as a medium to teach those skills?" [Online learning] fills certain gaps, and in rural areas that were underserved or overpopulated areas, a lot more people can get access to great education. But if that's the biggest transformation we're going to make in education, then I think we've completely missed the boat.

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