Engineering Entrepreneurs Wanted

Posted Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 9:24 AM

"Women are a minority in both the engineering and business worlds, but learning how to take your ideas to market can help change both of those statistics."

Engineering Entrepreneurs Wanted

PostedWednesday, August 13, 2014 at 1:32 PM

Christine Yang
Christine Yang
Engineering Entrepreneurs Wanted

Photo by Kelly Marsh

Author: Christine Yang


Former Microsoft Marketing Communications Manager Michaela Murphy looked at one of the girls in our circle.

“Yes,” the girl said rapidly, before she turned to gaze at someone else. It went like that for a while. 

I’m pumped up. Like, me, the 21 young women who attended Barnard College’s “Entrepreneurs in Training” program in New York this past summer wanted to get to “Yes,” that magic word that means our business ideas are good; that our products will work, and that investors are eager to fund women entrepreneurs who are solving problems.

Debbie Sterling My peers and I learned that women account for only18 percent of undergraduates earning engineering degrees. Further, a 2013 study by Pitchbook found that only 13 percent of venture capital went to women entrepreneurs. Clearly, women are a minority in both the engineering and business worlds.

Gradually, the number of women engineers is increasing, and along with it, women entrepreneurs. Take Debbie Sterling, CEO and founder of GoldieBlox ™, a game designed for 5 to 9 year old girls to teach them engineering principles. Debbie graduated from Stanford University with a degree in mechanical engineering and product design, then created a fun game that would inspire the next generation of builders and innovators.

We discussed Debbie’s motivation for creating GoldieBlox during the women-focused program. Her storybook building kit gets “girls interested in engineering,” while building self-confidence. The colorful toy is selling in stores like Amazon, Target, and Nordstrom now.

What does it take to design and launch a successful business startup like GoldieBlox?

  1. Good inventors begin by identifying a local or global community problem such as the lack of women engineers.
  2. The next step is “ideation,” brainstorming product ideas like a game. Once the idea takes shape, the developers undergo a series of designs, testing, tweaking, and retesting to see if it will actually work. If necessary, the team “pivots,” which means change the product without losing sight of the idea.
  3. “Yes,” it works! Now the product is ready to be pitched. The pitch is the most crucial part step, and the most challenging. Investors do not buy the “what,” but the “who,” in GoldieBlox’s case, Debbie, and the “why”—to interest a new generation of women engineers. They invest in the charisma and purpose, not the product. The pitch requires imagination, energy, and passion. Debbie had all three.

At Barnard, stage actresses helped us develop our pitch and tell our story. Using skits and theatrical voices, we grabbed the attention of the panel of investors. “Yes, show me the money” was our goal. Now we’re ready to manufacture the product and put in on store shelves.

Talking to the investors, I realized that many of them had something in common: few actually attended business school. An entrepreneur does not necessarily need to get an MBA to be successful, and Debbie is living proof of that. After earning her engineering degree from Stanford, she entered the marketing world when she worked at Lori Bunn, a national jewelry company, then she worked as a brand strategy consultant for a myriad of other companies. She obtained the capital needed to start GoldieBox using Kickstarter, which helps entrepreneurs get money through crowd funding. The way Debbie stumbled upon the business world does not match what we see and hear in the media: an Ivy League dropout who creates a tech startup. Ms. Sterling demonstrates that as long as women engineers have good ideas, energy, passion and dedication, they can achieve anything, and even change the world.