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SBIR Women Developers Got Game

Post Date:
January 22, 2016
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By Edward Metz, Betty Royster, and Shannon Rhoten.

SBIR Women Developers Got Game

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 and five other Federal agencies came together for ED Games Day 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 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.


Above Left: U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith addresses the group of game developers

Above Right: SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet meets with Maria Ortiz Burns of 7 Generation Games

SBIR has been identified 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.


Above: 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:

  • Early childhood educator Kara Carpenter co-founded Teachley with colleagues Dana Pagar and Rachael Labrecque while earning doctoral degrees in Cognitive Studies Psychology at Teachers College Columbia University.
  • Victoria VanVoorhis founded Second Avenue Learning and along with Anne Snyder and Susan Colodny, seek to close the achievement and affiliation gap for girls and minorities. 
  • Neurobiologist Jen Sun co-funded Numedeon to keep middle schoolers (especially girls) engaged in STEM.
  • Psychologist Lisa Blackwell co-founded Mindset Works to bring her graduate research at Columbia University on growth mindset into wide-scale practice.
  • Maria Burns Ortiz co-founded 7 Generation Games (with and AnnMaria DeMars and others) to make learning relevant for underrepresented groups of students.
  • Stanford-trained engineer, Harvard MBA, and 2016 Innovator to Watch Grace Wardhana co-founded Kiko Labs to develop learning apps she would want her own child to play.
  • Design and software engineer Adrianna Moscatelli founded Play Works Studio to engage girls in coding at an early age.
  • Clinical psychologist’s Melissa DeRosier (founder) and Deborah Childress from the 3C Institute develop research-based interventions to support students’ social-emotional health in education and special education.
  • Speech pathologist Carolyn Brown co-founded Foundations in Learning in 2006 to bring research-to-practice in reading.

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


Above: Attendees at the Expo.

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!

About the Authors

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.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are collectively the largest single source of early-stage capital for innovative small companies in the United States. The federal government invests over 2 billion dollars in early stage and high growth American entrepreneurial firms to develop and commercialize technologies that strengthen our nation's defense, improve the health of our citizens, and enhance education. For more information, please visit, and follow us @SBIRgov on Twitter.

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