WomensNet News

March 19th 2021

February 2021 Amber Grant Awarded to Eliza Dolls

We’re delighted to announce the $10,000 February Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Eliza Kosoy, Founder of Eliza Dolls. E-liza dolls are 18’’ dolls that teach young girls (ages 7-12) how to code and build hardware through fun, tech-enabled projects.

Eliza is the third qualifier for the 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

This week, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down for an interview with Eliza. You can watch that conversation right here or find the transcript listed below.

 

Marcia Layton Turner

Welcome everyone to a chat with one of WomensNet’s winners of the Amber Grant. Today, we’re speaking with Eliza Kosoy of Eliza Dolls, who is the Amber Grant winner for February, 2021. I’m Marcia Layton Turner. I’m one of the members of the WomensNet Advisory Board.

Now, anybody who watched our premiere video from last month, may be wondering if we only give money to the makers of dolls. And the answer of course is no. It just so happened that these impressive applicants, for very different types of dolls, came in back to back. And so we didn’t want to not give Eliza money, because her idea is fantastic. So I just wanted to address that right upfront in case anybody had any questions.

So Eliza, why don’t we start by you telling us about your product and your business, maybe beginning with why you started it.

Eliza Kosoy

Okay. And thank you so much… I had this breaking point moment. I used to work in this lab at MIT, this computational cognitive science lab, and it was 28 men and 2 women. And one day we’re in a lab meeting, and this guy who’s this math prodigy genius is talking about this AI that could do 30 kills per minute [talking about video games]. And everybody was geeking out about it. I was like, why is this what we’re working on? AI is so powerful. It has the power to change the world. And that kind of made me realize: if we had more diversity in the room, if we had more women in the room, we might be focusing on different issues.

So that’s kind of why had the idea. I was like, how can I fix this? How can I get more women into the field? How can I make the field more diverse?

Marcia

At what point did you start thinking about developing a doll to help teach coding?

Eliza

When I would ask anyone in the lab, when did you start programming, everyone would say, when I was a kid. And if you look at all the people that are tech billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin… Facebook, Microsoft, Google. All those guys started tinkering with computers when they were kids. But then I flashed back to my own life and I was the biggest doll nerd. I just loved dolls and dollhouses. I was angry at my childhood self for not playing with computers. And I was like, how can I make these two worlds come together? Young girls really like dolls and they like fashion… And, I don’t want to be penalizing them for having these interests.

A lot of the STEM toys on the market are mostly targeted for boys. So that’s how I had the idea. I was like, let’s merge these worlds where they can still play with what they like, but there’s a whole technology aspect to it.

Marcia

Awesome. Well, can you show us one of the dolls? I know you have a couple of prototypes.

Eliza

[Shown to screen] These are just the prototypes that I made to just show how it works. But they all have this little computer inside called an Arduino. This one’s lighting up and it has different sensors on it. She’s got the slide up belts and it make sounds. And you’ll be able to code it, to do all these different projects based on different sensors. [Shown to screen.] Here’s one where it has a screen. So you can upload whatever images you want to it and just do all these different things with it. And I’m going to have a bunch of different projects that come with each doll.

Marcia

And you were telling me that you use an iPad to instruct the doll?

Eliza

The way that you’re going to be able to code the doll is through block programming, which is a way to teach kids how to code, where they drag little blocks. They look like little Legos almost, but each one represents a piece of code. So it’s easier for kids to begin understanding the logical thinking of coding. You can do that on this app on an iPad or on a computer, but probably it’s easier to use your fingers on an iPad or a large phone. And then through Bluetooth, it gets sent right to the doll. So it’ll be kind of easy.

Marcia

So what do you think has been the secret to your success so far?

Eliza

I really, really care about this. I’m super passionate about it. I really think it can make a huge difference. The more I tell people about it and get their feedback, that’s what really inspires me. I always get such great feedback. And winning a grant, that’ll definitely keep me going. I’m like, okay, I’m on the right track. But mostly just seeing [the response]. When I show it to little girls, they love it. And that for me is like, yes I’m doing something right. And I really hope I can make a difference in this way.

Marcia

What made you decide to apply for an Amber Grant?

Eliza

One of my mentors, this woman who knows all the grants, told me about it. And then I saw the website and I saw the application was very easy to fill out. [It was a] no brainer. When you have a startup, you always need money and the easier the application, the better it is. I just thought it was totally what I’m looking for and awesome. I looked at some of the previous winners and they were kind of early stages too. I think I’m more early stage. It’s harder to find grants for early stage startups. So that’s why I applied — and yeah, super grateful that I won.

Marcia

How are you going to use the $10,000 to grow the company?

Eliza

One of the things I definitely need help paying for is getting this prototype made in Los Angeles. They’re manufacturing it. So it’s a professionally made product that I can launch on Kickstarter. So part of it’s going to go to that. The other part that I’ve recently didn’t know if I could afford, but now I think I can afford, is to hire a design person. So someone with real design experience who can help with the brand, the packaging and things like that. Things for social media [and marketing].

Marcia

So looking ahead, what are some future plans that you may have for the company?

Eliza

Like I said, there’s this factory in Los Angeles that’s making the prototype. I’m hoping to launch on Kickstarter within two months. So I think within three months definitely there’ll be a Kickstarter launch and the plan is to have different levels that people can invest in. And there’ll be a website too. If you want to go to the website and sign up for our email list, then I can send you an email update about our launch.

Marcia

Do you think you’ll develop additional dolls down the line? Will you develop new features for the dolls? Thinking even beyond when you introduce the product, what are you going to do?

Eliza

Oh, for sure. So I want to have as many different looking dolls as possible. I really want to have a diverse set of dolls. I want them to all look different. I want them to appeal to all different kinds of little girls. That’s something that’s really big for me, but the given the budget and the constraints I could only make two. So [pointing to dolls] these are the two that I’m going to have for now.

Accessories are going to be endless. The cool thing about electronics is you can use different sensors to make all of these different kinds of projects. I have so many ideas, it was really hard to constrain it to the set that I’m going to have. But, using different electronics to teach different concepts… that’s how I’m planning to expand it.

Marcia

I’m thinking of Build-a-Bear and all the accessories they have for that. So this could be the upgraded American Girl Doll, almost with all the additional things, the non-techie things.

Eliza

That would be an insane dream… to have a store that would be half coding center where kids could come in and take computer classes, where they could learn things… But also, enabling them to build their own things through the different sensors you could sell in an easy to digest way.

Marcia

So do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Anything that you’ve learned along the way so far that might help women who want to run their own businesses?

Eliza

Don’t give up. I think it’s really easy to give up because things get messed up constantly and I’m always questioning myself, like, why am I doing this? Why did I think I could do this? So definitely don’t give up. Also, if someone does say something discouraging, use that as fuel.

Definitely try to find female mentors — they’re everywhere. They’re so helpful and they want to help you. I wouldn’t have known about this grant if it wasn’t for one of my mentors.

And then I would say, apply for everything. I apply for a lot of things. The more things you apply for, the better you get at applying for them. And you just have no clue what’s out there and what you could win. And that’s been a big part of my journey.

Marcia

Great advice. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your story with the WomensNet community. And congratulations on being our latest Amber Grant winner.

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