Where every young girl is an artist, engineer, architect & visionary!
By Amy-Willard Cross (Editor, Vitamin W)
While doing master degrees at Stanford, three young women started a business. Before receiving their graduate degrees, they’ve already got revenue. They’ve accomplished this feat using Kickstarter.
The company Maykah’s first product called Roominate is a building kit that incorporates circuits. Within a few of weeks, they pre-sold hundreds of kits and raised way more than their funding target. Not only did Kickstarter result in orders, Maykah was approached by investors since the first day it went on the site.
Roominate was designed with the mission “to get girls excited about math and science.” They do it by making it fun. The founders are well equipped. Bettina Chen is doing her Masters in Electrical and electronics engineering, Alice Brooks is doing a masters in Mechanical Engineering and Jennifer Kessler is slated to get her MBA in 2013. (There are degrees in math and neuroscience in the CVs too)
In an interview, Brooks and Kessler say, “We’re kind of working – we’re in school, but this is our full time job, and we want this to be our priority.” They got help from school, from Stanford incubator StartX before getting Kickstarted. Kickstarter is not just about the money, Kessler says, “we wanted to use this opportunity to understand what our customers need and want.”
The three young women are not sure about taking investment – whether they’ll need it to deal with the cash intensive and upfront costs of manufacturing. But the founders assert that they’ll make all decisions based on their vision – to get girls excited about math and science.
Roominate may look like a dollhouse with wiring, but it’s actually a set of components that can be built into houses, shops, apartment buildings, or anything else. In addition to the wooden components for the structure and furniture, the sets come with circuits so kids can add lights, TVs, computers, or fans to their constructions.
Co-founder Alice Brooks says, “adding more detail to the room – putting the fan and lights – inspires kids, and the story they’re telling. One girl made a restaurant because she had a fan and a buzzer.” Others have made malls and even indoor swimming pools (it being San Francisco). Eventually, Roominate plans to add movies to their website to inspire even more creativity.
Clearly, they’re onto something. At San Francisco’s recent Maker Faire, hundreds of kids swarmed their booth, and parents were only able to get their kids away by pre-ordering a Roominate Kit ($49 for the basic kit). Soon, they’ll be producing their first orders and determining their manufacturing capacity.
As girls, they all say they were lucky to have experience with science, math, Legos, and carpentry and realize not all girls have the same exposure. They all played with Barbies too. None were pushed into science. Brooks says, “It just what was natural at home. My mom was a math teacher, my dad is a roboticist.” Citing how she did math contests unbeknownst to her parents, Kessler says, “My parents didn’t push me… For us, we felt like anything was an option.”
Although fun, Roominate is inherently educational and teaches math and science thinking. Brooks explains, “What we’re trying to do is have these things start at home and be part of playtime and not like school work. So that in the comfort of their own home girls can build up their confidence.”
Roominate imparts a math and science way of thinking as well as familiarity with circuits. It teaches spatial reasoning and introduces kids to the very mathematical idea of repeating concepts over and over again in different ways.
As Kessler says, “For many girls, math and science don’t feel like an option, and we want it to be.” Lots of parents do too – because if you’ve got a science degree you can start your own high tech company – in graduate school.
A version of this story originally appeared on vitaminw.co
About the guest blogger: Amy-Willard Cross is the editor of Vitamin W, a platform for news, business and philanthropy. A former editor at national magazines, she authored books, written countless articles, features, op-eds and book reviews. Once while working on a documentary, she found an American who had fought with Fidel. She wants her daughter to learn how to code as the pay gap is only 6% for women programmers. Follow her on Twitter at @VitaminWomen.