STEMS: a blooming business

Junior+Nina+Wilson+recycles+kitty+litter+buckets+to+make+flower+tubs.+%E2%80%9CA+lot+of+our+stuff+is+donated+by+the+community%2C%E2%80%9D+STEMS+co-founder+Cassie+McGonagle+said.+%E2%80%9CAlmost+all+of+our+vases+are+donated+by+the+community%2C+and+we+give+back+to+the+community+in+that+way+too.%E2%80%9D

Credit: Charlotte Thirman

Junior Nina Wilson recycles kitty litter buckets to make flower tubs. “A lot of our stuff is donated by the community,” STEMS co-founder Cassie McGonagle said. “Almost all of our vases are donated by the community, and we give back to the community in that way too.”

Aimee Smith and Annabelle Zhang

When people think of flowers, they often think of life and death. They may think of first dates and funerals. They may think happiness and sorrow. One of Wayland’s local businesses, Sensational Teams of Entrepreneurial Mentorship of Students (STEMS), understands how important flowers are for showing others that you care about them. It is their goal to spread positivity in Wayland’s community by growing and selling flowers to nearby residents and by donating flowers and parts of their proceeds to local organizations.

STEMS grows, cuts, prepares and delivers bouquets of flowers from their flower farms, though there is more to the business than meets the eye. Overseen by co-founders Lisa Nickerson and Cassie McGonagle, the business places a focus on building work skills and experience.

“It’s a florist type of business, but it’s also about mentorship, empowerment and teamwork,” McGonagle said. “There’s so much teaching to be done and learning as you go.”

When the business was founded in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the founders knew that they would have a major learning curve when it came to building their own business. However, they felt that creating STEMS was a challenge they were willing to face.

“Because of COVID-19, the girls had a lot of free time,” Nickerson said. “[The other founders were high schoolers and] they were talking about what they were going to put on their college applications in lieu of some of the activities that they would normally have there, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to start flower farms right in the backyard and sell flowers?’”

According to Nickerson, starting a flower business would give the girls marketing, branding, accounting and time management skills that may have been difficult to develop otherwise. These skills are meant to empower the women who manage the STEMS business.

“I think what sets STEMS apart is that it’s all female-run,” Dylan Wood said. “They really encourage young female entrepreneurship, as STEMS is a great place to get started in the business world. I also love that it’s locally grown in Wayland.”

Additionally, being able to go outside and grow flowers was an upside of the business for many of the girls, as it was something that they were passionate about.

“I’ve always had a love for being out in nature and working with the environment,” McGonagle said. “It was really convenient, especially during COVID-19. We were gardening at the time, so we thought, ‘Hey, how about we make some money and do some teaching and really get something out of this?’”

However, the founders didn’t want the business to end with their graduation. Instead, they wanted to share their love of gardening and business skills with younger students who could continue their legacy.

“I was always very fortunate to have great mentors in my life growing up,” Nickerson said. “And when I realized how successful [the business] could be, I said, ‘We’ve already got great momentum. Why don’t we roll this into next year and bring on another set of high school students who can be mentored?’”

While a majority of the proceeds go straight back to keeping STEMS in business, the girls also work to give back to the community and the Earth. For example, some of their flowers are gifted to local businesses to brighten up their interiors and some proceeds are donated to the non-profit Family Housing, which helps find homes for homeless families in the Greater Boston area.

“We don’t want to create waste, and that’s a big priority for us at the moment, and forever on,” McGonagle said. “It’s making the most of what we have, like in our backyard. We want to make sure we’re as environmentally friendly as possible, and we work for that and strive for that because it’s such an important aspect and to protect the Earth. We just really want to give back to the Earth.”

Over time, STEMS has proved to be a successful yet mindful business, keeping to its roots while expanding its reach across the community. Its success is evidence that, with enough time and dedication, a small backyard garden can grow into a thriving business.

“My goal is to find enterprising young women who want to learn and understand how empowering entrepreneurship is and how many resources they have at their fingertips that they may not realize,” Nickerson said. “I’d love to see more entrepreneurial enterprises at the high school level because I think there’s a lot to learn.”