Stanford grads create engineering toy that targets girls

December 13, 2012 9:10:34 PM PST
While Santa stuffs his sleigh full of toys for girls and boys, a couple of recent Stanford grads are busy stuffing boxes full of a new toy that's just for girls.

"Roominate" is different from any dollhouse you've ever seen.

A typical Roominate dollhouse might feature a spinning electric fireplace in an imaginary ski cabin. "We just have a little couch and lamp and a bunk bed up here, and then you can put stairs to go up to the loft," Maykah Toys co-founder Bettina Chen recently explained. The whole thing was built with Roominate, a building toy set especially for girls ages six to ten. "Today, it's just there aren't very many building toys for girls. It's all just dolls and princesses, so we wanted to do something about that," Chen said.

Bettina Chen and Alice Brooks started their toy company Maykah at Stanford's Start-X Business Accelerator after graduating with a class of mostly male engineers. "Something needs to be done at an earlier stage to get girls to understand that science and engineering are fun, and that they are an option for them," Brooks told ABC7 News.

So, while most dollhouses teach interior design, Roominate teaches structural engineering. "These are the building pieces for the furniture and included in that, is a little mini-catalog of ideas that you can make with that," explained. There's an electric motor for fans, elevators, even washing machines.

Now, the orders are pouring in. "It's just been beyond anything that we expected," Brooks said. Alice and Bettina have already sold 2,000 Roominate toys this holiday season and their latest batch of 1,000 is well on its way to selling out. That means between now and Christmas, they'll be working some very long hours.

Working together, the two can label, box, and ship about one order a minute. "It's not glamorous. That's what I've learned about entrepreneurship in the last year. It's about doing everything that has to happen," Brooks said. But, seeing kids captivated makes it all worth it. "They're never done and the parents are like, 'Oh we have to go,' and they're like, 'I'm not done!'" Chen said.


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