Kids are complicated. Their interests seem to change quickly, sometimes overnight. For some, this is just a healthy growing process. But, for middle-school age girls, one change of interest is a cultural trend that troubles many. Studies from Tel Aviv University, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and Iowa State, among others, show that many girls become discouraged and lose interest in STEM courses during middle school. Instead, they pursue more traditionally “feminine” interests. This trend contributes to a gender disparity at the top in science and tech academics and industry. What would you do if your sixth-grade scientist suddenly changed in her test tubes for tubes of lip gloss, or her field notebooks for the latest Twilight book?
For entrepreneur Makeda Ricketts, this challenge has become a calling. Ricketts is a University of Chicago Booth MBA, who started PinkThink in 2013. A few years ago, Ricketts’ little sister began losing interest in STEM. Ricketts looked for solutions in the market—toys and activities that her sister would actually enjoy, while being educational—and came up frustratingly short. She decided to pilot a new project, and created PinkThink, “a one stop shop for all STEM related products for pre-teen girls.” Her idea has won serious recognition and support, from the National Science Foundation, Yale Business School Education Business Plan Competition, Camelback Ventures, and the Booth School of Business.
Now, PinkThink offers online games and activities, such as PinkEngineer, where girls can use STEM to create virtual products like nail polish and lip gloss. They can then market their products on social media, earning spendable PinkDollars and STEMStars as they go. Other community members can even buy the products from an online catalog, and receive the real deal! In another PinkThink activity, girls get a glimpse into a wider range of glamorous STEM-related careers, helping change associations they may have that these options are too “masculine” or “nerdy.”
The latest PinkThink product is cStyle, a customizable bracelet that helps teach girls to code. The “first codeable wearable,” cStyle uses pioneering technology, sleek looks, and broad customization options to get girls involved. cStyle is currently launching, with a start-up fund you can check out on IndieGogo. Girls love the power to make their own bracelets change color and light up based on a variety of chosen triggers, and to share their creations with friends.
The best part is that girls are involved in the product design process. Because PinkThink is founded on the idea that being girlish and enjoying STEM go hand-in-hand, they make sure every product will make sense to girls. They have “conducted focus groups and beta tested with over 200 girls to ensure that every product we create has been girl tested and girl approved.” Further, every product allows each girl to have a unique experience based on her individual preferences.
Finally, PinkThink addresses socio-economic as well as gender gaps. Using distribution strategies for both girls from higher-income families, and those who would otherwise lack access to the technology, PinkThink seeks to “close the digital divide” for all girls. Through their IndieGogo campaign, customers can donate bracelet systems to the Girl Scouts, the National Society of Black Engineers’, the American Association of University Women, and Perspectives Charter Schools. These organizations leverage existing networks to bring cStyle to under-served girls.
By combining coding, sales skills, and social networking, PinkThink bridges the gap between childhood test tubes and teenagers’ tubes of lip gloss. The company offers girls a suite of activity that promises to engage them in STEM, prepare them for entrepreneurship through middle school, and still let them enjoy all the “Pink” of being a girl.
This blog post was written by Shannon Nicholson, who is in her second year of the 2-year MBA Program at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. She is most recently from Chicago, and has experience in nonprofit fundraising and marketing. Shannon grew up in Syracuse, NY, and holds a BA in studio art from the University of Minnesota. In her free time, she enjoys rock-climbing, bicycling, karaoke, and spending time with her husband. All images provided by thepinkthink.org.