imagiLabs is creating a community and mobile-first tools that make programming fun and relevant for teenage girls.
The “Girl on the Seventh Floor” Has a Vision
When Dora Palfi worked at her first job as a developer, she was referred to simply as “the girl on the seventh floor”—because there were no other women developers.
Dora’s experience is hardly isolated. Even in countries like Sweden, where a myth of gender parity persists, women represent less than a fifth of the tech workforce.
One cause of this gender imbalance may be what happens to girls at around age 15. At that point, even girls who were enthralled by STEM topics early in their schooling seem to lose interest. Thus begins a vicious cycle. The scarcity of women in tech means that girls who would be interested in technology-related fields are deterred from entering the industry by the gender gap. Even Dora, who remained interested in tech and studied human-computer interaction in college, says, “there were not a lot of role models.”
In my studies, and when I worked as a developer, there were not a lot of girls or women and not a lot of role models.
Getting Teenage Girls Interested in Programming
Dora has a passion to reverse the trend of teen girls losing interest in tech. In 2018, she founded imagiLabs along with her university friend Beatrice Ionascu. The company’s first product is the imagiCharm, a programmable all-in-one accessory that looks like jewelry updated for the tech era. The round-edged, plastic square contains 64 tiny LEDs that can be programmed to light up in any color.
But the imagiCharm is more than just a fun, blinky trinket. “Teenage girls like to use their phones,” Dora says. “And they like to express themselves and get creative.” The product is a way to reach millions of girls and get them interested in programming. The only way to create a new imagiCharm pattern or experience is to learn to code. “It essentially motivates the user to learn to code because that’s the only way you can create the cool designs.”
Teenage girls like to use their phones. And they like to express themselves and get creative.
“Girls Shaping the Future with Tech”
The idea of drawing girls into coding isn’t new. Organizations such as Kode with Klossy, Stemettes, and Girls who Code have been attracting young women through workshops, community-building, and summer camps. But imagiLabs is tackling the challenge in a way that’s scalable and has global potential. And, by using mobile phones as a platform initially—something most teenage girls are glued to nearly 24 hours a day—the company is reaching the next generation of women coders with a product that speaks to their sensibilities.
Getting to True Tech Gender Parity
Dora’s passion fueled her through all the typical startup challenges, especially those involved in manufacturing a physical product. When the first imagiCharms roll off the production line in March 2020 and are sent to customers who preordered, they will be advancing the company toward Dora’s ultimate goal. “We’ll know we’ve been successful when half of the engineers or half the tech business owners will be women,” she says. In twenty years, she would like to see imagiLabs investing its own funds in girls who learned to code on the imagiLabs mobile platform and have gone on to start their own tech companies.
We’ll know we’ve been successful when half of the engineers and half of the tech business owners are women.