If you watched Shark Tank in 2017, you might remember entrepreneur Sharmi Albrechtsen, who founded the SmartGurlz robotic toy company to make better STEM-related toys for young girls like her daughter, Nina.
The company sparked the interest of Shark Tank investor Daymond John. He and Albrechtsen agreed to a deal in which he’d invest $200,000 for 25 percent.
SmartGurlz added to its net worth with crowdfunding through Wefunder.
Shark Tank was just one chapter in the SmartGurlz story. In 2018, Albrechtsen told Business 2 Community that the company was enjoying $1.2 million in sales and had brought on MythBusters star Kari Byron as the chief creative officer.
The following year, Washington Business Journal revealed that the company raised $525,000 through the Wefunder crowdfunding platform, on top of $1.2 million raised the year before and a $200,000 investment from Morgan Stanley’s 2019 Multicultural Innovation Lab.
Albrechtsen told the Journal that she appreciated the crowdfunding route “because you end up with a very engaged group of people who are loyal and really want your company to succeed.”
At the time of that update, SmartGurlz was considering a $10 million Series A round and was projected to generate nearly $20 million in revenue in 2021.
Albrectsen launched Smart Buddies through a collaboration with Pitsco Education.
As Albrechtsen explained in a February 2021 episode of the podcast Like a BOSS with Loralyn Mears, Smart Buddies was born after she was approached by Pitsco Education, which was looking for new partners after ending its deal with LEGO.
“They partnered with us to create something called SmartBuddies, which is for boys and girls, and that product has eight characters and a full class pack and a 10-week curriculum for schools,” she said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started and schools closed, Smart Buddies launched an online learning platform. “I think online learning is going to be something that we’re going to continue to do after COVID,” Albrechtsen added. “We’re right now in the middle of writing a grant application with NYU focused on online education and creating a new platform that is geared towards younger kids who often lose interest in online learning. And, you know, how do we find really fun and exciting ways to keep them engaged?”
Along the way, Albrechtsen earned AdWeek’s 2017 Disruptor Award in Championing Gender Diversity in Advertising and Tech and the Women Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 by the Asian Chamber of Commerce, as AZFoothills.com reported in 2020. She told that site that her dream is “to teach 1 million kids how to code.”
Albrechtsen is already making strides toward that dream. “The mission of our company is to bridge the diversity gap in tech—one child and school at a time,” she told Thrive Global that same year. “With 35,000 children exposed to STEM through SmartGurlz and Smart Buddies—we are proud to say, we are doing our part.”