It’s no secret that gender inclusion continues to be a pressing challenge for the tech industry. According to a recent survey by Girls Who Code and Accenture, if current trends continue, women will hold only one in five computing jobs in the U.S. by 2025.
Enter social entrepreneurs Dee Saigal and Leonie Van Der Linde, the UK-based duo set on solving this problem on a global level with their Bridge incubated, Mario-style game Erase All Kittens.
The game offers a fresh approach to coding by teaching young children, especially girls, transferable programming skills, with the aim to empower them with professional coding abilities and completely transform the way that girls perceive coding itself.
Having increased traction by 500% in times of lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, the team has recently raised a well-deserved 1M USD to continue to bring coding to girls around the world.
We caught up with Founders Dee and Leonie to learn more about Erase All Kittens and get their perspective on the challenges the startup is tackling.
1.Currently, just 24% of the global tech workforce is female. How is Erase All kittens addressing the global skills gender gap?
Research has shown that if girls aren’t interested in coding and technology by the age of 11, it’s unlikely that they will ever become interested, as adults. My co-founder and I found that one of the biggest problems is that most coding tools have been built by men, and so naturally appeal more to boys – coding for girls has largely been ignored. The vast majority also teach only the concepts of programming as opposed to transferable digital skills.
We started working on Erase All Kittens to bridge this gap – so that young children can gently progress from learning computational thinking to learning real-world skills. Our approach was to build a game from the ground up – seamlessly blending storytelling with technically innovative coding mechanics and kitten gifs to teach transferable skills, whilst transforming the negative perception that most girls have of coding.
After several years of bootstrapping and a lot of skepticism from investors, our traction grew organically from 5,000 to more than 160,000 players in over 100 countries. Feedback from 12,000 students showed that before playing EAK only 10% of girls wanted to learn more about coding, and after playing, this figure increased to 95%.
2. We’re headed towards a skills-based economy. How is Erase All Kittens preparing young people for this?
Most coding games teach using Blockley, a visual programming language created specifically for children, or a few repeated lines of code. After playing these games, many children lose interest as there is nothing for them to move on to – the gap between learning simple logic puzzles and text-based programming is very wide.
3.Erase All Kittens recently raised 1M USD in funding, congratulations! How did you go about preparing for investment and connecting with investors?
We were introduced to most of our investors and prepared by making sure that we had a strong pitch deck and pitching at events held by organisations that support startups. We met fantastic investors and advisors through organisations such as The Conduit Connect, Startup Grind, Google for Startups, and Emerge Education, whilst we were on their accelerator programs.
Saying that this round of funding was the result of many years of work – raising investment for Erase All Kittens has been the most difficult part of our journey so far! There are some things that founders can’t prepare for – resilience and building up a network of supporters, advisors, and investors who care about your work and want to see it succeed are invaluable. Thankfully, there is now a lot more awareness about gender bias in tech and we are hoping that this will lead to changes in the near future.
4. We’re sure you have big plans in store. How are you planning on using the investment you’ve raised to reach new milestones with Erase All Kittens?
We are also forming more partnerships, for example, we’ve partnered with MakerFutures on a trailblazing initiative to prepare children for future degrees and careers – collaborating on a new curriculum that will teach STEM skills and topics which aren’t yet being taught in schools. We are aiming to inspire 10 million children to code by 2023.
5. You’re highly impact focused. What current structures do you have in place to make sure you reach your desired impact?
We’re currently using Google Analytics and our own databases to measure impact, having a feedback form at the end of our online game which collects qualitative and quantitative data. We also carry out regular one-to-one beta-testing with students, with more in-depth interviews to ensure that the gaming features and coding challenges are as effective and engaging as possible for girls and boys aged 8-13. After the new version of Erase All Kittens has been launched we will work with focus groups over a period of 4-5 years to measure long-term impact.
6.Sadly, there aren’t enough female founded tech startups in the ecosystem. How can we as organizations, investors and founders change this?
It’s essential that we have more women in technology – including investors – as it will help to remove biases in tech tools, products and services. The vast majority of tech founders are male, as are their investors, leading to a natural bias towards building male-oriented technology products, and coding games are a perfect example of this.
Many have been designed to appeal more to boys, using robots, battles and Minecraft to teach code education. Unless more girls and women start using technology to shape the world we live in, the gender gap will just keep growing – only 2.8% of venture capital investment went to women-led startups in 2019 and this fell to 2.3% in 2020.
Our goal is to help change this, by inspiring girls to code whilst teaching transferable digital skills – giving them confidence in their own abilities at an early age.