As an engineer, Debbie Sterling is no stranger to solving problems, and in 2011, she set out to solve a big one: the glaring lack of women in her field. Her hook-'em-early solution was GoldieBlox
, a line of construction toys and books starring a hammer-wielding heroine, Goldie, who introduces girls to basic building concepts. The idea came with its own stumbling blocks—industry insiders laughed at the conceit, her first viral video (a riff on a Beastie Boys song) stirred up a copyright controversy, and, most challenging of all, Sterling had never made a toy before. But as any engineer worth her nuts and bolts knows, "nothing's perfect on the first go. I've learned the same lesson we're trying to teach kids," she says. "A daunting problem should never stop you from getting started."
After a roller-coaster three years, Sterling's 23-person start-up is expanding—disrupting the pink toy aisles of stores in the UK and Australia (GoldieBlox is already in Toys "R" Us, Target, and other stores across the United States) and unveiling new construction sets with more than 40 (up from six) types of pieces. Plus, Goldie will be joined by a roster of ethnically diverse characters that Sterling hopes will continue to inspire future female engineers. "At the end of the day," she says, "GoldieBlox is more than a toy. It's about introducing girls to an inventor's mind-set." Princess, go build your own castle.