Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
Over the weekend more than 100 million people tuned in to Super Bowl XLVIII and got to see the young startup company GoldieBlox make Super Bowl history with a 30-second ad touting its line of storybooks and toys aimed at getting young girls excited about engineering. The move made them the first small business to have a commercial air on television during TV's biggest event of the year.
But that's not the only reason this ad deserves our attention. In a sea of some of the year's best commercials created by some of the world's biggest brands (almost all led by men), GoldieBlox was founded and is run by a female entrepreneur. And the ad was voted in by a popular vote.
After become increasingly frustrated with the "pink aisle" and "princess complex" of toy marketing towards young girls, female entrepreneur Debbie Sterling founded GoldieBlox in 2012 to inspire the next generation of female engineers. After her Kickstarter campaign blew up its initial goal of $150,000 and raised $285,000 in just four days, Sterling had the capital to launch the company. A little more than a year later the company got its big break when it made national headlines with an anti-princess, girl-empowerment video that went viral, racking up more than eight million views in just one week.
In 18 short months, Sterling turned GoldieBlox into not just a successful toy company, but also into a national, and I suspect one day soon international, movement and rally cry for girls in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Sterling and GoldieBlox are so successful because they really hit a nerve, particularly within the STEM community where according to the U.S. Department of Commerce women hold less than 25 percent of the jobs, even though they fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy.
In the same way that Sterling was driven to change the options available to girls, other women entrepreneurs have started popping up, devising new ways to interact with, nurture and inspire the next generation of young female minds.
In the STEM and education communities we're lucky to have not only Sterling blazing the path, but other female-launched companies like Roominate, founded by graduate-level engineering students Bettina Chen, Alice Brooks, and Jennifer Kessler, and programs like S.M.A.R.T. Adventures that have found ways to make an engaging and exciting math app just for girls. There is even a great small business I was introduced to recently called Fundanoodle, whose founder, April Whitlock, was driven to start a passionate company for sparking a life-long love of learning in children.
I myself was determined to establish my own non-profit, Project Scientist, after becoming frustrated by the lack of educational opportunities available to my two young daughters that would help nurture their interest in STEM subjects.
Project Scientist was a start, but once I became an entrepreneur I knew there was more I could do. So leveraging my 17 years of experience working for non-profits, I launched a consulting agency aimed at fueling social impact. I was and continue to be driven to help strategically guide startup non-profits with powerful missions and for-profit companies committed to making an impact on a social issue. In fact, my first client was a non-profit founded by a fellow woman entrepreneur, Kathryn Goetzke, who started iFred with the dream of eradicating the stigma around depression. We are also honored to work with a STEM-focused non-profit, the Universal Technical Institute Foundation, started nearly ten years ago by an enterprising female, and whose corporate partner, Universal Technical Institute, is also led by female CEO Kim McWaters.
The commonality between us all is that we launched mission-focused companies aimed at fulfilling an immediate need while tackling greater social issues. And this is a trend that we see in the entrepreneurial community. When women become entrepreneurs the majority of the time they are motivated by a sense of social responsibility or need for mission-driven work.
So why aren't more women taking the leap and becoming social entrepreneurs? This has been a hot topic of debate recently with a lot of varied opinions ranging from lack of awareness, education and mentors, to the need for developing an ecosystem of support including more access to funding and resources. A lot of these sentiments are mirrored by factors we see affecting women filling jobs in the STEM community including a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields.
Some may ask why we should be so focused on this segmented population when the small business community in general continues to struggle with a tight credit market and a still rebounding economy. When trying to tackle social issues, we must have a diversity of social voices. As Peter Holbrook pointed out in a recent article for The Guardian, "Those missing voices should not only be there for moral legitimacy but because... they bring different perspectives -- and that leads to a healthier, more interesting debate; better discussions that are more culturally creative, and therefore creates wiser decision-making flows."
But how do we overcome these obstacles and increase the number of women willing and able to join the entrepreneurial population?
There is an exciting new wave of funders who recognize the lack of resources available to would-be female business owners, other successful women entrepreneurs. These businesswomen are stepping up in a big way and looking to help others like themselves by launching initiatives that offer funding, resources and mentoring opportunities.
Just last week famed designer Tory Burch announced a partnership with Bank of America to support women entrepreneurs with capital and mentoring opportunities. The $10 million initiative, Elizabeth Street Capital, is designed to provide early-stage women entrepreneurs in the U.S. with access to low-cost capital, mentoring support and networking opportunities to grow their businesses, creating communities of women entrepreneurs.
Since 2004, fashion designer Eileen Fisher has been offering grants to women entrepreneurs with the aim to inspire women to pursue new opportunities and creative solutions that will move their businesses forward in a sustainable way.
But does all this signal a shift in the number of female entrepreneurs we'll see in 2014 and beyond?
I think it could, if we continue to reach out, support one another and build upon the momentum that's been sparked by the efforts of these several trailblazing women. What we need is for more women to see that social entrepreneurism offers many of the things they are already looking for or lacking in a career - meaningful work, flexibility, alternative hierarchies.
As more women like Sterling, Chen, Kessler and Brooks pave the way and set an example, and as more successful women like Burch and Fisher continue to invest back into this community, I believe we will begin to see a new wave of entrepreneurs who are ready, able and willing to tackle some of the world's biggest problems.
Now that I've told you some of my favorite trailblazers and women entrepreneurs I want to hear from you. Who are some of your favorites? Leave a note in the comments.
Are you a woman entrepreneur, or aspire to be a woman entrepreneur, and looking for funding opportunities? Check out this great list of resources available to you. If you know of any additional opportunities out there let us know by leaving a comment.
If you are looking for guidance or information on how to get started Sandra Marshall and Associates is always looking for passionate partners who we can work with to help grow your business and mission.
The reality of being a woman — by the numbers. Learn more