Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 4/22/20– As seen on ABC’s Shark Tank, SmartGurlz founder Sharmi Albrechtsen beat out 40,000 other entrepreneurs and negotiated with guest “shark” Richard Branson before closing a deal with Daymond John. Her award-winning, STEM-focused toys are just what young children need to keep them engaged and moving forward during the COVID-19 crisis.
Your company, SmartGurlz is a fast-growing start-up focusing on closing the gender gap in technology. How did this begin for you?
As a mother of 2 daughters and a true feminist, of course, I believe that all robots and drones can be coded by women. However, statistics show that 95 percent of robot and drone sales are to men and that very few women/girls buy or play with robots. Not surprisingly, we have a shortage of women in engineering and computer sciences.
This statistic became very real when a few years ago, I invested in a $150 robot building set for my younger daughter, Nina.Quite frankly, she rejected it. OK, in fact, she nodded politely, took the box, said she would play with it ‘later’ and put it in her closet, where it never saw the light of day.
SmartGurlz is the maker of Smart Buddies, a line of friendly self-balancing robots and action figures that engage and encourage kids to learn to code. Connected via smartphone or tablet, Smart Buddies™ allows kids 6 and up to immerse themselves in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
SmartGurlz™ Inspires the young leaders of tomorrow, today.
SmartGurlz is the first robotics company focused on girls. Tell us about some of your challenges you faced when bringing SmartGurlz to market?
Financing and raising money has been tough, especially with VC investors. We have been lucky enough to have lots of fans and through equity crowd-funding and our angels — have been able to raise more than $2 million in funding.
Tell us about being on the Shark Tank. What surprised you the most?
“I had watched Shark Tank for years and was an avid fan. In fact, the show inspired me to become an entrepreneur. So after speaking with a producer at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), let’s just say, I was insanely happy.
The process is long and rigorous; the studio spends a lot of resources on due diligence and even researched all competing patents to our products. Funnily, they even found a few patents that our patent attorney had overlooked! I was very ambitious with my pitch and had a custom branded e-tuk van drive into the Shark Tank because I wanted to launch our idea of an after school van program called ‘The Road to Code’. Working with Daymond John and his team has been amazing and I must admit that being a ‘Shark Tank company’ is a real quality check, as so few companies are chosen.”
Why is STEM so important to girls?
Of course we have all heard about the gender divide in STEM and how few women are taking STEM educational paths. Technology shapes our world and if women are missing from creating these tools – our views and perspectives may not be represented. I often cite that when Apple launched its first Health Kit – the engineers forgot to include tracking menstrual cycles. This is because an all-male engineering team overlooked this.
What does women empowerment mean to you?
Community. It can be pretty intimidating to join an advanced computer science class and be the only female in the room. We have to do more to increase the numbers of women taking leadership positions in STEM. For example, we work with BlackGirlsCode and Girl Scouts of America on elementary school programs that we hope will inspire more young girls in tech but we need this on all levels. Women empowerment is about working together, partnerships and building the future together.
Have you always been a champion for causes?
Right before founding SmartGurlz, I was the Associate Director of the Ida Institute, for nearly a decade – a non-profit organization whose mission was to empower adults and children to overcome hearing disabilities
As the visionary and CEO of SmartGurlz, what is your vision for 2020?
Due to Covid-19, we are experiencing a change in attitude towards home schooling, remote learning and e-learning. Next month, we are launching SmartBuddies@Home, a Code-at-Home robot combined with 6-weeks of LIVE classes with world-class teachers.
Kids are getting fatigue from screen-based coding only. Smart Buddies, limits screen-time and encourages on the floor learning and play time.
We are really excited about this launch because it is curriculum-based and employs real teachers who are hurting right now (many have lost income due to closures of after-school programs, tutoring and summer camps). Plus, kids who take our 6-weeks class can make up STEM classes that they missed because of the pandemic and parents get some needed ‘me time’ because Smart Buddies is so fun and engaging.