Cran Middlecoat has a passion for space science and aviation. He’s had a pilot license since the age of 16, and was a pilot for Jetstar Airways, holding the rank of First Officer flying the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. An illness put a stop to his pilot career, so in 2016 he focused his passion into his education business It’s Rocket Science Adventures.
Rocket Science Adventures has a team of industry professionals that bring practical, experiment-based learning to the science behind rockets and aviation into schools. They also create age-appropriate interactive flight and space experiences for birthday parties and orchestrate extraordinary experiences for community groups and corporate events.
The business has a team of six that includes a manufacturing manager, a marketing manager, two casual semi-retired teachers, Cran and his wife Sarah. The business and equipment are housed and managed from Cran’s Moreton Bay home. They also had a lucrative contract in Victoria with an outside school hours care service, so set up a small storage facility with equipment there just to service that regular after school program.
“For us, it’s all about tactile learning, getting the kids outside, letting them interact, experience the excitement of making things, and then see their creations working, flying, taking off”
COVID had a big impact on the business, as its selling point is hands-on experiential education: “For us, it’s all about tactile learning, getting the kids outside, letting them interact, experience the excitement of making things, and then see their creations working, flying, taking off,” Cran said.
Thus, they had to wind the business back and put some projects on hold. Cran said: “We basically had to shut down and wait it out”. The firm lost $70,000 worth of business in a three-day period.
Rocket Science Adventures had collaborations with Brisbane Science Festival – Street Science! 2020, and some other regional festivals in Townsville, but those events were cancelled.
For Cran, the biggest concern was caring for the welfare of his much-valued staff and retaining their expertise. He negotiated flexible conditions that are mutually beneficial for both the manufacturing and marketing managers. The manufacturing manager was happy to work on a day rate and their marketing manager on reduced hours at the full job keeper allowance rate. “We drop in and bring coffee. There’s loyalty on both sides,” said Cran.
When COVID struck, Cran said they thought about a way to go online but found it would be too difficult and costly to compete. They didn’t think they would get a viable return on investment. Rocket Science Adventures’ competitive advantage is engaging learners through tactile interaction of experiential learning and the excitement of physically launching rockets. Cran said he doesn’t want that element to change and sees it as virtually impossible to achieve online. However, he says they are looking at their situation and working on creative alternatives.
Now, Rocket Science Adventures has a COVID safe policy and process and the team are back working with some schools. Working with schools has been challenging since they reopened, with some requiring a complex approval process and others not allowing incursions on their grounds at all. In early August 2020, the business was still down on bookings and just keeping up enough work for the day to day.
Personally, Cran said he and his wife always live within their means, avoiding debt where they can, so were not heavily in debt: “Job keeper kept stress levels at bay. Also working remotely, keeping everything we do at home, has paid off – providing a buffer.”
Cran has recently been granted a Queensland Government Small Business Digital Grant of $8,000 to help them pivot and purchase some equipment to develop a digital strategy and create a quality product.