Office of Partnerships and Innovation

Meet the entrepreneurs who are creatively bringing research to the masses

Have you ever read a paragraph from a scientific paper only to lose the message or get bogged down by the amount of jargon used in the article?

This was the problem on the minds of co-founders Julia Krolik and Alex Pedersen when they joined GrindSpaceXL in 2016 with their venture, Theory Jar, a project aimed at making science language accessible to everyone. The GrindSpaceXL program at Queen’s Innovation Park is an intensive 12-week business acceleration program that helps high-potential startups improve customer traction, grow sales, and prepare for investment.

Pixels and Plans co-founders Owen Fernley and Julia Krolik working side by side together in a boardroom
Pixels and Plans co-founders Owen Fernley and Julia Krolik. This is the second venture for the co-founders, who also collaborated to found Art the Science.

“Theory Jar is basically Google translate for science language,” says Julia Krolik, whose main passion is making research accessible to the masses. Her first venture, Art the Science, a not-for-profit organization co-founded in 2015 with Alex Pedersen and Owen Fernley, had a similar goal of advancing scientific knowledge into the public sphere. Unlike Theory Jar that focusses on the language, Art the Science is aimed at connecting artists and scientists with a focus on creating science-based art. 

“While completing the GrindSpaceXL program, Alex and I began to realize that, while Theory Jar was addressing a need, it was better suited to a more open-source platform,” says Julia.

This was the catalyst that brought about Julia’s third venture, Pixels and Plans. Since Theory Jar is intended to be open-source, Julia and her team found a new pain-point in the knowledge mobilization industry. Through market research and networking, it became evident that there were other gaps in how to communicate information to the broader community besides just the jargon translation of science.

What began as developing an image-based website application titled Community Flow for Waterlution has developed into a company co-founded with her longtime partner and collaborator Owen Fernley. Pixels and Plans fuses scientific integrity with engaging design to create impactful knowledge mobilization products and science-based art.

Formally educated in the sciences, including published research in microbiology, geospatial analytics and public health, Julia is also an award-winning artist and information designer.

“As an immigrant, my mother encouraged me to pursue a career in science saying that art does not make money,” says Julia. “Despite this, I attended the free exhibition evenings at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa for most of my high school years gaining valuable experience in art and aesthetic."

Combining aesthetics and function is key to engaging and informing audiences. Pixels and Plans strives to enable effective evidence-based communication by empowering organizations with tools to effectively reach their audiences.

Pixels and Plans co-founders Julia Krolik and Owen Fernley work across a table in a boardroom.
On March 7, Julia will be presenting her experiences and lessons learned on her entrepreneurial journey.

One of the current projects that Pixels and Plans is working on is a data visualization tool.

"The tool is a longer-term project that connects data to a web application where users can visually and interactively explore and compare trends using bar charts, line charts and maps,” says Julia. “The goal is to build a flexible data visualization tool that adheres to government standards and distills complicated data empowering users to explore it."

Since graduating from GrindSpaceXL in 2016, Julia Krolik says she uses the education she learned from the program in every one of her projects.

“How to engage with your audience, finding their pain-points, developing a value proposition – every interaction we have with our clients touches on these things – all of which were taught in GrindSpaceXL,” says Julia.

In addition to her experiences through the GrindSpaceXL program, Julia also credits her mentors, which include Yolande Chan, Professor and Associate Dean (Research and PhD-MSc programs) at Queen’s University, whom she met through being at Innovation Park, and Peter Levesque, President of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization, who was instrumental to Julia’s career as a knowledge mobilizer. She also received support from David Hyndman and Ed Thomas from the Research Partnerships Unit of Queen’s Office of Partnerships and Innovation (OPI) as well as Garrett Elliott and Scott Runte from Launch Lab, a partner of Queen’s OPI.

“One thing I’m really thankful for is the community,” says Julia, reflecting on the pivot from Theory Jar to Pixels and Plans. “Being in such a supportive environment allowed us to have really candid conversations. It was really empowering to know that as we experimented with our venture and pivoted, there was a system behind us, supporting our change and growth phases with coaching and resources at each step along the way."

Pixels and Plans continues to incubate in Innovation Park and Julia Krolik will be leading a conversation about her entrepreneurial journey on March 7 in the learning space at the Park.

One of the art pieces created by Owen Fernley as a result of his Art the Science residency. It is a shadow of a child running overlayed on a microscopic slide
One of the pieces created by Owen Fernley as a result of his Art the Science residency.

And while Pixels and Plans is gaining more and more momentum, Julia’s first venture, Art the Science is also reaching key milestones of its pilot project. Art the Science places artists in a science laboratory or science research space. The residency allows artists to explore and develop their artistic skills while the researcher gains a new, innovative avenue for sharing their research with the public. The pilot residency placed Owen Fernley in the lab of Dr. Kevin Mumford, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering. Phase I, which was completed in March 2018, was an exploratory mission by Owen to understand the research and develop artwork around his newfound knowledge. Phase II involves an exhibition of the final artwork, titled Between the Sand, which will be presented at Modern Fuel on February 27.

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