It's no secret that women have a hard time breaking into the boys' club that is the tech world. But though this fight certainly is happening within companies and at conferences all over the country, some women seem to have found a whole other place to fight back — on Kickstarter. A number of projects focused around girls and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields have popped up on the crowdfunding site over the past year, and if this keeps up, it could be a game changer.
For one thing, Kickstarter allows women to bypass the traditional (often sexist) science and technology establishment, which has so far not been very good to women entrepreneurs. Though there are probably many reasons that a female Steve Jobs has yet to emerge, one might be that it's simply hard for women to get funding. But through Kickstarter, women can get funding outside the traditional structures.
And at least some of these entrepreneurs are taking advantage. Women-led kick starter projects range from things like Toymail, a toy that can receive from parents' phones and speak the text aloud to the kids, to the Everpurse, a purse that recharges your phone, wirelessly. Which, needless to say, I now want, immediately.
But the most exciting thing about this trend is how many Kickstarter projects are actually aimed at young women — there are lots of fun but educational tools to help girls develop their technology and engineering sensibilities. One such project was the much hyped GoldiBlox, meant to provide a girl's alternative to toys like Legos and K'nex which are marketed to boys. Other, lesser known examples include Roominate, intended for similar purposes, and even the WaterColorBot, a painting robot which was itself created by a young woman. Which I also kind of want because it's a painting robot.
Some projects aimed at girls, though, aren't high tech, but good old fashioned storybooks. One such project, Hello Ruby , which is looking for funding right now, teaches girls coding concepts. Creator Linda Liukas of the Codecademy and Rails Girls sees coding as a vital skill for the 21st century. On the Kickstarter page she writes:
Code is the 21st century literacy and the need for people to speak the ABC of Programming is imminent. Our world is increasingly run by software and we need more diversity in the people who are building it.
In other words, people who aren't white and male should probably be encouraged to get involved.
There are other technology-themed books for kids finding funding on Kickstarter, to give kids a head start in the world of computers. As Lisa Seacat DeLuca, whose book Robot Story teaches kids to count in binary in the same way that other picture books teach colors or the alphabet, says, "Children are genetically programmed to learn language, so why not start them early?"
And these projects are getting funded, often even beyond their creators' expectations. Hello Ruby, for instance, already has over $200,000 in pledged donations despite only initially asking for $10,000. It's an amount that's almost unheard of in the books category, so clearly people are hungry for these kinds of projects.
Overall, Kickstarter might prove to be a source of funding for STEM entrepreneurs who struggle to be taken seriously by traditional investors. But maybe even more importantly, Kickstarter projects aimed at children might help to craft a world in which girls are no longer underrepresented in STEM fields to begin with. And that's a project I think we can all get behind.