The robots are multiplying.
Not the indoor-farming robots, food-delivery robots or house-building robots feared to be coming after human jobs. The robot-riding dolls from Arlington-based SmartGurlz, the ed-tech startup that nabbed funding from “Shark Tank” shark Daymond John late last year.
A refresher: Sharmi Albrechtsen’s company has a line of dolls that ride robotic Segways, controlled by an app that teaches girls to code. It’s an effort to engage young girls in science, tech, engineering, arts and math amid a nationwide push to promote these STEAM subjects to diversify the workforce.
SmartGurlz, which left the ABC reality show with $200,000 (and gave up a quarter of the business), is now raising $2 million in seed funding: up to $1 million through a selective crowdfunding platform called SeedInvest, and the rest through accredited investors.
The company needs about $500,000 to get inventory ready by Christmas — a busy time for the business — so that’s top priority for the new funding. It’s now about $125,000 short of that goal but hopes to raise that in the next couple of weeks. The entire seed round will take the company about 12 to 18 months, after which it will look to raise roughly $8 million to $10 million in Series A financing, Albrechtsen told me.
Here are more developments:
Retail deals: It’s working on an exclusive deal to sell in Walmart stores for 2019. It’s also in talks with Apple stores.
Partnerships: The company has teamed up with Girl Scouts of America to tell its products in the Girl Scouts catalogue. Girls can earn Girl Scout badges for using them. It’s the beginning of a collaboration with the organization, Albrechtsen said.
Executive hires: Kari Byron, known for her role on Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters,” has joined SmartGurlz as chief creative officer, connected through investor Daymond John’s team. Her experience as an artist and designer will be an asset, Albrechtsen said, as the company looks to design new toy lines. Her role in the promotion of STEAM education and her fan base will also help bring attention to the company’s mission, she said. Martin Pidel, formerly of Hasbro and LeapFrog, brings more than 20 years of toy industry experience to the business, as its chief marketing officer. The team is up to six people and she’s looking to hire two more.
New products: The company is working on new characters, including its first male doll in a brother-sister pack, and new types of vehicles, looking into electric scooters and wearables — headbands with color-changing LED lights and Morse code messages, bracelets and T-shirts with pixelated screens. Nickelodeon approached the company for some of these products. The idea, Albrechtsen said, is that the “SugarCoded” app serves as the center for all SmartGurlz products.
Podcasts: Albrechtsen’s team is looking into creating a series of short podcasts with stories of women in STEAM, tailored to young girls.
All of this stems in part from the “Shark Tank” effect. The company did $150,000 in sales in 24 hours after the November episode aired — nearly the company’s entire annual revenue the year before. A recent rerun of the episode, combined with a marketing campaign, brought in another $20,000 in a weekend. Over the past seven months, the company has sold more than 20,000 products, with more than $1.2 million in revenue. Albrechtsen she’s aiming to reach $2 million in revenue for this year.
The exposure “does definitely change the scope of your business,” she said. “It suddenly opens a lot of doors, and it just gives you credibility when you walk in and start talking to a retailer.”