Helping girls grow up to be engineers [video]

Toymakers and investors scoffed at Debbie Sterling when she told them she wanted to create a line of construction toys for girls.

But Sterling didn’t follow traditional models for entrepreneurs. When she took her set of building toys, called GoldieBlox — they feature a girl engineer character named Goldie — to crowdfunding site Kickstarter in 2012, her idea caught on. Her company racked up $1 million in preorders in the first month.

Toys R Us and Amazon took notice, and sets of GoldieBlox are now shipping to more than 6,000 retailers around the world.

GoldieBlox combine construction projects, along the lines of Lego building blocks, with stories of Goldie’s adventures with her friends. One set involves Goldie building a movie machine; another zipping down a cable.

“I created GoldieBlox so that little girls can grow up with the toys and role models I wish I’d had,” she said.

The 34-year-old discovered her passion for engineering in college at Stanford University in California. But in a technical drawing class, she always felt behind, she said. A professor once held up her sketches for ridicule.

She thought about giving up. “And I realized that it’s not about being a born genius, it’s about how hard you work,” she said. “This stuff takes a lot of work.”

She stuck with it. And after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, she read that spatial skills accelerated for kids who play with construction toys. The toys she grew up with in Rhode Island were different, she remembered. They were dolls. Makeup kits. Pink.

Sterling knew she wanted something different. Her model for Goldie — the talented, but not quite super-genius engineer — was, in many ways, herself.

Sterling has some advice for young engineers: You may not always feel like you fit in. But if you believe in yourself, there’s no better feeling than overcoming a tough challenge.

Sterling shares more advice for budding engineers in the video at the top.

Debbie Sterling is a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, one of a group of innovators lending their experience to young entrepreneurs around the globe.