Create & Cultivate 100: STEM: Ayah Bdeir

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Ayah Bdeir is the founder and CEO of littleBits, an open source library of modular electronics that snap together with magnets. It is an award-winning platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks that empowers kids everywhere to create inventions, large and small. What does that mean? 

The company she founded in 2011 makes technology accessible across all ages. It sells a library of modular electronic units that can be easily connected for projects from night lights to sound machines to droids. (These are the droids you're looking for.)

Electronic building blocks are color-coded, magnetic, and reusable. Ayah designed everything herself to all fit together magnetically, so that the circuits always join correctly. Currently there are over 400k possible inventions with the littleBits starter kit. It's like your childhood erector set on Bulletproof-- to put it mildly. 

She is an engineer, interactive artist and one of the leaders of the open source hardware movement. 

More from Ayah below.

Where did your passion for creative technology start?

When I was growing up I was very good at math and science and I spent a lot of time taking things apart and putting them back together. I studied engineering in college and I didn’t feel like there was any room for creativity. After I graduated and discovered MIT I was introduced to the power of engineering when you pair it with creativity.

What inspired your mission behind littleBits?

My mission was to figure out how to bring this access to technology to people who were outside of engineering like designers, artists, kids. I wanted to find out how we could make technology easy, accessible and fun. littleBits is a platform of easy to use electronic building blocks for people creating inventions without a background in engineering. The world is changing constantly and for kids, we need to prepare them for careers that haven’t been invented yet.

The world is changing constantly and for kids, we need to prepare them for careers that haven’t been invented yet.

You’ve raised over 60 million for your company, how did you get to this point?

It wasn’t easy at all to raise the money in the early days. I think being a woman played a part in that but I got a lot of good advice from other entrepreneurs to make my pitches better. I learned that women tend to speak in questions marks so I practiced speak in more direct sentences. I also realized that women tend to overcompensate in their pitches with data when in reality the investors are looking for vision.

How do get your inspiration for new bits?

Early in the business I used to get a lot of inspiration from reading customer service tickets. I used to read almost every ticket and see what people were asking and get new ideas from those. Not so much anymore though, now I get inspiration from other things. When new pieces of technology come out I ask my team how can we make this fun and more accessible? Sometimes other fields.

"You can’t let things break you."

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What advice would you give someone who is looking to follow in your footsteps?

If you want to start a company, I’d advise that you do that only with an idea that you’re obsessed with. It’s every minute of your life and every single day. If you have a really strong belief in that mission of what you’re trying to achieve, it will carry you through the ups and downs. My second piece of advice is ask people for help. People are generally very willing to help someone who has drive. When they see someone with drive for a mission they want to get behind it.

What would you credit your success to?

The fact that I’m not afraid to ask when I don’t know something. Also, the understanding that I am a work in progress as a Founder and as a CEO I am constantly trying to work on myself. Tenacity is definitely a big part of being an entrepreneur. We have to have thick skin and you can’t let things break you.

This interview has been edited and condensed from multiple sources.