E-liza Dolls, a Berkeley-based startup, is aiming to challenge the gender gap in STEM by helping young girls learn to code using dolls. The company, which exhibited as part of the Battlefield 200 at TechCrunch Disrupt, builds dolls that include programmable computers that girls can code through an app.
The startup was founded in 2021 by Eliza Kosoy, a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, who is focused on the intersection of child development and artificial intelligence. Kosoy originally came up with the idea for the dolls in 2017 while she was working at MIT in an AI lab that was mostly made up of men. Kosoy says she realized that if only a certain group of people were designing the future of AI and technology, it would only benefit that group, which is when she had the idea to come up with a way for young girls to learn to code.
Kosoy wanted to find a way for girls to learn about coding without having to give up their interests, which is why she decided to combine dolls and technology. Regardless of what people may think about gendered toys, the purpose of E-liza dolls is to help girls feel confident when it comes to exploring STEM by giving them a product that is designed specifically for them.
The market is filled with toys that are designed and marketed for and by males. Of course girls can play with these toys too, but some of them may prefer to play with something that is designed for them.
“We want to expose young girls to technological concepts and encourage creative thinking through hardware and software, preventing girls from being influenced by generational stereotypes,” Kosoy told TechCrunch. “Parents have so few options; they feel they need to force their daughters to play with STEM products designed for boys in order to get their daughters on a STEM path. We believe little girls don’t have to sacrifice their interests in order to play with educational STEM toys.”
E-liza Dolls is currently in talks with manufacturers and plans to launch on Kickstarter in early 2023. Kosoy says the team is one prototype away from the Kickstarter launch, as the startup plans to add a few iterations to the dolls and enhance their design features. After the initial launch on Kickstarter, the company plans to release the product officially in mid-2023.
The 18″ dolls operate via a piece of hardware embedded in each doll. The device has a screen and is Bluetooth-enabled to receive code via the doll’s companion app. Girls can plug in different sensors or use the built-in sensors to code the doll to do different things, such as building a security alarm for your room using a distance sensor or creating a truth detector using a heartbeat pulse sensor.
Since launching, E-liza Dolls has received $100,000 in funding from AIX Ventures. The company is currently in the midst of raising a pre-seed round that consists of funding from several angel investors, including poet Rupi Kaur.