Boys most probably become interested in programming due to the video and other computer games they play, but as girls are less susceptible to these games, they are a bit excluded from this field. This is what ImagiLabs aims to change – they develop cool gadgets that can be programmed from smartphones to make the tech field more appealing to teenage girls at the point of deciding on their career. We interviewed Dóra Pálfi, the founder of ImagiLabs living in Sweden.
Even though originally Dóra wanted to become a neuroscientist, in the summer research camp of ELTE, she realized it was programming and data analysis that fascinated her the most. She felt she could get much more tangible knowledge also useful in practice on this field. In a short time, she found herself at the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University with a scholarship.
She experienced the fact that there weren’t too much programmer girls like her already at university, so she started to focus on the question of how it would be possible to get more girls and women involved in the field of natural sciences and technology right away.
“I realized during my research at university that even though there are projects showing to girls why programming is interesting, they don’t have a long term effect. My male acquaintances usually played a lot with the different video games before they ended up choosing this career, however, in the case of girls, there wasn’t anything that would address them. This is how the idea that there should be something fitting into the life of girls came” – Dóra told us.
In the past years, Dóra has done a lot of research on the topic, in the course of which it also turned out that girls enjoy programming in a community and are susceptible to more tangible and well-designed gadgets that can be customized with coding. Based on this, Dóra teamed up with electric engineer Beatrice Ionascu and software developer Paula Dozsa to establish ImagiLabs, and then they created ImagiCharm.
“The goal was to connect programming with something that allows the girls to truly experience their creativity.”
Imagigirls – the permanent focus group
They design fashionable gadgets for teenage girls, while they aren’t teenagers anymore. When asked about their source of inspiration, Dóra told us that the entire project started with cooperating with teenagers. “40 girls participated in my research project at the university, with whom we brainstormed together about the products we would love to use and with which we could even learn how to code. Later on, in the framework of ImagiLabs, we also put together an official focus group: they are the Imagigirls. We selected ten girls between the age of 12 and 16 out of the target age group who help us figure out what products will be a hit unto this day. There are some girls who applied to our Snapchat ad, others stayed with us after their elementary school internship which is mandatory in Sweden, and in some cases it is the mothers who contact us to recommend their daughters” – Dóra told us. Currently they primarily communicate online, in their Instagram and Discord group. Dóra and her team ask for their advice in key issues, and several members of Imagigirls actively contribute in the development of course materials, too. Moreover, many ImagiLabs YouTube videos were made by the girls themselves.
They also build a community
ImagiLabs’ smartphone application also functions as a social platform – the users can share their creations with their friends. To complement the application, Dóra and her team also created a programmable physical device, the ImagiCharm, which displays the code, thus making programming enjoyable and visible – they can code various patterns and flashing messages on the LED product. The success experienced can give further motivation to the girls to continue getting to know the digital world.
The particularly ergonomic gadget was designed by one of Dóra’s former high school classmates, designer Máté Brezovcsik. “ImagiCharm and the application went under a lot of finetuning until they reached their current form, and this process also included the opinion and business priorities of the ImagiGirls” – Dóra added.
Not only did the team of ImagiLabs create a flashy product; with the help of the premium content, users can also obtain advanced technological knowledge. But how can one join them?
“There are several options for joining, perhaps the easiest is to download the application and I also recommend following our social media, especially our Instagram profile. There some who are sure that they would like to learn how to code playfully, and so they order ImagiCharm right away, and of course there are also more careful users. Nevertheless the application provides access to our online community, and we also regularly organize online workshops for our users.”
ImagiCharm is not cheap in Hungarian relations: the starting package costs HUF 30,000, however, it comes with 6 months’ course materials allowing users to learn the Python coding language. In the meantime, they didn’t forget about those who can’t afford to buy the device: the free mobile application can be downloaded without the gadget, so practically anyone with a smartphone in their family can be part of their community .
Apple has already noticed the project
ImagiLabs had 600 supporters on Kickstarter previously, and so they managed to raise an amount in Swedish krona equaling HUF 18,000,000. Not long after, this sum was further expanded with an additional HUF 55,000,000, received from various angel investors. In addition, Ericcson, Apple and Google also helped them in their journey: for example, they spent two weeks in California, where they were mentored by the experts of Apple as women entrepreneurs.
ImagiLabs’ team plans to increase their net sales revenues to HUF 120,000,000 in 2020. We could also see Dóra in the television show Cápák között (the Hungarian version of Sharks) aired on RTL Klub recently, where she managed to convince Péter Balogh and Szabina Tomán to invest into her project – each of them invested HUF 10,000,000 in exchange for a 4% share.
“There are several tech startup founders amongst our investors, so they can help us in the actual developing, too. In addition, some of them are parents to teenage girls, so they represent the parental perspective in making business decisions.”
The number of users is continuously on the rise
They have sold nearly 700 ImagiCharms so far, and ImagiLabs’ iOS application has been downloaded by more than 700 users since its official launch on May 1. The Android app is currently only available in a private beta version, solely for the ImagiCharm owners, but it will be accessible to anyone in a few weeks, too. The majority of their users are based in Sweden and the United States.
“We tried to design the entire experience and the application in a manner for them to be extremely visual, with not too much reading. The few pieces of text displayed in the app is in English, which limits our opportunities in terms of expanding on the market in the first years, but we also plan to make the course materials accessible in various languages in the future. Despite this, we still have some customers from Hungary. I hope our product can serve as a motivational force for the users to continuously develop their English skills, too” – told us Dóra, currently living in Stockholm