Alice Brooks '10 and Bettina Chen designed Roominate to inspire the next generation of innovators. Screenshot:
Alice Brooks ’10 and Bettina Chen designed Roominate to inspire the next generation of innovators. Screenshot:

When Alice Brooks ’10 was eight years old, she wished for a Barbie doll. Instead, her father gave her a saw—so she made her own doll out of wood and nails, and in the process developed a passion for engineering.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the innovation gene runs in the Brooks family. Father Rodney, professor emeritus at MIT, is a noted roboticist and robotics entrepreneur who served as director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) for 10 years. According to a recent profile in Boston Magazine, he built his first robot, named Norman, when he was a child in Australia. Since then, Rodney Brooks has gone on to cofound iRobot, maker of the vacuum cleaner robot Roomba, and Rethink Robotics, whose Baxter robot works alongside humans in manufacturing environments.

That little girl who built her own doll is now following in her entrepreneurial father’s footsteps. Alice Brooks is cofounder and CEO of Roominate, whose educational construction sets are aimed at girls 6–10 years old.

Brooks earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at MIT, then headed to Stanford to pursue her masters degree. At Stanford, she befriended Roominate cofounder, CTO, and COO Bettina Chen. The two bonded over the lack of women in their program, and their shared goal to inspire a new generation of women to embrace STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

Less than 15% of women in the US choose to major in STEM subjects. Brooks and Chen believe this is partially because girls aren’t exposed to toys that teach skills like problem-solving, spatial reasoning, and creative problem-solving. The construction sets produced by Roominate contain modular building pieces and circuitry that allow for open-ended play. On the company’s website, photos and videos submitted by young inventors show off their Roominate creations. Among them: wired dollhouses with working doorbells and elevators; a car wash with a spinning brush; and a working pottery wheel.

Roominate was recently featured on the ABC reality competition Shark Tank. Watch their pitch and find out if the sharks took the bait.

Earlier this year, Brooks and Chen spoke with Huffington Post contributor Laura Dunn about their company and their experiences as women in a male-dominated field.

Visit the Roominate website for more information about the company.

Read Boston Magazine’s profile of Rodney Brooks, “Machine Man: Rodney Brooks and His Fear of Not Enough Robots”

Watch the full episode of Shark Tank featuring Roominate:

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