This article is part of a series covering the most exciting start-ups featured at the most recent TechBUZZ conference, held at AOL Fishbowl Labs. To read the rest of the articles in the series, click here.
One of the first things you learn as a parent is that sometimes you need to trick your kids into doing things that are good for them (or you). This is why we make silly airplane noises when we feed babies peas out of a jar. It's why we tell boys, "Yes, there is a cub scout badge for washing my car!"
Our favorite tricks get kids to learn important skills while also having fun. And if there's one thing more children -- especially girls -- should learn, it's computer programming. Unfortunately, girls' participation in the realm of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is low. So how do you spark young girls' interest in programming? One tech start-up may have an answer: Jewelbots.
Tech that speaks to tweens
Jewelbots was founded by Sara Chipps and Brooke Moreland. Chipps is a computer programmer and advocate for women's participation in STEM, while Moreland is a fashion-tech entrepreneur. Chipps describes Jewelbots as "friendship bracelets for an iPhone era." For the uninitiated who don't have "tweenage" girls in the house, friendship bracelets are all the rage these days, and Jewelbots is taking advantage of this fashion trend to appeal to girls aged 9 to 14 years old. The bracelets will be accompanied by an iPhone app that will allow kids to program their bracelets with "out-of-the-box" functionality, such as vibrating and changing color when they're around friends. Once they master the basics, the kids can go to the Jewelbots website and modify the code to do things like alert them when they get a new Instagram follower, or when a parent is about to pick them up from practice.
One of the coolest things about Jewelbots is their use of the Bluetooth Smart Mesh network protocols, which allow the bracelets to communicate with one another "without the use of a cell phone, on a device no larger than a quarter."
After talking with more than 150 girls in both high schools and middle schools, the Jewelbots team discovered that a lot of these young women already had some sort of fashion wearable, be it a FitBit (NYSE: FIT), Jawbone, or Nike (NYSE: NKE) Fuelband. They also quickly learned that these girls had no idea whether the fitness bracelets actually helped them in any way. The girls simply didn't check to see how many steps they took or what their resting heart rate was. This realization may be the ultimate key to Jewelbots' success. Creating a tech wearable that provides immediate and valuable information to the child is a key area of focus for the company.
We won't spoil all of the fun surprises that Jewelbots has in store for these young ladies, but developing the product by talking directly to so many girls is a smart approach that many start-ups could learn from. Only through many conversations with the girls did the team discover what "made them all freak out."
Women's STEM street cred
That Sara Chipps created Jewelbots is no surprise when you look at her career path. In 2010, Chipps co-founded a nonprofit organization called Girl Develop It!, which is dedicated to getting young women into coding. This grassroots organization currently operates in 49 cities and has taught more than 17,000women to build software. According to the National Science Foundation, the percentage of female undergraduates who major in computer science has declined by nearly 20percentage points since 1985, and Chipps wants to change that trajectory.
Meanwhile, Moreland helped create the fashion app Fashism before the company ran out of funding. Moreland's passion for fashion and previous tech start-up experience helps fill out this small team quite nicely. Jewelbots recently launched a Kickstarter campaign and is currently working to finish production of the first 100 bracelets and conduct intensive user testing. The company expects to have the final product available for sale in early 2016. (You can sign up on their website to be informed when the bracelets are available.)
Recently, Jewelbots VP of engineering George Stocker gave a presentation at TechBUZZ. Check out the video below:
To track the company's progress, you can visit the following websites: