Shark Tank fans will get an update Friday on one of the show’s most memorable entrepreneur pairs: Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen of “Roominate.” Brooks and Chen were part of the Season 6 premiere in the fall of 2014, pitching their line of construction kits with working circuits. Both women have graduate degrees in engineering, and they created Roominate to nourish young girls’ interest in science.
Roominate got an investment from Lori Grenier and Mark Cuban, who together put in $500,000 for a 5 percent equity stake — a healthy $10 million valuation. At the time of their Shark Tank appearance, Roominate had $1.7 million in sales and had run a successful Kickstarter campaign, as The Inquisitr previously reported.
Chen told Madison Reed that the toy fills a need. Parents are often forced to choose toys from the “girls” aisle or the “boys” aisle, which can limit what exposure both genders receive. That’s significant since play is part of children’s early learning experiences.
“Parents feel obligated to shop by those [gender] categories. Give your kids the opportunity to explore different paths and find the one they’re really interested in.”
Chen’s comments were published in Madison Reed several months before one massive retail chain, Target, announced it was eliminating gender segregation in its toy aisles. As media studies professor Rebecca Hains wrote in The Washington Post in August 2015, “gender-based marketing” became widespread in the 1990s as a way for businesses to sell twice as much stuff to parents.
Chen and Brooks both cited their experience as one of the few females in advanced science programs as reasons to create Roominate. As Chen told Business Insider this past June, the women both had exposure to similar products as children and that led them into science education programs.
“For both of us, we found that it was really toys we played with when we were younger that really got us building and tinkering and making things with our hands — things that really drew us toward engineering in college.”
It was the pressure to succeed during their graduate studies that helped them, not only in engineering, but in business. The women learned how to handle failure, which is part of starting a company, according to Chen. They worked past the early failed prototypes before creating a Roominate that worked and kids seemed to like.
“Being in a rigorous learning environment taught us that not everything is going to happen exactly as you plan it, which is certainly the case with starting a new business.”
On Shark Tank, the women made an impression — not least on Mark Cuban, who agreed to invest with a condition: that his young daughters be able to watch them work. Upstart Business Journal reported in December 2014 that the women had exchanged emails with the young Cubans, along with images of what the girls had made with the Roominate kits.
Since its Shark Tank appearance, Roominate has expanded its product offerings. Forbes named its rPower line one of the “Top Ten Toys to Watch in 2015.” The rPower kits permit users to hook up their creations to an Android or iOS system, so they not only have working circuits, but may be remote-controlled.
Shark Tank fans will get further updates on the Roominate crew and how its partnership with Cuban and Grenier has panned out. Shark Tank airs Friday night at 9 p.m. on ABC. Beyond the Tank, the show’s companion program that provides in-depth updates on entrepreneurs, is also due to return for a limited run this fall.
[Main image courtesy of ToyPortfolio]