Robotics aficionado, educator, author and mom, Sharmi Albrechtsen, CEO and co-founder of SmartGurlz, a fast-growing start-up company focusing on closing the gender gap in technology. SmartGurlz is the first robotics company focused on girls.
Sharmi began her career as an author and journalist and eventually spent the last decade in communication and consumer education in STEM companies focusing on health and wellness. She was the associate director of the Ida Institute, a non-profit organization whose mission was to empower adults and children to overcome hearing disabilities.
In 2016, Sharmi started SmartGurlz after she became frustrated when trying to find educational but fun toys for her daughter, Nina. She saw a world of opportunity with tech fun, coding and digital learning for girls and at the same time inspiring interest in STEM related subjects.
As CEO, she is the visionary backbone of the company, ensuring that the company develops, markets and sells innovative products. SmartGurlz Partners include: BlackGirlsCode, Girl Scouts of America and DigitalGirl Inc.
She recently closed a $5.5 million contract with Pitsco Education (LEGO Educations former joint-venture partner) to launch Smart Buddies in schools in US and Canada.
Sharmi was recently named AdWeek’s 2017 Disruptor Award, in Championing Gender Diversity in Advertising and Tech. She has also been named Women Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 by the Asian Chamber of Commerce. She is a Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab fellow.
She has been featured in TEDx, Forbes, Huffington Post, Financial Times, Fox Business News, Fox and Friends and CNN.
SmartGurlz was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank, November 2017, where Sharmi battled more than 40,000 companies to get placed. On air, she battled celebrity sharks including Sir Richard Branson, Mark Cuban and closed a deal with Daymond John.
Our Interview with Sharmi Albrechtsen
What did you do before SmartGurlz, and what lead you to found that company?
I began my career as an author and journalist and eventually spent the last decade in communication and consumer education in STEM companies focusing on health and wellness. Before, SmartGurlz, I was the associate director of the Ida Institute, a non-profit organization whose mission was to empower adults and children to overcome hearing disabilities.
You recently closed a sizable contract with Pitsco Education to launch SmartBuddies – can you tell us a bit about that and how that opportunity came about?
Yes, I was invited by the National Afterschool Association to attend a panel at their conference. It was there, I met Senior VP of Pitsco Education, Stephan Turnipseed – as soon as I showed him our products and the results we have had – he mentioned that we consider collaborating on a product line for schools.
You were not only on Shark Tank – you also closed a deal on Shark Tank! What advice would you offer to other founders who are actively trying to get onto the series?
It’s a show at the end of the day. You may get chosen by the producers if you can provide an element of entertainment and a great, unique product. Go to the open calls they have – the producers actually attend. And don’t tweet the Sharks. Otherwise, you may be disqualified– the Sharks should have ‘no’ knowledge of your company when you enter the tank.
You gave an amazing and confident pitch – and aside from that, you’ve also given a Ted Talk – what advice would you offer to other founders about public speaking and pitching their brand?
Honestly, I am pretty shy and would happily be behind the scenes. As the CEO, you have to be the ‘face’ of the company. Practice is really important, it is very important to practice – especially the beginning part of a pitch – this way if you are nervous – the words are automatic.
How has it been partnering with Daymond John? How involved has he been?
Daymond is an advisor and we engaged him when we need his help. But he often says, you should be your own shark.
What do you feel is the biggest lesson or piece of advice you’ve learned from Daymond John?
Partnerships – you should always be looking for partnerships and collaborators.
I also saw that you’ve raised 858k on WeFunder. What advice would you offer to other founders that may be looking at it as a means of raising funds?
I loved crowdfunding and can highly recommend WeFunder. It’s important that start with your own ‘fans’ and a crowd – this will help you create excitement and open the doors to the other investors.
In moments of uncertainty or doubt that you’ve had, what do you do to build yourself back up?
I like to focus on our ‘wins’. Thinking about the wins are important – because you can repeat them. Think about what you did to achieve your ‘wins’ and repeat.
What does success mean to you?
We are a mission-based company, so success is not just about achieving financial goals, it is also about education and gender equality. We support the United Nations Sustainable Development goals – both in education, gender equality and sustainable cities.
How do you practice self-care and balance your personal and professional life?
I try but honestly it is tough. I work many, many hours but I listen to my body and try to prevent fatigue and illness with a balanced diet, exercise and fresh air. I love gardening and lucky enough to live in Arizona where I have citrus trees in my garden. Being close to nature, is very healing for me.
If you could go back and give yourself three pieces of advice at the beginning of your career – what would you tell yourself?
Listen to yourself, believe in yourself and if you have a dream, find a way to make it happen.
What single word, saying, or motivational quote do you identify most with?
If you can see it, you can be it.
What’s next for you, SmartGurlz, and SmartBuddies?
Due to Covid-19, we have expanded our educational line and created a new home ‘school’ product that combines physical robots with weekly LIVE educational classes with real award-winning teachers. (6 weeks)
SmartBuddies@Home is a wonderful product for both boys and girls and we have an amazing price point for parents during the crisis – just $99.
The world will never be the same after the pandemic and we believe that remote education will be the future especially with schools.
Nearly every school in America is working on providing a PC or tablet to each student – this means great opportunities for distance learning and remote learning. Check out our offer on www.smartbuddies.com