GoldieBlox Builds a Foundation for More Female Engineers

Debbie Sterling creates a construction toy designed with girls in mind

What do Bob the Builder, Jimmy Neutron, and Bill Nye the Science Guy have in common? They all love engineering—and they are all male. Similarly, the construction aisles of toy stores are geared primarily toward boys, with blue and black boxes lining the shelves. Fear not, those of you with lady parts, GoldieBlox is here to inspire girls to tinker their way into the male-dominated world of engineering.

Debbie Sterling, who earned her degree in engineering from Stanford University, decided to create Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine, a construction toy specifically designed for young girls, two years ago. At one of Sterling’s “idea brunches,” where she and friends would get together to share their ideas over breakfast, the wheels started turning for the CEO when a fellow female engineer explained how playing with her brothers’ hand-me-down Legos influenced her. Having grown up with only a sister, Sterling was never exposed to construction toys as her parents never thought to venture into the boys’ toy aisles. “That morning, it hit me like a lightening bolt. I was sitting in that room and realized this is my life calling, as corny as it sounds,” she says.

Sterling began the process of rapid prototyping. Rather than investing money in expensive product samples, she created a prototype of Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine using household materials including thread spools and peg boards—she even made figurines out of clay and wrote and illustrated the book in her sketch pad.

With prototype in hand, Sterling went around to the homes of more than 40 families and three schools to observe how kids interacted with the book and toy. A group of Cornell University researchers joined Sterling on her quest to perfect Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine. The group developed testing rubrics, video taped every testing session, and took notes along the way. Together, Sterling and the researchers analyzed the data and improved the prototype over and over based on the results. After testing the product on more than 100 kids over the course of three months, Sterling ended up with a final prototype.

In March, GoldieBlox, Inc., was formed, and in mid-September Sterling and her associates debuted Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine on Kickstarter to determine if there was consumer interest for the product. Sterling hoped to raise $150,000 during the 30-day campaign to fund the first production run of 5,000 units. That goal was exceeded in less than five days. “We felt validated that my instincts were right,” she says. At the end of the 30 days, the company raised more than $285,000 in pre-orders. Soon after the success with Kickstarter, GoldieBlox, Inc., launched its website where consumers could continue pre-ordering the toy. The company entirely sold-out for pre-orders scheduled to arrive in February and had to push the delivery date back to April in order to accommodate the overwhelming demand for the toy.

Though scarce, there are a few construction toys for girls on the market, including the Lego Friends line, which allows girls to construct buildings including horse stables, ice cream shops, and salons with pink and purple bricks. Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys have also given their construction lines a pink-twist in an attempt to market toward girls. GoldieBlox, however, is a character-based brand, featuring Goldie, the girl engineer. By centering the product around a character, girls are presented with a direct role model. “There’s this great quote,” says Sterling, “‘you can’t be what you can’t see,’ and that’s been a major driver for me in creating Goldie. She is not a fashion designer or a beautician—she’s an engineer.”

The story-telling component is another major difference from other construction toys. Other toys on the market have an image of what is supposed to be built on the front of the box and an instruction manual. With Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine, the instructions are explained within a book, in which Goldie builds contraptions to help her friends solve problems. “It brings context to the building, which I found really appeals to girls,” says Sterling. In addition, the pieces of the toy were inspired by household items and have curved edges and soft textures, which, according to Sterling, appeal to girls and make engineering less intimidating than more linear, shiny objects.

Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine is targeted toward girls ages 6 and up. With women making up only 11 percent of the engineering population, Sterling finds it important to get girls involved in building, math, and science at a young age. Her research has shown that girls begin to lose interest in engineering as early as age 8. “It’s such a shame because that’s really the age where kids begin to develop their interests and what they like and what they think they are good at. Those stick with you for life,” she says.

Sterling and her team are working to get the Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine on the shelves by spring. “The whole point of this is to get this toy into the hands of as many little girls as possible. To be able to make it accessible, we are hoping for mass saturation. We think it’s something that every girl deserves, and it’s really lacking in the toy space,” she says.

Step aside Bob, Jimmy, and Bill, there’s a new engineer in town. Her tool belt may be pink, but she’s certainly no Barbie doll.