Meet imagiLabs, the startup building programmable accessories for teen girls
For the co-founders of imagiLabs, what began as a university research project has evolved into a fast-moving startup with a big mission: To increase the number of women working in STEM.
“By enabling girls to take their first and many next steps into the world of programming, they will become the women shaping our future with tech,” says Dóra Palfi. She and her partner, Beatrice Ionascu, have created programmable accessories for teen girls to make taking those first steps easy and fun.
Their startup pitch captured the attention of the audience and judges at the recent Start Crew #3, a weekend-long mentoring event for young founders in Berlin. Samsung NEXT partnered with Start Crew organizers The Family to provide guidance and feedback to the 30 European entrepreneurs who attended, and to help cultivate Europe’s next generation of innovative startups.
Planting the Seed
The idea for imagiLabs sprouted as Palfi was studying for her master’s degree at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. As part of a design project, she began researching how to get girls interested in technology.
With a major in neuroscience, minor in computer science, and on-the-job experience as a developer, Palfi is no stranger to technology. But as her idea for a programmable accessory for teens started to coalesce into a business seed, she realized she needed someone who understood electrical engineering.
Ionascu, who was also studying at KTH, proved a perfect fit. The pair had been roommates at NYU Abu Dhabi, where they had created an organization called WeSTEM to encourage diversity in STEM. “The idea for imagiLabs is very much about physical products that you can hold on to and see,” Palfi told KTH. “And I had my best friend who has the right background for this.”
The two co-founders spent much of 2018, the first year of imagiLabs, building out their team and prototyping products. They first developed what they called an imagiCase, a mobile shell with small, programmable LED lights and an accompanying app. The latter teaches users basic coding concepts as they learn to program the lights into specific patterns and colors. The case evolved into the imagiCube and eventually into imagiCharm, a programmable cube that users can hook to their bag or keys.
As part of their market research, the women visited schools in Stockholm, summer camps around Europe and even tech and music festivals to collect feedback on the product from students and teenage girls. “We even took our innovation overseas, and held a workshop in New Jersey,” they wrote on the imagiLabs blog. “All these workshops proved to be a great way to validate our business idea and introduce teenage girls to programming.”
Accelerating with Start Crew
In March, the founders of imagiLabs joined entrepreneurs from around Europe at The Family’s Berlin headquarters for the Start Crew weekend. The program provides young, university-aged entrepreneurs the chance to learn from experienced startup mentors.
For Samsung NEXT, participating in Start Crew is an opportunity to share expertise and support some of Europe’s most promising young startups and founders. The most recent three-day event provided participants with invaluable networking, mentoring, and one-on-one feedback sessions with business executives and other industry experts from Samsung NEXT and the wider Berlin tech community.
The program culminated in a pitch fest in front of a live audience and panel of judges, which included Nick Nigam, Principal at Samsung NEXT Europe. This is where ImagiLabs shined, conveying their passion for introducing teen girls to coding with a creative, mobile-first product. Palfi and Ionascu earned a spot on The Family’s startup roster for 2019.
“Mentoring initiatives such a Start Crew offer a fantastic opportunity for young people with fresh ideas to really test their purpose, products, and go-to-market strategy with experts at the earliest stage,” Nick said about the weekend.
Next up: Kickstarting the imagiCharm
Startups rarely move slow, and imagiLabs is speeding toward a public launch of its imagiCharm. The founders are planning a Kickstarter for May to finance the product development and production. In the meantime, those interested in the imagiCharm can sign up to learn more about the crowdfunding campaign and continued product testing.
The imagiCharm may be small in size, but the imagiLab founders have big dreams for how their startup just may change the world. “We want to increase the percentage of females who choose to pursue higher level studies or a career in STEM,” says Palfi, “and contribute to a gender-equal workforce.”
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