SBIR Women Developers Got Game

Cross-posted from the SBIR blog.

On December 9, 2015, 30 technology developers from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (link is external) and five other Federal agencies came together for ED Games Day (link is external) in Washington DC. The highlights of the day included a morning meeting at the White House and an evening Expo featuring learning games for education, health, and the military.

While the emerging field of learning games was the day’s focus, the visibility of women game developers – excelling as scientists and in business – deserves attention.

At the White House, US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith talked about Grace Hopper, who broke the mold in the 1940s as a pioneer for inventing programming languages and through an illustrious career as a computer scientist. Smith noted the national need to repair the representation gap among girls, women, and minorities following in the path of Hopper. Educational games and access to low-cost maker technology such as Raspberry Pi (link is external) offer partial solutions to this complex problem. At the Expo, SBA Administrator Maria Contreras Sweet toured the hall and spent time chatting and learning the stories of SBIR women game developers, including Kara Carpenter of Teachley and Maria Burns-Ortiz of 7 Generation Games.

SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet meets with Maria Ortiz Burns of 7 Generation Games.

SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet meets with Maria Ortiz Burns of 7 Generation Games.

SBIR has been identified (link is external) as one national initiative that holds promise for catalyzing the women developer movement. With women in leading development and research roles for half of the 30 games, the ED Games Expo demonstrated that SBIR is already starting to deliver on this promise.

From left: Melissa DeRosier of the 3C Institute, Tory VanVhooris and Anne Snyder of Second Avenue Learning, Leah Potter of Electric Funstuff, Kara Carpenter of Teachley, & Maria Burns-Ortiz of 7 Generation Games.

From left: Melissa DeRosier of the 3C Institute, Tory VanVhooris and Anne Snyder of Second Avenue Learning, Leah Potter of Electric Funstuff, Kara Carpenter of Teachley, & Maria Burns-Ortiz of 7 Generation Games.

Many of the women at the Expo founded their small business with a mission to create opportunities for girls to learn STEM, and others act as key project team members. The women at the Expo were:

Several other women were represented at the Expo, including Monica Trevathan of Tietronix (link is external), Carol Stanger of Attainment Company (link is external), Brooke Morrill of Schell Games (link is external), Leah Potter of Electric Funstuff (link is external), Martha Riecks of Mid School Math (link is external), and Heather Weyers of Kinection (link is external).

In the next few months, SBIR Pulse will release a series of Q&A interviews with many of these developers. We look forward to learning the stories of why and how these trailblazers got started, what role SBIR played, and what they see as keys to girls in STEM and women in business. Stay tuned!

Edward Metz is the Program Manager of the SBIR Program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Betty Royster is the Communications Specialist for the National Institute of Health’s SBIR and STTR Programs.

Shannon Rhoten is a Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Small Business Administration.