Lyssa Neel, Ph.D., is the CEO & co-founder of Linkitz Systems Inc, which is making a technology toy for girls ages 4-8. She is a proud mother of three girls and the 10th woman ever to get a PhD in computer science from MIT.
The inspiration behind Linkitz resulted from a technology conference in 2012. As usual, there were mostly men and only a handful of women. I’m certainly not the first person to have noticed this, but the question of why there was such a gender disparity really started to bother me. As a kid, I always built and made things, and I’ve been programming since eighth grade. I love engineering, and it’s something I think that many girls would like, if they knew how much fun it was.
Unfortunately, research shows by the time girls are in middle school, they’ve already decided that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) are not things that girls do. Of course, some girls do continue to pursue STEM, but they’re often the outliers.
I realized we have to reach girls earlier, when they’re little, and give them a technology toy that appeals to the way girls play. Then, by the time they reach middle school, they’ll have confidence in their abilities and will have acquired some skills and a different way of thinking about tech. Tech won’t be a “boy thing” because girls will grow up creating with technology.
I wanted to add technology to something that girls were already familiar with, like jewelry and accessories. Girls often have very good fine motor skills, and they like to do things that are social. When girls make jewelry, they often do it in a group and make friendship bracelets with their friends.
The Linkitz team is creating a kit that contains little electronic “links” that girls can put together and customize to create their own fashion accessories. This is very similar to the activity that girls already feel confident in; with Linkitz, they will become familiar with building electronics and using programming to customize their creations.
It took about a year to design a kit that was fun and had interesting behavior. We filed two patents on the developed technologies. We had challenges fitting electronics into these very small links in a way that would stand up to being assembled and rearranged, but still be easy for little girls to put together.
We hired an industrial designer to help us create a design that girls would be excited to wear. This included the electronic links themselves, as well as the wearable accessories – a wristband, a necklace, a wand, etc. Also, because many kids at this age don’t read yet, the parts had to be identifiable by their design.
Though there were some constraints, the result is a fantastic design that girls will be proud to wear, play with, and program.
We’re excited to bring Linkitz to market later this year.