Debra Sterling wants to get girls jazzed about engineering long before they graduate high school—the time when she first ventured into the profession.
But the 30-year-old Stanford University engineering graduate wasn't satisfied to design a "pink construction toy." She wanted to come up with a way to intrigue young minds and bring engineering to the mainstream toy aisle. Sterling is well on her way with GoldieBlox.
"The ultimate goal of GoldieBlox is to bring awareness of science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] to kids at a younger age, to build curiosity," she says. "We've absolutely brought the concept one step closer to the mainstream, but we've got work to do."
Sterling had no concept of engineering until she set foot on Stanford's campus, but her success with the GoldieBlox approach—a mixture of a story with actual constructible components that teach tension, force and friction, among other technical principles—took engineering, the business world and mainstream media by storm in 2013.
Education research showed she needed to engage girls through storytelling. "Girls were more interested in why they were building than what they were building," she says.
Sterling created a hugely successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign to launch her company, GoldieBlox Inc., raising over $280,000 in about one month to propel the invention to market across the U.S.
Three versions of the toy now are being sold in some 1,000 retail outlets and at Amazon.com. More book and construction sets and her first digital products are set for launch this year.
Sterling thinks GoldieBlox is a win for STEM education and for engineering, a profession she termed "empowering" in a TEDx talk last year.
"By introducing spatial skills to young girls, we hope to tackle the glaring gender disparity in engineering," she said. "We deserve to have the female perspective."
Others agree. "GoldieBlox isn't a boy's toy guised in a pastel package. It's a toy built around what girls love—reading, adventure and saving the day," says Sandi Everlove, chief learning officer at Washington STEM, which promotes STEM education in Washington state. "Inspiring STEM identity at an early age is the first step in clearing hurdles for girls and women in the fields."
While Sterling won't disclose specific sales information, she says she's "very happy with the support GoldieBlox has received so far" and feels "beyond lucky to have seen this much success."
GoldieBlox has been a learning experience for Sterling herself as she faces the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.
While her firm is facing legal action from the Beastie Boys rap group over alleged trademark infringement in GoldieBlox promotions, it also was the winner of a free 30-second Super bowl ad, sponsored by software firm Intuit for small businesses.
The ad for Goldiblox, produced by Intuit, which would have cost about $4 million for the air time, was the first for a small business to appear on the Superbowl. It aired Feb. 2.